Category Archives: Food & Beverage Innovation Centre

NOW HIRING: Culinary Research Assistant with our Food & Beverage Innovation Centre team

Research Assistant, Food & Beverage Innovation Centre (FBIC)

The Research Assistant will be enrolled in the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology or related food and beverage program. The successful candidate will work on a variety of projects and skill-building tasks. This includes assisting across various projects focusing on, but not limited to: new product development, product optimization and scale-up for production, shelf-life and packaging studies, and food safety and traceability. In addition, the successful candidate will have the opportunity to work on various other food and beverage related tasks, participate in networking/conference events and communications/outreach projects.

See the full FBIC Research Assistant job posting. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 23rd, 2021 at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, program of study, year or term in which you are currently enrolled, and school schedule (if available) to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘Research Assistant‘ in the subject line.


We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

NC expert to speak at craft brewers’ event

Research Lab Technologist Kelly Byer will once again be contributing her considerable expertise in craft brewing and hops quality during a provincial event this fall.

Byer, of the Food & Beverage Innovation Centre, will be involved in several sessions at the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference Oct. 25 and 26, in our own backyard venue of the Niagara Falls Convention Centre.

In a session entitled “Ontario Hops Quality: OHGA” Byer will discuss the five-year analytical testing work with the Ontario Hops Growers Association as part of an effort to produce high-quality hops for the craft beer industry.

Byer will then join Adrian Popowycz, NC professor with the Brewmaster Brewery Management programs, and Dirk Bendiak, Ontario Craft Brewers Tech Consultant, for a session entitled “Building & Improving Quality Programs.” Aspects of the talk include a review of the changes to the definition of beer, label changes, legal and critical aspects of a quality program of a brewery. The talk will also highlight what aspects of a quality program in terms of outside testing and confirmation may be useful for a small brewery when not available internally. 

Full conference details are speakers are available on the website.

Former brewmaster lands role piloting new food products

Brad Barta knows his job title of Product Plant Production Specialist doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

It’s a long title for a big job that’s made up of many small moving and mighty parts.

The one-line plot summary is that Barta manages the small-batch production of beverages and liquid food products in Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, for companies to test those items with consumers or ramp up to industrial-scale production.

“So instead of a client having to start with making 20,000 litres, a client can start with 100 litres, 200 litres or even 1,000 litres on this system,” Barta explains.

Barta knows well the art and science of craft production. Until he started with Research & Innovation, he was the Lead Brewer for six years at the Niagara College Teaching Brewery, training future brewmasters how to use a pilot brewing system for their hoppy creations.

He had no idea there was another pilot system on campus outside of the brewery, so when the Product Plant Production Specialist job was posted – an opening he discovered while helping a family member’s job search – he realized he checked all the boxes.


He met each of the top criteria and achieved that elusive purple squirrel status for having precisely the right qualifications for the gig.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a learning curve since Barta started his new job in May. Take the ultra-high temperature pasteurizer/homegenizer he uses that reaches 3,500 units of pressure (PSI) compared to the usual 15 PSI he was accustomed to working with at the teaching brewery. Barta has been “reading manuals, manuals and manuals” to learn how to safely operate it. There are 300 pages of in-depth instructions to get familiar with the tool for good reason.

“One thing I love about Research & Innovation is there just seems to be a lot of growth in this field.”

“The one piece of equipment that makes me nervous is the homogenizer,” Barta says with a laugh. “I say to my students (jokingly), if something goes wrong, leave the building because it may take half the building with it.”

Still, becoming a master of the homogenizer means being able to test out potential products made with dairy or dairy substitutes. The machine could help with making the next big thing in baby food, too, for example.

It’s not beer, but any product Barta helps develop still requires the same creativity demanded by a crowd-pleasing brew. That’s the best part of the job, he says.

Barta and the CFWI Innovation Centre team can work with clients, coming up with a list of ingredients and, with the help of students, turn those parts into a potentially viable product. Barta doesn’t get discouraged if a pilot project isn’t perfect on the first try. He’s currently on the third trial for one product and loving every moment of its evolution with input from the client.

“With every step, there has been improvement and that fuels your energy,” he said.

So does travelling when Barta has time away from the office, especially when it involves food and beer. Spoiler alert: It usually does, whether it’s close to home on Bruce Trail hikes followed by winery lunches with his wife, Helen, or something farther afield.

One of his most memorable trips was spending six weeks in New Zealand. Brewing beer at Weihenstephan at the Technical University of Munich ranks up there, too.

“Every place is so different. You can go to a remote village in Mexico and it’s so vastly different than resorts and that sort of thing,” Barta says. “Then it’s ‘Hey, let’s go to Germany and check out the beer.’”

His favourite suds to sip are pilsners, which he might try making on his own now that the home brewing that led him to the College in the first place can be a hobby again rather than a continuation of his day job. 

“Give me (a pilsner) made with precision and executed perfectly and I’m happy, happy,” Barta says.

Much like he is in his new position, where he’s busy getting up to speed, moving smaller projects forward and getting bigger projects going.

“One thing I love about Research & Innovation is there just seems to be a lot of growth in this field,” he says. “People said (when I applied for this job), there’s a lot of potential there, a lot of growth. They recommended I do it. It’s a bit of a change but it means that I can stay with Niagara College.”

Distilling by-product gets makeover to become new product

There’s a saying that it takes a lot of beer to make wine.

For producer A Hillier Vineyard Inc., in Prince Edward County, it takes a lot of their Levantine spirit, arak, to make wine, too.

Unfortunately, it’s not readily drinkable tipple that comes from the process. So, the question of how to turn 1,200 litres of wine leftover every week – from distilling arak using grapes grown at A Hillier Vineyard – into something quaffable is one question the vineyard’s father-son ownership team of Milad and Akram Zakhia has been trying to answer.

“We had that leftover wine from distillation, and we were just wasting it,” Akram says. “Because of the aroma lost during the process, we can’t sell it. We were throwing away so much juice that one day my dad said, ‘What if we got someone professional to help us out?’”

They did. They turned to Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. Since April 2021, a team of college researchers has been working to transform the low-alcohol distilling by-product into a unique beverage that would give A Hillier Vineyard a niche similar to what it has carved out with its arak, which is sold on its own as well, under the label Kasak.

“It’s another potential market of people who want to drink wine but prefer low alcohol or no alcohol,” Akram notes. “It’s a shame to waste it.”

The innovation centre team came up with a way to immediately treat the distilled wine to prevent microbial growth using equipment A Hillier Vineyard already has in its production facility. In addition, researchers developed a masking agent to replace the lost aroma. They also created different flavours, including orange anise, caramel apple and mint cardamom, to give the wine a new feel.

The projects are funded by GreenCentre’s CONNECT program, which helps small- and medium-sized enterprises bring new products and services to market, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Innovation Enhancement grant.

“They have the expertise and scientific background and it’s very helpful. It’s good to have institutions like Niagara College for these reasons.” – Akram Zakhia, A Hillier Vineyard

A Hillier Vineyard recently received samples of the flavoured wine for feedback and discussion of different flavours. Overall, the beverage with additional flavours is a concept that Akram says they hadn’t thought of but are keen to continue refining and test with consumers to determine marketability.

“We are very open-minded and enthusiastic about the possibilities,” he says. “We are willing to explore these alternative flavours with consumers and listen to their feedback so we can satisfy the market.”

Mostly, they’re grateful to have an experienced and well-connected team of researchers working to find a solution for all that residual wine.

“They have the expertise and scientific background and it’s very helpful,” Akram says. “It’s good to have institutions like Niagara College for these reasons.”

That confidence has led to another project between A Hillier Vineyard and Niagara College. They are currently working to develop a new brandy called Inanna with a Brazilian partner.

“They are always a great help,” Akram says. “We will always consider Niagara College as a good partner in our industry, as we can benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience. If we have new ideas or need assistance, we would definitely consider working with them again.”

Dipping into a pita chip conundrum

When Surria Fadel has a problem that needs solving, the pita chip and salad dressing maven calls on Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre for help.

After all, there hasn’t been a time when the Research & Innovation centre hasn’t come through for Surria, vice-president of production and product development for Cedar Valley Selections. The food company was founded by her son Ameen near Windsor when he was just 16.

“We want to keep working with Niagara College as long as possible,” Surria says. “The team is fantastic.”

Surria and Cedar Valley Selections’ connection with the College happened by chance. Cedar Valley Selections is the maker of Canada’s first fattoush salad dressing. It’s an enterprise that came to be in 2015 when Ameen was in high school and learned of a competition for students to win $3,000 to start their own company.

After brainstorming with Surria, they decided to bottle her fattoush dressing, which Ameen sold out of his locker. He won the money and the business grew from there, with sales spreading to farmers markets and then local programs at Sobeys grocery stores.

While marketing the dressing at tradeshows, Surria would often run into Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, PhD, scientific manager with the CFWI Innovation Centre.

“I’d pick her brain from the dressing standpoint,” Surria recalls. “We were struggling with that and how to scale up.”

Eventually a co-packer was found for the dressing, but Cedar Valley Selections expanded its lineup to include that other fattoush – and snacking – essential: the pita chip.

“I couldn’t believe the results we got. The suggestions made by the team at Niagara were exactly what we needed. It made a huge difference in our product quality and output.”
– Surria Fadel, Cedar Valley Selections

Surria learned the college did grant work to help businesses scale up, and with funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, she and Vega Lugo finally got to work together on a significant conundrum facing Cedar Valley Selections. Surria needed to know the optimal temperature for the coconut oil and cook time to avoid burning and oversaturation.

Vega Lugo and the research team, which include students, did an analysis and determined the best process for Cedar Valley pita chips.

“I couldn’t believe the results we got,” Surria says. “The suggestions made by the team at Niagara were exactly what we needed. It made a huge difference in our product quality and output.”

As with any burgeoning business, other issues arose and needed solving. Next on Cedar Valley Selections’ to-do list was finding a way to prevent clumping of the cinnamon-sugar seasoning used on one of their pita chip varieties. Vega Lugo and team started researching natural anti-caking agents.

They also tackled nutritional analysis of the pita chips, which are sold online and in national grocery chains.

“They’re so detail oriented on the projects,” Surria says. “The presentation at the end of it to show how they got the results, it’s so reassuring to me. To say I have a food science team to back this up is so reassuring and gives us so much more clout when we go to retailers.”

Now Surria is lining up a fourth project, pending grant approval. Meanwhile, she recommends the College to other newer small businesses, particularly the female entrepreneurs she mentors.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t try to do it on your own. Get back-up,’” Surria says. “Dr. Ana (Vega Lugo) is brilliant.”

Grad gains ground in career with position in quality assurance

Thao Nguyen is a 2021 graduate of the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program at Niagara College. Her work as a research assistant with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre helped inform her career choices(plural?) once finished her studies. Today, she works with Mérieux NutriSciences.

Tell us about where you work (name and type of company) and your current position/title:

Mérieux NutriSciences is well known for offering testing, consulting, auditing work and solutions for manufacturers, processors, retailers, either food or non-food. With more than 50 years of experience, Mérieux has expanded into/grown to 27 countries with more than 100 accredited laboratories worldwide. It has also broadened the capacity to certification, labelling, sensory and so on to meet customers’ growing demands.

Describe your current role and what you like about it:

Working as a Quality Assurance analyst, I am in charge of conducting physical tests on a variety of samples including ready-to-eat, raw products to pet food, and even non-food. Regular daily tasks would include monitoring temperature and the working condition of equipment, conducting water activity, pH, Brix and other tests regarding physical attributes of samples. I also participate in the sensory panel to evaluate organoleptic aspects of products over time. What I like most about working here is that I get to work with different types of products everyday which gives me experience and understanding of all food products in the market.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

Working at Research & Innovation, I was used to planning my day ahead and creating convenient, easy-to-use templates that made my work flow smoother. Product-wise, with hands-on product development experience, it is easier for me to understand what clients are aiming for and trying to do with their products, thus, looking at a sample, I know what I should focus on. 

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

COVID was one of the biggest challenges with all the safety procedures and limited access to the campus. I learned to optimize the sample preparation process that can bring the best understanding of products without having to go back and forth. Savoury tea was one of my favourite projects with a lot of sensory involved. This was also when I gained the experience of how such a small change in the amount of ingredients could entirely affect the whole product. My sensory ability was also improved after that, which helped me in my recent job.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

It was the chance of getting hands-on food technology experience that attracted me the most, including course scopes, class activity, the co-op program and working at Research & Innovation. The Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program also exposed students to different aspects of Food Science that really broaden their career path. A graduate from the program can confidently work in a kitchen, a food manufacturer, a retailer, or a laboratory, from product development to quality assurance or even start their own business.

Most memorable experience at NC?

One of my courses was Food & Wine Dynamics, in which I had to taste and evaluate attributes of wine to pair with a meal. The main thing was I was never a fan of alcohol. After that day, I learned that no matter the situation, I have to consume my alcohol responsibly; I should eat before taking alcohol and I can get affected without swallowing. This was also one of the reasons I got my Smart Serve certification, to have a better knowledge of how alcohol triggers your system.

Is there a particular mentor at either R&I or a faculty member who influenced you?

There are many faculty members that had a great impact on me during my years at Niagara College. Professor Amy Proulx influenced me the most with her passion about the food industry. Talking to her or watching her videos, you can always see that she is looking to orientate the food industry to a sustainable industry that provides safe and quality products. She is also trying to inspire the young of how great and why they should consider a career in food and beverage processing industry. I am always amazed at the energy and effort she has been putting in the Culinary Innovation program specifically and the food industry in general.

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

College is a great place and time for you to try and experience whatever you are looking to do. Don’t hesitate to try new things. If you succeed, great, you made it. If something fails, great, you taught yourself a valuable lesson.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I learned the communication is an important aspect to keep the work moving forward. Even daily small talks or update would bring more information to your team than you expect. I also learned that even for things that you have never touched or known about, you can still do it if you have time to try and experience.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

My achievement would be small to many, but I am proud of myself for being better every day. The me of today is learning a new language, an instrument and a sport. The me of today will have a lot to talk with the me of 2021 who was so uncertain of everything back then.

What are you passionate about at the moment?

Even though college is done, I am still collecting other program-related certificates that can help me in the future. I am also learning a new language to broaden my career choice and travelling choice.

Interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I take buses to explore my neighbourhood area. I enjoy seeking beauty from people around me, the scene, the nature or whatever I find that day.

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

Don’t just think, do. It’s either you make it or get yourself a valuable lesson.