Category Archives: Research & Innovation

POSITION AVAILABLE: Course-Based Project Manager position available with our Research & Innovation team

Course-Based Project Manager

Applications are invited for the position of Course Based Project Manager in the Research & Innovation division located at our Welland Campus.

The Course-Based Project Manager leads the growth of the portfolio of course-based project opportunities for Niagara College students across schools and programs, and manages the relationships needed to make this happen, both internal with the Deans, Associate Deans, and Faculty, and external, with industry partners and funders.  This involves being responsible for the expansion of course-based project delivery in new programs where it supports the teaching and learning outcomes, as described by the academic plans.

Click HERE to see the full job posting and to apply.

The deadline to apply is Friday, January 31st, 2020.

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

Food science expertise helps create gluten-free flour

Kasia Pilling, owner of Pilling Foods, with Kyler Schwind, research assistant with Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, and student in the Advanced Diploma Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program. The NC research team developed a gluten-free flour for the natural foods wholesale company.

With their new product –a gluten-free flour replacement – Pilling Foods is establishing themselves as innovators in the Canadian food market.

And with the help of food science experts at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, individuals with gluten-restriction diets will now have a wider variety of baking options.

“We wanted to give people more cooking flexibility and overcome the difficulties that baking with alternative flours can have,” says Pilling Foods’ Sean Aguiar.

The product, developed with the help of the research team, is called Good Eats: Bakers Blends Complete Flour Replacement, and is available in regular and chocolate flavour. It is both gluten-free, non-GMO and touts as being a good source of fibre.

The replacement flour can be used as a 1:1 baking flour replacement in a wide variety of recipes without the need for additional ingredients to achieve identical results to standard wheat flour, says Aguiar.

Based in Fergus, Ont., Pilling Foods is a health and natural-food wholesale company, providing high-quality, gluten-free, non-GMO and organic flours, seeds and baking ingredients. The company is also certified by the Canadian Celiac Association and is a dedicated gluten-free facility.

They approached the NC research team to collaborate in formulating a flour replacement blend that would be “unique and versatile,” yet easy to work with and produce a flavourful dish.

While the experts at the CFWI Innovation Centre have worked with gluten-free flour previously, the challenge on this project was to develop a 1:1 replacement, says Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist at the Centre.

“The unique development of gluten is key for structural and textural characteristics of baked goods,” she explains. “Understanding the functionality of gluten-free starches and evaluating how they can be complementary and synergistic to give similar results as gluten is very challenging.”

After identifying key ingredients and working within food safety and quality parameters, the research team took its formulations to the lab kitchens at the College’s culinary institute to evaluate the gelatinization temperature and the gel strength of different starches.

“The functionality and properties of various starches were evaluated, and then tested in a variety of baked goods,” adds Vega-Lugo.

It was a process that allowed Pilling to help develop and refine their ideas in creating an innovative product.

“We were beyond excited when they presented their results … it exceeded our expectations,” says Aguiar. “The research team was very knowledgeable and guided us through the development process. It was an amazing experience.”

The process also allowed Kyler Schwind, a student in NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, to gain a greater understanding of developing a product that is gaining steam in the marketplace.

“Having a more in-depth knowledge on gluten-free flour creation, and functional ingredients has allowed me to expand my area of potential careers,” says Schwind, a research assistant with the CFWI Innovation Centre who worked on the project.

“Every product I work on in the Innovation Centre forces me to learn and understand a new aspect of food,” he adds. “Having this hands-on education has definitely broadened my food science knowledge.”

Both Good Eats: Bakers Blends Complete Flour Replacement products are available at Sobeys grocery store, Winners, Marshalls, Homesense and Pilling’s online store.

“Thanks to the wonderful staff and students of the CFWI Innovation team we were able to bring our idea to life and produce a product that would allow us to better serve our consumers,” adds Aguiar.

The recipe development project was funded by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) through a 20-hour interactive visit, a program that’s advantageous for evaluating the viability of potential larger projects and to help de-risk investments for clients.

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.

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.


Non-alcoholic distilled spirit an innovative first in Canada


In the nascent zero-alcohol spirits industry, Bob Huitema, of DistillX Beverages Inc., is a pioneer. And with the help from experts at Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, he has launched Canada’s first-ever non-alcoholic gin.

After six months of in-depth market research before engaging with NC’s Research & Innovation division more than nine months ago, Huitema has released his alt-gin product, called Ø-Gin (zero gin). The distilled non-alcoholic spirit is under the brand label Sobrii – a nod to the Latin roots of the word “sober.”

True to its name, the inventive cocktail has zero calories, zero sugar and, as the marketing touts: zero hangovers.

In replicating the refreshing flavour profile of traditional gin with juniper notes, Sobrii’s Ø-Gin also includes classic spiced botanicals such as coriander, star anise and allspice. Interestingly, and as a tribute to Canada, is the non-traditional addition of ginseng. (Ontario is the largest producer in the world of North American ginseng.)

“I pride myself in terms of the product that it is very much like the alcohol product,” says Huitema. “In fact, I don’t call it a substitute, because I think it’s actually better.”

He seems to have hit the mark, if consumer enthusiasm is any indication from the 2,000 samples served at his official public launch at the Gourmet Wine and Food Expo in Toronto in November.

“The vast majority of people said it tasted just like gin,” he says, adding his primary target market is anyone who is already drinking the alcoholic version.

“My target is people who drink, but to pinpoint that market further, the commonality is the shared awareness of health – meaning less alcohol is healthier,” he says, pointing out that, according to studies, alcohol consumption is declining globally and in every age group. 

While conducting research into non-alcoholic spirits, Huitema visited the United Kingdom, where the market is three to five years advanced, compared to North America. There are also a handful of zero-alcohol distilled gin manufacturers in the United States and now a couple in Canada.

Although his innovative product is new to the market, Huitema is no stranger to the spirits industry. Prior to entering the entrepreneurial world, he spent four years at Diageo (the second-largest distiller in the world) as strategic accounts director and then marketing/brand director for Guinness.

“I’ve always looked at different projects in distilling,” he says. “I knew enough that I thought this could be a very interesting project.”

Interesting indeed, but challenging nonetheless, especially in producing a distilled non-alcoholic gin when all the flavour is first derived with help from ethanol.

“It’s a difficult endeavour because botanicals love alcohol and generally do not like water,” Huitema explains. “The whole trick is obviously taking the alcohol out and leaving the flavour behind.”

He says the proprietary process involves a unique method incorporating maceration of spices and distillation. 

“Now, if you’re making gin, you carefully distill the botanical and capture the distillate, but I can’t do that because I don’t want all the flavour to go with the alcohol.”


It was an extremely ambitious goal considering the impact of the alcohol on the flavour and mouthfeel and the fact the characteristic aromatic compounds of gin are being carried by the alcohol, explains Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist at the CFWI Innovation Centre. The Centre includes a research team with a strong history of developing non-alcoholic products – most notably the award-winning Hill Street Beverages alcohol-free craft lager.

“The goal was to move away from flavoured water towards a non-alcoholic product that would offer a consumer experience,” Vega-Lugo says.

The initial stages of development took place at the beverage labs at the CFWI Innovation Centre and then a small number of trials were completed at the NC Teaching Distillery to adjust methods and formulation at a larger scale.

Niagara College is not only home to an award-winning Research & Innovation division, but the College’s trailblazing Daniel J. Patterson Campus, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, includes Canada’s first commercial Teaching Winery, Teaching Brewery, and Teaching Distillery, as well as Eastern Canada’s first Commercial Beekeeping program.

“Their expertise was instrumental in terms of being able to sell a product that was not only superior tasting but something I can commercially scale and replicate safely.”

~ Bob Huitema, DistillX Beverages Inc.

It’s significant to note that beverages containing less than 0.5 percent alcohol are not only considered “non-alcoholic” but are also considered a food product and must adhere to strict guidelines. This has required Huitema to obtain food handling certification and a food manufacturing licence.

Angela Tellez-Lance, PhD, a senior food safety expert at the CFWI Innovation Centre, was also brought on board to advise on a food safety risk assessment since the risk of microbial growth is higher, adds Vega-Lugo.

Huitema says he’s purposefully controlling for a number of variables by producing hand-crafted, small batches at a craft distillery in Stratford, Ont., a rich agricultural region where he grew up and which inspired his product.

“I really wanted to do something that speaks to that same natural environment: no sugar, no calories and no artificial flavours or sweeteners.”

He speaks highly of his experience with the research team at the CFWI Innovation Centre and gained a crucial boost of confidence from receiving valuable guidance throughout the project.

“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.”

For Rachel Gerroir, a graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation & Food Technology program, it was an incredible experience to be involved with such a unique project, she says. As a research associate, she worked alongside experts in the Innovation Centre to develop the process after many trials and experiments.

“It was a very exciting project and of course, very challenging as it’s the first of its kind in Canada,” she says. “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.”

The Sobrii Ø-Gin spirit is currently available at several Toronto locations of Cocktail Emporium for $35 a bottle, as well as online at Huitema is also working on getting included on the shelves at select retailers and on restaurant menus.

“It’s thrilling to see the product in its packaging and to know that it’s being sold on store shelves,” adds Gerroir. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see it go from our small lab scale to large-scale production and commercialization.”

This technical service project 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 their website.

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.