Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre will have a strong presence at the food entrepreneur competition happening at SIAL Canada’s largest North American food event April 30 – May 2 in Toronto.
The Food Scale-Up’s Pitch Competition, by SIAL Canada, a leading name in the agri-food industry, offers eligible food entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their food product, or new technology related to the food manufacturing industry, to an expert jury. Food start-ups also receive one-on-one access to industry experts on business development, PR, branding, consumer trends and more.
Research & Innovation’s senior food scientist, Dr. Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, will be part of the jury for the Food Scale-Up Pitch event, joining other industry leaders, retailers and technical advisors, and investors, media and other entrepreneurs from the food industry.
The CFWI Innovation Centre will also be offering a 20-hour consultation by its experts as a major prize to the winner.
Other prizes include international recognition through SIAL Canada and the global network to which it belongs, and a complimentary booth at SIAL Canada 2020.
SIAL Canada is now also the only event of its scale in Canada, with more than 1,000 national and international exhibitors from 50 countries hosting more than 18,500 buyers from Canada, the United States, and 60 other countries.
For more information about the Food Scale-Up Competition see the SIAL website.
GreenSpace Brands owns several recognizable brands, including Kiju Organic and Central Roast. They promote the idea of better products through the use of simple ingredients, traditional farming practices, and innovative branding.
Describe your role and what you like about it:
As the Food Safety and Quality Specialist, I work out of the Mississauga location, where we process all things Central Roast. I am responsible for maintaining, updating, and implementing our food safety and quality programs (HACCP and SQF).
Currently, I am in the process of updating and standardizing all of our program documents. While that may not seem very glamorous, is there really anything more satisfying than a well-organized food safety program?
Recently, we had our facility in Mississauga kosherized by the Kashruth Council of Canada. We had a meeting with the lead auditor, who brought with him some documents, including a kosher integration program for SQF that I actually helped write when I was working at Research & Innovation! It was really great to know that they were actually using it and showing it to all the companies that they certified.
How has your experience with R&I helped prepare you for your current role?
Already in my short time at GSB I have had to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. This was the norm at R&I and having that experience really improved my time and resource management skills.
A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
When I worked as the Lab Technician for R&I, I would help others with the lab aspects of their projects. One such project required me to develop a titration experiment to determine the acidity of the vinegars being developed for a client. With no prior titration experience, I set out to researching methods and practices and within a week or two, I had created and validated the experiment.
What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
In high school, I had a culinary teacher who I really respected and, after being accepted to five different culinary schools, I asked his opinion on which one he thought I should attend. He said that Niagara College would give me the best opportunities and that set me on a path to where I am today.
Most memorable experience at NC?
To be honest, my most memorable moment has to be my last day working at R&I. Having to say goodbye to all those who I had worked alongside for the previous years was difficult, but they really made it a great day that I won’t forget. I still have the personalized picture book full of inside jokes that was made for me.
“It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.”
A faculty member who influenced you?
Definitely Dr. Amy Proulx. I have never met a teacher more dedicated to the education and success of their students. She is an endless source of information on almost any topic and always has her door open to those seeking assistance. I still often look to Amy for advice and support whenever I need it.
I cannot go without mentioning Kristine Canniff [Research Project Manager, CFWI Innovation Centre]; if nothing else, she taught me what to look for in a leader and I can’t imagine R&I without her.
What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help – nobody is an expert in every subject. If you don’t know the answer to a problem, draw on the resources around you.
After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
I have learned to always keep an open mind about the work I am doing. It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.
Proudest achievement since graduating:
Although not job or school related, per se, I did just recently purchase my first house, and of that, I could not be more proud.
Interests outside of work?
Indoors, I am all about reading and consuming all forms of media (TV shows, movies and video games). Outdoors I love skiing and attending craft beer and food festivals.
If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”
With a background in botany, biochemistry and plant pathology, Kelly Byer did not set out to become Research & Innovation’s resident beer expert. Nor did she expect to put Niagara College on the provincial map for its hops and craft beer analysis expertise.
“It’s been something of an unplanned perfect fit for me,” says the lab technologist at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.
Unplanned because prior to arriving here in the fall of 2016 to manage R&I’s four research labs – facilities which allow students to explore such areas of food science as microbiology, chemistry, sensory analysis, and shelf-life testing – she couldn’t have imagined standing in a hop yard gathering cones for analysis or conducting sensory testing on hundreds of craft brews, all to help both industries thrive.
Perfectly fitting, thanks to her diverse training throughout her education and career that she now taps into and imparts on the students she mentors. Kelly holds a Biology degree (Hon), with a minor in Biochemistry from the University of Guelph (U of G) and says by working in biological weed control, first for U of G and then at Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, she laid the multidisciplinary groundwork for her current role.
“While biological weed control is a small niche in plant pathology, it’s also weed science, it’s mycology, it’s agronomy and it’s chemistry,” says Kelly, who is also experienced in compliance, quality, and food safety programs, having HACCP and SQF certifications.
The varied knowledge base acquired throughout her career is something on which she thrives. “I absolutely love learning new things. I am never bored and I always think the day you stop learning is the day you start dying.”
At the CFWI Innovation Centre, it didn’t take long to find herself immersed in the relatively new world of hops – a delicate green cone full of resins, and the plant part responsible for lending beer its bitterness, flavour, and aroma.
During the first full harvest of the College’s acre-and-a-half hop yard in 2017, Kelly led a team that tested a dozen varieties of hops to determine performance, and harvest optimization, to maximize the flavour compounds and their potential revenue from each crop.
“I absolutely love learning new things. I am never bored and I always think the day you stop learning is the day you start dying.”
She then worked with the Ontario Hop Growers Association (OHGA) to institute benchmarks for the hop market and prepared an annual report for the association to assess the performance of different cultivars over growing seasons.
Niagara College is also one of the only analytical labs in Ontario to provide the required hop testing for the hops and craft beer industry and it keeps her labs busy during hop season (mid-August to mid-October).
She recalls an interesting project that got her more intimately involved in the actual brewing process of beer. The industry partner, Vines to Vintages, a supplier of products and analysis to wineries across Canada and the United States, wanted to test wine yeast strain performance for beer production. They approached the CFWI Innovation Centre to help with specialized analysis so they could develop their market share within the Ontario brewing industry.
“We had a fantastic student from the Brewmaster program, who ended up being my beer professor,” she says.
Ever curious, she continued to soak up everything she could about the fermented froth – from expert faculty and staff – about the microbiology, the flavour maturation, and yeast properties and management. An ardent believer in experiential learning, she made the most of the applied research projects she took on.
One of those large-scale projects involved helping the craft brewing industry in the province by reviewing their product for quality and consistency. The research saw her purchasing 1,000 cans of craft beer last summer and her team analyzing the quality attributes of close to 100 different craft beers, from more than 50 Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) members.
She utilized the leading edge equipment at the CFWI Innovation Centre labs – one of the very few labs where the craft beer industry can get their brew analyzed – and also the expert assistance from program faculty at the College’s Teaching Brewery, and students from the Brewmaster program for the blind sensory trials.
“I loved seeing the synergy of helping the individual brewers, while at the same time helping the entire craft beer industry,” she notes. “If you only help individuals and the industry isn’t strong, I fundamentally believe that it’s going to be a lot harder to succeed in an industry that’s failing.”
She then presented her findings at the OCB annual conference, in a report called the “Ontario Craft Beer Quality Review,” to serve as a model to the industry.
Around the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus and in the social media domain, Kelly is also well known for her mouth-watering posts and her hashtag #BestJobEver, most notably capturing the appetizing food and beverage items that end up on her desk on a daily basis. Like the strawberry drizzled croissant by a student baker – which she describes as the absolute best she has ever tasted; or the cider made from root vegetables, or hard candies made from real fruit.
“It really is amazing to see this innovation from the students,” she says, adding the CFWI Innovation Centre works with the College’s resources, such as its commercial kitchens, brewery and hop yard and winery and vineyard.
The most memorable item to arrive in her office? Probably the pasta sauce made with real cricket flour, she says.
Still, when getting serious about the truly best part of her job, Kelly is overcome with emotion in speaking about the students. “It’s such an amazing team and I just love watching them grow and see their innovations come to life.”
These days, she’s grateful to interact with students in three different ways: In her role managing the labs and engaging in the varied applied research projects and technical services; as a part-time academic teacher in her plant pathology class and now as a student herself – she’s on the final lap for her Master Tasters Certificate in Wine, offered at the College, and which includes four core wine sensory courses and an elective.
“It’s fascinating how well you can train your palate,” she says, noting she’s happy to have another tool to help with research projects.
As for her passion for applied learning, Kelly is taking it to the streets this summer for a personal project. After concluding she doesn’t take advantage of the wonderful sites and beauty of Niagara, she’s embarking on a social media sojourn – accompanied by her two Miniature Schnauzers – from her hometown Fort Erie and will walk segments of the Niagara Parkway, from Old Fort Erie to Old Fort Niagara and will document and share her observations. Watch for the hashtag: #FortToFort.
When local artisan company Chocolate F/X needed to broaden its reach to a larger clientele, it needed a globally recognized food safety program and sought the help of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre for their quality assurance expertise.
The chocolatier creates an array of more than 85 chocolate products for both their retail chocolate factory in St. David’s and as custom orders for clients. All their products are crafted by hand at their facility, a former canning factory that has been restored and refurbished. The popular tourist company offers guided tours giving guests a chance to see the chocolate-making process.
In order to expand their business by taking on larger private label clients, Chocolate F/X required a functional HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) system, considered one of the most universally recognized food safety programs in the industry, but the company lacked the expertise and associated costs to achieve this on its own.
The CFWI Innovation Centre research team reviewed the facility, its existing documentation, and record-keeping practices and then developed Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), a HACCP plan, and various customized templates, which have enabled the company to move closer to receiving Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification. Guidance was also given to Chocolate F/X staff on effective implementation of the SQF program.
Results of the project allow the company to grow its business and prove that the highest possible standards are followed in the production, processing, preparation, and handling of food products.
To learn more about CFWI Innovation Centre projects, visit the website.
The sugar-conscious dessert company Bald Baker has seen a rise in sales and interest in its product line this past year, says Dan Sennet, founder and industry partner for Niagara College. Last year, Bald Baker wanted to extend the shelf life, and optimize and scale-up their two cookie products, so they looked to the research team at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.
“We’re scaling our production and our distribution and seeing lots of growth and lots of interest from larger, more national retailers,” says Sennet, whose company’s gmission is to offer delicious, low glycemic cookies and treats.
During the research project, the staff and student food science team at the CFWI Innovation Centre assisted Bald Baker with recipe optimization, which included: the addition of natural preservatives; identifying packaging options; exploring modified atmosphere packaging (MAP); conducting organoleptic shelf-life studies; monitoring critical variables towards optimization of organoleptic properties, while ensuring the inhibition of microbial growth; and providing labelling and regulatory guidance.
Not only vegan, but Bald Baker’s treats are also baked with just 3 grams of sugar or less, making them a diabetic-friendly dessert company. They “deconstructed a normal cookie,” and instead of high-calorie, nutrient-void ingredients, use nuts, healthy fats, and almond, coconut and quinoa flours, among some of the nutritious ingredients.
From this collaboration, made possible with funding by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, the company was also able to “significantly improve” their understanding of product development and production processes, and were able to commercialize two cookie products, now available through Toronto stores.
Since the project, Bald Baker is now on the shelves of Nature’s Emporium, Ambrosia and are working on a possible partnership with Sobey’s.
“We’re also working on a fifth SKU, tentatively named the ‘trail remix’,” Sennet says of the fall launch.
To learn more about CFWI Innovation Centre projects, visit the website.