Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Niagara College establishes Beverage Centre of Excellence thanks to NSERC grant

Pictured from left: Research assistants with Research & Innovation Samantha Stinellis and Shannon Wood, both graduates (2020) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program and Jayme Opitz, research associate with R&I and a graduate (2019) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program.

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division will be deploying more than $1 million to expand essential applied research in the growing beverage sector over the next three years, thanks to federal government funding.  

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Innovation Enhancement Extend program will allow R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre to enhance its state-of-the-art commercialization services to assist more beverage companies in the Niagara region, and beyond, to innovate, grow and compete in the global marketplace. 

The College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) Extend Innovation Enhancement (IE) Grant, entitled “Increasing Economic Prosperity through Beverage Innovation & Commercialization,” spans three years and includes $300,000 per year, to which $150,000 per year in industry cash contributions will be added for a total of $1.35 million.

The announcement is part of NSERC’s $76-million investment for 128 new applied research projects aimed at connecting Canadian colleges with local small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to provide innovative solutions in the development of new products and technologies.

For the CFWI Innovation Centre, this grant means expanding resources to focus on feasibility studies (pre- and post-market services and risk assessments); beverage research and product development (innovative processes and incorporation of key market trends); consumer acceptance and quality assurance; and conducting research test-runs through a small-batch, scale-up beverage processing laboratory. 

This funding responds to an incredible demand by regional beverage manufacturers and more than six years of capacity-building in food and beverage research and development at the CFWI Innovation Centre’s Technology Access Centre (TAC). The NSERC-funded TAC enables SMEs to advance their products, processes and services through access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise. 

“Beverage-sector companies have identified challenges that prevent them from innovating with new products, including a lack of affordable research expertise, equipment and facilities. Through this NSERC grant, we are able to better serve the needs of Ontario’s growing food and beverage industry,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president, Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives.

This initiative will establish the CFWI Innovation Centre as a Beverage Centre of Excellence, strengthening Niagara College’s track record of firsts in Canada as home of the first commercial Teaching Winery, Teaching Brewery, Teaching Distillery, and Commercial Cannabis Production academic program. 

“Now we’re expanding this offering for our industry/training supports with a beverage and liquids R&D pilot processing lab that bridges the gap for companies looking to get consumable test-products in the market,” said Lyndon Ashton, centre manager, CFWI Innovation Centre. 

When industry partner Royal Canadian Mead needed specialized expertise to develop a line of mead products, they looked to experts at the CFWI Innovation Centre. Together with NC’s Teaching Winery and Commercial Beekeeping program, College researchers crafted new styles of session brews, two of which are now on the shelves at the LCBO. 

In a more recent innovative project with DistillX Beverages Inc., CFWI Innovation Centre researchers created Canada’s first distilled non-alcoholic gin, under the band label Sobrii Ø-Gin (zero gin), with zero calories, zero sugar and, as the marketing touts: zero hangovers.

“Their expertise was instrumental in terms of me being able to sell a product that was not only superior tasting but something I can commercially scale and replicate safely,” said Bob Huitema, founder of DistillX Beverages.

Since opening, the CFWI Innovation Centre has worked with companies of all sizes, including Bacardi Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Bacardi Ltd., the largest privately-held spirits companies in the world. Consumer acceptance and sensory testing for Bacardi, involving students and staff experts, has informed the launch of new alcoholic beverage products. 

Beyond project funding, this IE grant will allow the CFWI Innovation Centre to provide enhanced experiential learning opportunities for students, while meeting strong local industry demand for skilled talent. The Centre works with faculty experts and students from several NC programs – including  Culinary Innovation and Food Technology (Co-op), Culinary Management (Co-op), Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, Winery and Viticulture Technician, and Wine Business Management programs – to provide a wealth of knowledge to industry partners. 

Kyler Schwind, research assistant with Research & Innovation and a graduate (2020) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, working on the DistillX Beverages project to develop Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin under the brand label Sobrii Ø-Gin.

“Our focus is on combining economic and workforce development aspects of our programs. This grant lets us hire students as research assistants, who work alongside highly-qualified experts and industry partners,” said Ashton. “It gives talent access to highly motivated employers in their field, and acts as a proving ground for companies to tap into prospective employees by innovating.”

NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division provides real-world solutions for business, key industry sectors, and the community through applied research and knowledge transfer activities. Researchers conduct projects that provide innovative solutions, such as producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products or processes for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

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


Quick Facts – CFWI Innovation Centre Beverage Centre of Excellence

• The
Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre Beverage Centre of Excellence will be part of an entire research floor of the new 49,000-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex (based at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake), that includes designated laboratories focused on beverage research; and equipment to facilitate beverage processing, treatment and analytical research, including cannabis research.

• As a Beverage Centre of Excellence, the CFWI Innovation Centre will serve as a one-stop shop for beverage innovation and commercialization that will help small- and medium-sized enterprises 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. 

• For industry partners, the NSERC IE Extend grant will provide project funding that will require a 1:1 match consisting of cash and in-kind services. The R&I business development team is available to hear potential project ideas and discuss ways the CFWI Innovation Centre can work to solve these challenges. Contact Elizabeth Best, business development coordinator: [email protected]

• The CFWI Innovation Centre team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry needs. In all cases, the intellectual property developed during the project belongs to the industry partner.


Students’ memorable milestone moment marked

Well, congratulations to all Niagara College students graduating this spring!  

This milestone is the culmination of months and months of hard work, attention to details, and pushing beyond for all our students. I’d like to give extra kudos at this time to those we’ve had the good fortune of having with us at Research & Innovation, whether as junior or senior co-op students, or part-time research assistants. You’ll see that they come from a great variety of programs at the college, and were involved in applied research projects with all three of our Innovation Centres and with our Business & Commercialization Solutions.  

Graduates, enjoy celebrating the fruits of your labour, and know that we are grateful for all your work at Research & Innovation. You’re the reason we get up in the morning, and we’re extremely proud of you and your journey so far. And now, your future awaits, so go carpe that diem with both hands!!!


– Marc Nantel, Vice-President, Research, Innovation & Strategic Partnership


Research & Innovation congratulates our graduates for Spring 2020:


Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre


Mariasole Taiocchi

Computer Programmer Analyst

Andrew Benton
Ken Dubois
Michael Gall
Vi Nguyen
Victoria Peel

Computer Programmer

Lara Medeiros Silva Joaquim

Greenhouse Technician

Elias Abraham
Vladmir Rogov

Horticulture Technician

Morgan Cheeseman


Business & Commercialization Services

International Commerce and Global Development (BBA)

Andrea Lopez
Mariasole Taiocchi

Sales & Marketing

Alexander Miller
Felipe De Oliveira Reis

Broadcasting- Radio, Television and Film (Film Production)

Brenden Macdonald
Cole Patton
Aidan Manley
Miranda Langendoen


Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

Culinary Innovation & Food Technology

Jenna Black
Jacob Crawford
Ezio Deiana
Victoria Gagnon
Samantha Stinellis
Seth Graham
Jennie Vallangca
Kyler Schwind
Shannon Wood

Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management

Ian Evans
Geoffrey Albrecht


Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Computer Programmer

Rafael de Castro Almeida

Electrical Engineering

Tyler Winger 

Mechanical Engineering Technology

Jordan Kindred
Avery Edge
Anusha Qureshi
Yodha Singh

Mechanical Engineering Technician

Curtis Plante


Harsimran Singh


The vast majority of NC graduates who have worked with Research & Innovation go on to find employment directly linked to the experience they have had while working with our department. Learn more about their stories in our Alumni section, and through our regular segment in the e-newsletter called “Where are they Now?”

NC food & beverage expert presents at OCC webinar

Lyndon Ashton, centre manager, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, was an expert panelist on a recent webinar hosted by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC). The online discussion highlighted the critical role the food and beverage industry plays, the challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of the food processing supply chain, and the steps for recovery and strengthening of the industry. The webinar took place on June 11. View it here:


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.

Current Opportunities: Shared by our Innovation Ecosystem Partners

The following are opportunities shared by our Innovation Ecosystem Partners:

Regional Relief and Recovery Fund available

The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) is now accepting applications from southern Ontario businesses for the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), a fund intended to support companies that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been unable to access Canada’s other emergency relief measures, such as IRAP’s IAP, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Learn more in the link.

Read more here.

Ontario innovators come together in OCE Collaboration Platform

The Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) has launched the COVID-19 Collaboration Platform to identify the innovative technologies, SMEs and experts from across the province to fill the current product and service gaps. If you have a piece of the puzzle – whether it is an asset, a technology or a product – and need collaborators to assist your efforts, visit OCE’s site to share your capabilities, barriers and needs. We can all work together to flatten the curve!

 Read more here.

Agri-food operator funding helps SMEs with e-business

The Agri-Food Open for E-Business initiative will help food producers, farmers markets, retailers, garden centres, greenhouses, nurseries, and agricultural associations develop online business, providing consumers with greater access to a wide variety of food and agriculture products. This targeted application intake features two funding streams: 1) bringing one’s business online, and 2) developing online business opportunities. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) will immediately accept applications and expedite the approval process.

More information about this targeted intake and the program guidelines can be found online or by calling: 1-877-424-1300.

May we help your business recover from COVID-19?

As most of Ontario moves in Phase 2, we have returned to some on-campus research project activities, and have begun planning for what’s next with each of our research centres. We wish to thank you for your patience in these unprecedented times!

We are still here to hear about your potential project ideas, the challenges you face in your business, and how we may be able to put our research centres to work as partners solving your business challenges, post-COVID. There are potential funding opportunities available.

If you would like to learn more, please contact Elizabeth Best, Business Development Coordinator, at [email protected].

In the meantime, we encourage you to be in touch with any of our team by email should you need any clarification or have any questions.  

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

*Updated messages to Niagara College’s response to COVID-19 can always be found on the NC homepage.