Category Archives: Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

New food scientist for trailblazing beverage research at NC

Zhengtao Zhao, food scientist – beverage specialist at CFWI IC

Milk has an ancient history – likely going back some 10,000 years, with the domestication of animals – and has benefited the development of the human body, contributed to the creation of the modern food industry and, along with its by-products butter, cheese and ice cream, is found in almost every refrigerator today. 

It’s also a complex liquid, and something food scientist and dairy expert Zhengtao Zhao, PhD, has spent more than eight years studying. More precisely, he has worked with the casein micelles, the most important protein in milk, and something he calls a “natural magical entity.” 

Zhao’s research involving dairy protein, fat and polysaccharide encapsulations, are also common elements for all beverage production and have laid the groundwork for his new role as the food scientist – beverage specialist for the Technology Access Centre (TAC) at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.

His expertise extends beyond dairy science and includes a comprehensive background in the area of food science in product development, research, food processing, quality control and commercialization. He draws on previous experience as a product developer and research scientist at Parmalat Canada, Gay Lea Foods, the University of Guelph, and Shanghai Toong Yeuan Food Technology.

This food scientist will play a key role in the College’s trailblazing beverage research initiatives. The CFWI Innovation Centre’s Beverage Centre of Excellence will be part of an entire research floor of the 49,000-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex (based at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake), and includes designated laboratories focused on beverage research; and equipment to facilitate beverage processing, treatment and analytical research, including cannabis research.

The Beverage Centre of Excellence (made possible thanks to recent funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)) will serve as a one-stop-shop for beverage innovation and commercialization that will help SMEs bring their products from concept to shelf. The focus area is the liquid portfolio of food and culinary innovation, which includes beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic); spoonables and pourables (such as condiments, marinades and dressings); and cannabis research, including extraction, infusion and product development, mainly for beverages.

Zhao is responsible for assisting in the start-up, management and operations of the Beverage and Liquids R&D Pilot Processing Facility, part of the Beverage Centre of Excellence. Lab work includes the execution of product and process innovation, analytical lab, beverage processing, beverage equipment protocol development and other technical services and applied research activities.

“Solving problems for industry partners is very meaningful, and I always believe that science should be utilized to solve practical issues instead of only publishing papers. The most attractive part of the job is that it keeps your brain active and updated as we are dealing with different projects that need different knowledge,” Zhao explains his decision to join the CFWI Innovation Centre team. “Moreover, I like to mentor and provide guidance for the students while also learning from them.”

Zhao’s fascination with milk started as a child, curious about the difference in structure between yogurt and milk, with the former being solid-like and the latter free-flowing liquid. 

“Solving problems for industry partners is very meaningful, and I always believe that science should be utilized to solve practical issues instead of only publishing papers.”

“After I went to university, I started to understand a little bit more about the fermentation and the formation of protein gel structure and realized how complicated the structure of casein micelles is and how widely used it is in the food industry.”

His formal education began in his home country of mainland China (a small city called Zaozhuang in the Shandong Province). After earning his Master’s degree in Food Science, he decided on the University of Guelph, known for having one of the best dairy research labs in the world. There he earned his PhD in Dairy Science. 

He has been published in prestigious journals, such as Dairy Science & Technology, the Journal of Dairy Science, Journal of Dairy Research, Food Hydrocolloids, Food Chemistry and Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 

One of his more significant research projects centred around concentrated milk using different membrane techniques. While most dairy companies use the ultrafiltration (UF) membrane to concentrate milk, in his team’s research, they used microfiltration (MF), with results showing that concentrated milk produced from MF has much better heat stability and shelf life.

“More importantly, when MF concentrated were used as an ingredient for cheese making, the obtained gel has stronger structure, indicating that MF is a better choice than UF to produce cheese products,” says Zhao, adding that many dairy companies in Europe and the United States now use microfiltration techniques. 

Certainly, it has been a “strange” beginning to Zhao’s new role, as he was hired at the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, so with the closure of the College campuses, he has not yet had hands-on access to the research labs to work on projects. 

“I was a little panicked at the beginning, but thanks to my amazing colleagues, they’ve given me a lot of support and help during this period.”

He has also been able to remotely work on an applied research project for a local family-owned ostrich farm wanting to simplify the extraction process and improve the quality of its ostrich oil. He has been able to do some preliminary research for proposals to these process procedures and hopes to follow up once the labs are open. 

Zhao currently lives in Guelph with his family: his wife Xiuju Wang, son Evan, 5, and daughter Emma, 3, and enjoys hiking and fishing. 

He is also an avid NBA fan; the highlight of last year came when the Toronto Raptors made history and won the NBA championship. He says he stood amongst an entire country, a proud backer of the slogan “We The North.”


The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. To read more about what the Centre offers, visit their website.

Culinary grad talks life transition in a time of COVID-19

Nathan, his wife Kaitlyn, son Atlas and family dog Jack.

Nathan Knapp-Blezius is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation & Food Technology program, and served as both a research assistant (2017-19) and a research associate (2019-20) in the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, with the Research & Innovation division. He has accepted a position as product development technician at Dare Foods in Kitchener/Waterloo, a national supplier of breads, croutons, cookies, candy and crackers to the foodservice market. 

Describe your new position with Dare Foods:

My new role is as a product development technician on the R&D/Innovation team. More specifically, I’m in cracker-world. I’ll be responsible for developing meaningful, thoughtfully-crafted crackers from trends and market insights, provided by an incredibly talented marketing/innovation team.

Within a month of accepting your position, you’ve had to sell your house, and relocate, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, it was a very busy month! One part of that was selling my house and moving to the Galt area of Cambridge. It was an unconventional selling process. Technology is incredible: virtual 3D walk-throughs (not videos) are the future of real-estate sales.

Have you been able to start your new job during these uncertain times?

Yes.. 2-3 lab days, 2-3 home days per week. Dare has reacted TREMENDOUSLY with great procedures and insight into the COVID-19 situation. We are still able to be perfectly effective and efficient in spite of the events.

It’s certainly a time of transition – on April 1, you became a first-time father during a pandemic…

I did! 10 fingers 11 toes, pretty darn good. He was an April Fool’s baby, not unexpected in my family. The hospital experience was certainly unique. They were excellent; very prepared, but with everything on high alert, it’s challenging to help keep a lady in active labour patient as we pass the multiple contamination checkpoints. There was a thousand fun – and ridiculous – stories from that day, but at the end of the day, all that matters is we have a healthy and happy son. Our only regret is that our parents and siblings can’t hold him – that part is terrible. There’re a few things wherein video-chat just isn’t the same.

Your son’s name is Atlas, seemingly apropos given the world-wide state of things. Can you tell us how you both chose the name?

It seems we could really use someone to hold up the sky in 2020 … poor little guy. In all seriousness, there’s a lot of personal reasons which would take up an article in and of itself. One thing we found was we liked unique names, but nothing that is unpronounceable, incorrectly spelled, or phonetically irritating. We also didn’t want it to be so unique that he would be the only one with it. My wife Kaitlyn pulled up an article wherein Atlas was amongst the least used names pre-2010 (less than 100 people), and in the top 150 names in 2018. Unique, but not completely uncommon. A checkmark in that column. 

Aside from Niagara College, can you give us a sense of your educational background…

I took Political Science at McMaster University, Culinary Arts at Holland College; Red Seal Culinary at College of Trades, and I have various SQF and HACCP certifications.

What led you to Niagara College?

My step-dad had done some research into the Culinary Innovation program and passed it along. It made sense for me: I love science and math, but I also love food. It was the best of both worlds.

“The people at the Innovation Centre helped me to refine my skills and realize my mistakes – something I’ll do forever … whether it’s commercialization processes, product development skills, documentation management, or other management skills…”

How has your experience with R&I’s CFWI Innovation Centre helped you prepare for this new position?

It’s all about refinement. Take a concept, or a dish, or a skill, and refine, refine, refine. Trim off the fat a tiny bit at a time until it’s something great. The people at the Innovation Centre helped me to refine my skills and realize my mistakes – something I’ll do forever. Whether it’s commercialization processes, product development skills, documentation management, or other management skills, there’s a hundred areas they helped me to refine consistently to better prepare for future opportunities. And honestly, that’s really not something that will ever change.

You have worked on quite a few projects while at R&I…can you name your favourites?

Absolutely not. I loved all my projects. I think that’s important in the research world. Most of your learning will come from failure, and a lot of R&D is done on new, trend-driven, shoot-for-the stars concepts. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s too easy to become bogged down in failures. At the end of the day, it only takes one success (one well-documented success that can be replicated) to launch a product. That’s why it’s impossible to pick out a favourite project – they were all laden with their own failures and successes, and each one led to something better down the road.

Some other highlights from your time at R&I…for example, you were featured in a series of videos by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and also went to Parliament Hill as part of CFI’s #IAMInnovation campaign.

Incredible opportunity! I have a life-sized poster of myself now; I tried to hang it above the bed, but my wife said it was a tad too vain. It would have been on my side! In all seriousness, the people at CFI are incredible. It was an opportunity to showcase my work and talk about the importance and future of R&D from a student perspective with policy makers. [see video here] I felt like it was something that mattered. But the most memorable part of all that actually happened afterwards. I got a hand-written letter with some disk drives and random materials from the president of CFI, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, with whom I had a lovely conversation while I was there. And this wasn’t a “thanks for coming” letter, it was a full-pager. Someone who is the president of the organization, and still takes the time – and THOUGHTFULNESS! – to send a hand-written letter to a student she may never meet again – well, I hope I can be like her one day. Talk about values and acting on values (not just talk). 

A particular faculty member who influenced you?

Sabi Bamrah [professor within the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology programs]. I am great friends with all of my faculty members. I still talk on Facebook with Amy [Amy Proulx, PhD, professor and academic program coordinator of Culinary Innovation and Food Technology], and she helped me out with so much; we even worked together on a side project for a bit! But, (sorry Amy!) at the end of the day, Sabi deserves a special mention as an influencer to me. She is kind, quiet, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and I feel like she gets the short end of the stick sometimes because she teaches a class with content that naturally can really be quite boring. But it’s so important, and she does a great job making it less boring than it could be. On top of that, she encouraged every decision I made, brought things in for some of my class projects, lent me her pressure cooker until I could get a new one, and answered texts and questions during my co-op. She is just an incredible teacher and person. And I love how she writes an honest curriculum; either you know it or you don’t, and it’s your responsibility to learn it (of course she will help if asked). There is no wishy-washy stuff. I hope I’m never wishy-washy.

What about a mentor at R&I’s CFWI Innovation Centre?

Different people for different reasons. Kelly Byer [research laboratory technologist] is a gem to talk with – she’s very funny, and she taught me quite a few scientific principles (P=F/A!). Kristine Canniff [project manager] could be my life-coach. Lyndon Ashton [centre manager] is an enigma wrapped in a riddle – he can flip from business to casual like a light-switch, and I think that is a tremendous skill (and one you can’t learn). But as for a mentor? Has to be Ana [Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist]. She’s one of the only people I could ever productively argue with. And I mean that as the highest compliment. And, it’s because even though she’s much more experienced, knowledgeable, and naturally brilliant, she holds onto an honest respect for everyone. There is zero arrogance. And that’s really hard when you’re honestly that good at something! She is the kind of person that will take the time to talk to you and work with you. She’s the kind of person who would “teach a man to fish.” I hope to do more projects with Ana in the future.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Fail hard. 100 times. And ditch the ego fast. If you think you know something, it’s usually a good signal you don’t.

You once said you want to reinvent the grocery aisle by mixing culinary arts and science; can you expand on your passion for combining both food and science…

Delicious, nutritious, inclusive, sustainable, and fiscally-responsible food that can be produced on a scale that is meaningful to an incredibly population dense (and growing) global normality. In the past, I think chefs have loudly voiced concerns with industry, whether it be about sustainability, sacrificing flavour, nutritional deficiency, strange ingredients, complex international supply chains, etc. The argument for industry, and food scientists, is the obvious necessity due to demand. So, there has been this argument back and forth for some time over the merits of each, at times quite loudly. The reality is now we may finally have the equipment, the capacity, and the consumer-driven support to make both a cohesive reality. We might not have to sacrifice one for the other. And so, my dreams for the grocery aisle are culinary-inspired, nutritionally sustainable, safe, delicious and texturally appealing products and not 15 different versions of BBQ chips. I want the focus on innovation to be in the grocery aisles, not in the restaurants, where it can affect everyone. 

You have a number of years’ experience cooking professionally – what types of capacity?

I started as a dishwasher and worked every station at various restaurants across Canada from coast-to-coast, and was the head chef of a small restaurant in Prince Edward Island. Probably the most prestigious restaurant I worked at was Clayoquot Wilderness Resort – absolutely perfect in every way, but very expensive. The restaurant I most love, right now, is Brushfire Smoke BBQ at Oast House in Niagara-on-the-Lake. You have a very extensively trained chef, one of the best I’ve ever worked with, who hung up the line on fine dining and is making dishes using the same techniques, but on paper plates. I love it. Affordable, but honest quality, great food for everybody. That’s the future.

So you are an award-winning archer – a bowman extraordinaire! Please tell us more…

I won a gold medal in Team Shooting at OFSAA 2 or 3 years in a row. I was never as good as Jesse Thompson [need square bracket explanation of who this is], but he taught me a lot. Shooting is a sport that doesn’t lie. It is entirely on you, and you get the results based on the effort you put in. There is definitely a clarity of mind when you pull the string back. It’s a chance to push the day into the back of the mind and become hyper-focused on nothing. Amazing. And it’s good for your core, abs, and chest. I’d recommend it to anyone.

And, what’s this about being a mathematics whiz?

Well, I’m not by any means trained in mathematics to any significant standard, but in elementary and high school it was definitely my strongest natural skill by a longshot. I was competitive in the Pascal, Cayley, and Fermat provincial tests in high school. I always picked up math very fast. Nowadays, I use my math skills in poker! It was my source of income in university. I play poker mostly recreationally now, but I have three big wins under my belt: 1st in a 120-person tournament; 1st in a 2,500-person tournament; and 3rd in a 1,200-person tournament. I also use my math to play other card games like Magic: The Gathering, and Hearthstone. Understanding rudimentary Hypergeometric Distribution helps.

Okay, let’s move on to the Lightning Round:

Top of your playlist:

Come Along: Cosmo Sheldrake

 Favourite books:

Anything by R.A. Salvatore

Most treasured item:

Parents. No wait… Child now. Or wife? Uh oh…

Biggest indulgence:

Gambling, or video games (I originally put my wife, but she corrected me)

Who is your hero?

Christopher Lee, or Gandalf (yes, I see the irony in that)

Favourite morning ritual:

None; I’m very spontaneous. No routine.

Most unusual talent:

I can lick my own elbow. Truth. There’s a story about that.

Proudest achievement:

My son.

Mantra you live by:

Jump first.

If you could have a billboard seen by many, what would it read?

Two windmills would be standing in a field, and there would be a speech bubble above each, and one would say, “what’s your favourite music?” and the other would say, “I’m a big metal fan.”



NC winemaker’s prestigious Nuffield Scholarship bears fruit for Ontario wine industry

  photo by Justin Niece

Niagara College’s head winemaker, instructor and alumnus Gavin Robertson joins a select list of difference-makers in Canada’s agricultural industry.

As one of the latest recipients of a prestigious Nuffield Canada scholarship (2018), Robertson is addressing challenges faced by Ontario grape growers – from weather and climate pressures to labour availability, pricing and land use issues – through his new report, “Keeping Vines in the Ground and Wine on the Shelf: Safeguarding the Future of Ontario Viticulture with Education and Training.”

“Nuffield Canada provides motivated agricultural leaders an international opportunity to broaden their perspectives and grow their global network,” said Leona Watson, executive director of Nuffield Canada. “This is no doubt a life-changing experience and we’re proud of all our scholars for influencing change in their sector.”

The report is a culmination of two years of international study made possible by his $15,000 Nuffield Agricultural Scholarship, which led Robertson to wine regions across the globe. Robertson got his boots dirty in the vineyards of nine countries and across three continents – including France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and South Africa – where he had an opportunity to learn from researchers, educators and wine professionals.

The knowledge he gained throughout his travels to different wine regions around the world, each facing their own unique challenges, enabled him to frame the wine industry and viticulture education system back home. He identified critical knowledge clusters and strategies to address challenges to the viticulture industry, which could be implemented in Canada’s academic and applied training institutions to help guide industry stakeholders through part-time courses, workshops or online offerings.

“My Nuffield project gave me the opportunity to greatly expand my own knowledge of fundamental grape growing techniques and viticulture education models in ways that will have a lasting impact on my professional life,” said Robertson.

Robertson is also part of the NC Research & Innovation team and has acted as faculty research lead on several research partnerships. Most recently, he was the research lead for the Royal Canadian Mead project for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the R&I division.

General manager of the College’s Learning Enterprises Steve Gill applauded Robertson on the success of his Nuffield project.

“Through his leadership, Gavin has had a tremendous impact on the success of our College’s Teaching Winery, and we are so proud of his research that is poised to make a difference in Ontario’s grape and wine industry,” said Gill. “Gavin’s research encapsulates what our Teaching Winery is all about: using education to empower the viticulture industry for future success.”

Dean of NC’s Canadian Wine Institute Craig Youdale noted that Robertson is an integral part of the College’s wine programs, not only as a NC graduate but as a mentor to future winemakers.

“The Nuffield Scholarship was an opportunity for Gavin to both expand his knowledge and skills but more important was to create colleagues and connections around the world in the wine industry,” said Youdale. “He can now bring those skills directly to our students and share with our own faculty. Those connections he has fostered can help better connect our students and entire college to expertise around the globe and further bring our programs to a world-class level.”

One of the key recommendations in Robertson’s report underlines the vital importance of matching traditional viticulture training with proficiency in the most current mechanical and digital technology tools, such as precision viticulture techniques.

“Automated modes of technology will most certainly play a large role in efficient and sustainable viticulture in the near future,” said Robertson.

Such work is already underway within NC’s Research & Innovation division. Precision agriculture technologies are being developed at the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre to help local farmers with grapes, tree fruits and field crops. Since completing his Nuffield project, Robertson has been working with NC researchers to roll out tools such as remote environmental sensors for data collection at the NC Teaching Vineyard.

“This is just one example of the many ways that the scholarship has informed my own professional attitude and outlook, and I believe that many of the lessons learned are likely applicable to the industry at large,” Robertson said.

Robertson’s report and recommendations are now available on the Nuffield Canada website. Visit: Keeping Vines in the Ground and Wine on the Shelf: Safeguarding the Future of Ontario Viticulture with Education and Training.

About Gavin Robertson

A  winemaker at the Niagara College Teaching Winery and an instructor for the College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Robertson oversees all wine and cider production, manages vineyards at two locations plus a small hop yard and cider apple orchard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In addition to his work at the College, he owns a virtual artisanal cidery called Garage d’Or Ciders. Robertson graduated from Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program in 2011. He is currently a resident of St. Catharines, Ont.

About Nuffield Scholarship

Robertson’s Nuffield Scholarship was sponsored by Nuffield Canada Alumni. Canadian Nuffield scholars have travelled the world and brought new ideas home. Since 1950, Canada has awarded a total of 108 scholarships to those who are making a difference in the agriculture industry by sharing their knowledge and experience as consultants, mentors, board members, and sought-after public speakers.  Visit

Niagara College’s Teaching Winery is the first and only commercial teaching winery in Canada. It is located at the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus, along with the NC Teaching Brewery and – the latest addition in September 2018 – the NC Teaching Distillery which were also the first of their kind in Canada.

Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit

Ravine’s Lowrey Bros. brand heading to national shelves

“Waste not, want not.” The popular proverb, dating back to the 1700s, is deeply engrained in any farming operation of today. And it’s a philosophy that has been passed down through five generations of working the land at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery in St. David’s. 

The idea of throwing away bruised or marked fruit seems heretical given the work and effort that goes into farming, says Ravine’s logistics manager John Keen. And while the winery converted from a fruit and vegetable farm to primarily grapes back in 2004, that ideology lives on.

“Using what has become known as ‘seconds’ in canning celebrates the effort that goes into farming outside of the growing season as well as providing a source of income year-round.” 

This business model of using seconds to grow the reinvention of their Lowrey Bros. canning label and take them from a local to a national brand, brought Ravine to Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre last year for expertise in helping them realize this goal. 

The Lowrey-Harber family started the Lowrey Bros. Canning Company in 1897 with an initial canning of peaches from the property and then extended to produce from its neighbouring farmers. When they relaunched the Lowrey Bros. label in 2014, one of the first items they produced came from peach seconds from a farm down the road.

“The fruit was being destroyed at a rate of 100 pounds a day, and from this, we produced our line of Honey Bourbon Peaches as well as our Lowrey Bros. Peach Cider,” says Keen.

Today, Ravine is home to an organic vineyard, a winery, a restaurant, a cidery and a retail grocery store, where they sell out of their popular line of Lowrey Bros. Gourmet Food Products. And while sales have tripled since relaunching, the ultimate goal is to be on store shelves across Canada.

In collaborating with Niagara College, and its award-winning Research & Innovation division, the objective was to develop innovative food products, using seconds that are safe, sustainable, scalable, profitable, and of course, delicious.

“Scaling up to national grocery levels and the standards surrounding health and safety were not something we were familiar with,” notes Keen. “The CFWI Innovation Centre has the knowledge, expertise and experience we were lacking and were enthusiastic about the partnership.” 

The extensive project involved an array of food science experts at the Centre conducting product ideation; product and process development; co-packing identification; product scale-up; packaging; and regulatory/labelling claims. 

The Centre’s research team first carried out an in-depth study of regional produce and their seasonal availability, and market analysis determined flavour and product prospects for a variety of SKUs. Ravine then selected four products for optimization and scale-up: two of their current products (blueberry barbecue sauce and asparagus relish) and two new products for development (a tomato ketchup and a pasta sauce).

“This gave us the opportunity to see development both from a scale-up of existing recipes and de novo generation of new product lines,” says Keen. 

“This initial foray into scaling up, working with larger co-packers and understanding the standards for health, safety and labelling have been an education and the College’s team have been remarkable in leading us through this process.”

Working with the CFWI Innovation Centre has allowed Ravine’s Lowrey Bros. brand to grow from selling products in their own store to selling them in third-party specialty retailers, adds Keen.

“We now plan on taking all we’ve learned and the associations we’ve built towards expanding our market reach to the big box grocery stores soon.”

Nathan Knapp-Blezius, a research associate with the CFWI Innovation Centre and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, worked on the Ravine Winery project, helping the research team with product development and scale-up, using fruit and vegetable seconds.

The outcomes of the project will incrementally increase revenues by approximately $8M in sales over a five-year period, says Keen, and provide year-round revenues to help ensure the viability of the farm for generations to come.

“Our partnership with Niagara College has produced tangible and meaningful improvements in our procedures and processes, which has translated into measurable growth for our business.”

For Nathan Knapp-Blezius, a research associate with the CFWI Innovation Centre and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, it was an opportunity to work alongside experts with a creative vision to help solve the real-world challenge of rampant food waste.

“So much edible product from local farms becomes lost income because of blemishes, and can even end up costing money just to dispose of wastage,” says Knapp-Blezius. “Not every project has such a noble intention at its core. That goal, to create an uncompromisingly delicious product while generating a local opportunity is something we’re proud to be part of.”

The team was able to take on this project thanks to funding through the Ontario Centres of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP) program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) through its Engage grant program.

This is just one example of innovation from the College’s CFWI Innovation Centre, which offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. To read more about what the Centre offers, visit the website.

Sr. food scientist talks innovation at Summit

Niagara College’s Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, was a panellist at the 10th Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit in Toronto.

Niagara College’s Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the award-winning Research & Innovation division, was a guest speaker at the 10th Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit. The event was held in October in Toronto.

Vega-Lugo was an expert on the panel: Managing Regulatory and Business Driver to Improve Innovation and Competitiveness. Registrants of the panel learned how to identify and manage compliance drivers; maintain GFSI programs with limited resources; leverage consumer insights and trends to create value; resolve challenges in global food supply and distribution; and capitalize on emerging trends to improve core business goals.

The summit was a chance for experts and professionals from across North America to navigate the regulatory landscape; prepare for Canada’s biggest food regulations in 20+ years; adapt to compliance audits to avoid penalties and drive food industry innovation and benefit from growth opportunities.

Presentations from the FDA and Global Affairs Canada offered insight into the trade negotiations that are shaping the industry in both the United States and Canada.

Event goers were also able to meet with top government industry leaders to be prepared for how provincial and federal food regulations can impact businesses in areas such as food manufacturing, chain restaurants and wholesalers.


Where Are They Now?: Rachel Gerroir

Rachel Gerroir is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation & Food Technology program and spent two years with the Research & Innovation division, first as a Research Assistant, then Research Associate with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. Rachel is now employed as a Research Assistant with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University.

Tell us about where you work:
CCOVI is an internationally recognized institute focused on research priorities for Canada’s grape and wine industry, while also offering education and outreach programs for that community.

Describe your role and what you like about it:
My job involves working alongside researchers and graduate students on research projects aimed to help industry in various aspects of grape growing and winemaking. One of the projects I work on involves going to local vineyards to sample grapes and analyze the tannin concentration of the skins and seeds on a weekly basis until they are harvested.

The objective is to create a historical database of tannin development in many different varietals throughout the harvest season in Niagara’s wine region. This will facilitate best tannin management practices and informed decision-making throughout the winemaking process. I enjoy being able to go out into the field, and I’ve even had the chance to help with a harvest, which was a completely new experience for me!

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?
Research & Innovation was a fantastic learning environment and a great place to interact with clients and work on real products. I was able to see the challenges that small- and medium-sized businesses were facing and find the best solution for them. The hands-on lab experience and knowledge of various pieces of laboratory equipment have been most influential in preparing me for my current role. Working on many different projects simultaneously also helped me learn to organize and prioritize my time efficiently.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
Sobrii non-alcoholic gin beverage was a product I worked on in my final year at Research & Innovation. It was great to be able to work on a product that’s the first of its kind in Canada and be able to try competitive products from all over the world. I learned how to manage a project from start to finish. This included sourcing ingredients, macerating botanicals and distilling, organizing tastings, and adjusting the product to meet client expectations. It all started with small lab-scale distillations and ended with running commercial scale-ups at the Niagara College Teaching Distillery.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
The practical, hands-on approach to learning where you could take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to what you do in the science labs or kitchens. Coming from university, I also appreciated the smaller class sizes as they allowed you to dig deeper and ask more specific questions related to course material.

“The hands-on lab experience and knowledge of various pieces of laboratory equipment have been most important in preparing me for my current role.”

Most memorable experience at NC?
The culinary labs were some of my favourite courses because they brought food science into a practical environment while allowing you to use your creativity. Bringing home all the delicious food wasn’t so bad either!

A faculty member who influenced you?
Many members of faculty influenced me positively over the three years, especially Peter Rod, for sparking my interest in wine, and Dr. Amy Proulx for her ongoing encouragement and motivational support.

A mentor at R&I?
I learned something from many members of the research team, whether it be teachings through the product development process, how to use pieces of lab equipment, to how to manage expectations in the workplace. It was a great learning environment.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?
Work hard and be open to projects of all sorts; there’s something to learn in every one of them.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
To keep an open mind and be willing to participate in new experiences. If you have the opportunity to learn something new, always take it.

Proudest achievement since graduating?
Learning something new and building on my experience every day in a challenging and rewarding environment.

Interests outside of work?
Baking, hiking the beautiful trails of the Niagara region, visiting local wineries, and travelling.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
It’s the will, not the skill.



Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.