Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Expanding the marketplace for ‘superfoods’ company

Due to its diverse ecosystem, Peru is home to myriad foods that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Typically, these powerhouse foods – now commonly called ‘superfoods’ for their nutrient-rich properties – are freeze-dried and ground into a powder as to not dilute their health benefits.

In expanding its own line of healthy products, which combines Peruvian superfoods with local Canadian-grown ingredients, Miski Organics needed marketing assistance to position it in the larger consumer goods marketplace.

“As our company is still quite small and we don’t have a marketing team in-house, we needed advice in the marketing aspect,” says Miski president Ricardo Irivarren.

Miski Organics, a family-owned Burlington, Ont. company, was interested in adding to its superfoods product line with products like a cookie mix, a pancake mix, a smoothie mix and a sacha inchi butter, all using foods from their Peruvian sources.

The Business & Commercialization team at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division was asked to look at competitors in the superfoods industry, provide recommendations on branding, and to compile a list of distributors on the West coast.

“This was particularly difficult as superfood ingredients are still not mainstream, and most consumers are typically familiar with just chia or quinoa,” says Andrea Lopez, research assistant with the Business & Commercialization team and a student with NC’s Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program.

However, thanks to her South American roots, Lopez was able to do specialized research in Spanish to discover companies that were making creative food products with Peruvian superfoods.

The Peru link has been the backbone of the company, says Irivarren, whose wife Mariella and her sister, Lia (both Peru natives) founded the company in 2015. Lia, who still lives in Peru, deals with farmers and producers at her end, and Mariella and Ricardo take care of packaging and selling in Canada.

“Having a presence in both countries has been a key factor,” says Irivarren.

The company is dedicated to the import and distribution of premium organic superfoods, with its product line of Andean grains and seeds, raw dried superfoods and raw cacao derivatives, both in bulk and packaged for retail.

“Our clients include health and wellness consumers, retailers, distributors, and food and beverage companies in Canada and the U.S.A.,” notes Irivarren.

While the company has recently worked with the research team at R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre in developing more products to add to their line, they were also in search of expertise in both adding to their distribution, especially in Western Canada, and where to focus their marketing efforts.

“The report we received from Niagara College has been very useful and has given us a better picture of what we need to do and where we need to focus.”

In her research and analysis, Lopez developed a list of competitors who currently sell superfood products similar to those that Miski Organics intends to bring to the market. She also gave recommendations on branding and promotional strategies.

“This was my first project where I learned the importance of using influencers on social media to promote a company’s brand, and I found this very interesting,” she says.

It was all extremely valuable information for Miski Organics, says Irivarren.

“The report we received from Niagara College has been very useful and has given us a better picture of what we need to do and where we need to focus,” he says. “The staff is very knowledgeable and professional, and it’s been a pleasure working with the team.”

He says his team is currently in the process of preparing the strategy for implementation of the recommendations.

More recently, the company was granted a licence under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “We are proud to say that we are now ready to commercialize all across Canada and abroad,” notes Irivarren.

Miski Organics’ wide variety of superfood products are imported from the ecologically-diverse Peru, where foods are sustainably cultivated by local farmers.

Miski Organics currently has a network of mainly health food stores in the Burlington and GTA area, through Amazon.ca, Penguin Fresh and AllGoodShop. They also garner good sales online from their own website.

“We currently work with a well-established distributor, but it’s been a challenge for us to connect with larger distributors, so we’re working with a broker to introduce us,” adds Irivarren. “It  is our intention to expand operations across Canada and beyond.”

This project was carried out with funding support through the National Research Council’s (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

As for the name of the company, Miski means “sweet” or “honey” in Quechua, one of the official languages in Peru, which was spoken by the Incas and is still used by many people in the Andean regions of Peru, explains Irivarren.

“Our goal is to develop new value-added products that become healthier alternatives to conventional products that will offer a gluten-free, vegan, sulphite-free, allergen-free options,” adds Irivarren. “We will be introducing some new products soon, so stay tuned.”

This is just one example of commercialization strategies provided by the Business & Commercialization team, which offers a full suite of comprehensive solutions. To read more about the expertise available, visit the website.

A bird’s-eye view into the skin-care industry

Niagara entrepreneur Yelena Anikeyeva has a long-standing fascination with the world’s largest bird – the ostrich. Their ancient roots, their power, and gracefulness all bolster her passion.

In 2016, she and her husband, Vladimir Panov, decided to sell their home and purchase a farm in West Lincoln to start raising ostriches. The farm – the only one in Ontario and one of only a handful in Canada – now boasts 80 of the flightless birds. 

As the CEO of Ostrich Land Ontario, it is mainly Anikeyeva at the helm, caring for her flock, conducting tours in the warmer months, selling eggs, meat, feathers and her newest venture: Ostrich oil, in its many forms, for both humans and pets.

Wanting to dive deeper into the commercialization of her ostrich oil, Anikeyeva looked to the Business & Commercialization team at Niagara College after hearing about the College’s research capabilities at a business-to-business event.

“I had some ideas about byproducts with ostrich oil and wanted to do specific research into both the beauty and the wellness marketplaces.”

Anikeyeva points to the unique benefits that are derived from ostrich oil, given that it is packed with Omegas 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, all important to our health and beneficial for skin issues, such as wound healing, she says. Through her website and specialty outlets, she sells moisturizers, balms and massage oils.

“It  has a long history; more than 3,000 years ago, Cleopatra and the Egyptians used ostrich oil as part of their beauty regime.”

In looking to expand her product line, it was the flourishing field of cannabidiol (CBD)-enhanced beauty products that Anikeyeva was interested in learning more about.

“It has a long history; more than 3,000 years ago, Cleopatra and the Egyptians used ostrich oil as part of their beauty regime.”

Andrea Lopez, research assistant with the Business & Commercialization team and principal researcher on this project, undertook an extensive market and competitive analysis of this industry, searching trends in both the skincare and wellness industry. 

“As I researched, I learned that CBD is being incorporated into skincare and has become a trend in the beauty industry,” says Lopez, a student with NC’s Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program. “Furthermore, CBD used in skincare products is derived from the hemp plant and has no psychoactive properties.”

Today, many skincare products, such as lotions, facial oils and lip balms, contain CBD, explains Lopez.

While her current recommendation is for Ostrich Land to focus on the CBD-infused beauty products, Lopez did also research the health and wellness trends for CBD, where she found a thriving industry, most notably for pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Anikeyeva credits the Research & Innovation team for saving her valuable time spent doing research herself.

“It’s very important because I could spend a half a year to do this research on my own and I’m not able to do it right now, so it was very, very helpful.”

Meanwhile, she’s also eager to seek out more research for replacing MCT oil (a common carrier used in CBD oil on the market) with ostrich oil. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, so taken with an easily-metabolized fat purportedly increases its bioavailability.

Anikeyeva considers ostrich oil a better carrier than MCT oil because it may penetrate the skin deeper, due to its molecular structure, she posits. 

Along with meat, eggs and feathers, Ostrich Land also sells ostrich oil – reportedly packed with Omegas 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

“I need to prove and show, scientifically, that the combination of CBD and ostrich oil will give a greater result than combining with MCT oil,” she says, adding she would then be able to tap into the burgeoning CBD oil market. 

As a footnote to her unwavering admiration with the ostrich species, Anikeyeva is also enthusiastic about the powerful immune systems of these venerable birds and is eager to learn more in this area. She’s not the only one. 

Japanese scientists are studying the ostrich’s unique immune system, especially in antibody technology, hoping for breakthroughs to help humans reduce serious health issues. Researchers are looking at the higher quality antibodies produced naturally in ostrich and that can be extracted from the eggs. 

Given their long history – fossil remains suggest the ostrich may have existed for millions of years – some experts believe this evolutionary process has led to their robust immune system. While native to the hot and dry savannas of Africa, ostriches have now evolved to survive the harsh conditions in most locations around the world.

At her farm, Anikeyeva says one ostrich can lay 50 eggs per season. That’s significant given that they also lay the largest eggs of any bird alive – a single egg is equivalent to two dozen chicken (hen) eggs.

The Business & Commercialization team offers a full suite of solutions to assist industry partners. To learn about other success stories, visit the website.

Andrea Lopez: Branding her own story

While she has acquired education in business commerce, architecture and transportation engineering, Andrea Lopez has a newfound passion for marketing. More specifically, it’s the science of persuasion and influencing consumer behaviour that has her fascinated.

Understanding how the psychology of human decision-making and marketing coincide is now guiding her career path going forward. This after working since spring as a research assistant with the Business & Commercialization area of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division, during her studies in the Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program.

“Marketing brings out my creative side. I definitely find it interesting seeing how people behave in their purchasing decisions.”

Lopez arrived at Niagara College with two diplomas from Mohawk College under her belt: Architectural Technician and Transportation Engineering Technology (she graduated both in 2012.)

At one point, she thought about becoming an architect because of a long-standing enchantment with historical buildings. “I’ve always loved architecture and buildings since I was young,” says the 32-year-old. “And because I also love history, I’ve always been interested in historic buildings.”

Finding it difficult to obtain a suitable job in her field, she made a choice to look more globally and enrolled in NC’s Business Administration program. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home (her parents are from Central America), she also wanted to put her language skills to broader use.

“I really liked the fact that I could work anywhere around the world.”

In the meantime, and as she enters her fourth and final school year, Lopez is soaking in all the real-world experience she’s receiving in the R&I division: Working on projects with hard deadlines, interacting with industry partners and focusing on the fundamentals of marketing.

Her first applied research project when joining the division involved compiling extensive market research for Theo’s Eatery, an Italian and Greek-style casual dining restaurant in Orillia, Ontario. The family-owned restaurant was selling its popular house salad dressing to patrons, but looked to the experts at R&I to determine the viability of commercializing the product.

Lopez researched current consumer food trends, buying habits, social media activity, and conducted a competitive analysis. She and her team then identified potential consumer markets and researched distribution channels. She provided recommendations to the industry partner for promotional efforts and developed a sales kit for the restaurant.

“It was interesting because I had to come up with ideas for their branding story, as well as creative packaging,” says Lopez. “There was so much more back-end information that you’d never think of, and I had to learn all that first, in order to compile the information for the client.”

“Marketing brings out my creative side. I definitely find it interesting seeing how people behave in their purchasing decisions.”

She was also instrumental in developing market research for Ostrich Land Ontario, a Niagara-based company seeking to commercialize the sale of its ostrich oil in the beauty market. Through extensive research, Lopez helped identify the current market conditions of these industries and developed a list of wellness and skin trends. She also created promotional outreach ideas for the industry partner to use.

Lopez continues to work on varied marketing-related and consumer research projects for several companies as part of the Business & Commercialization team.

But it has been this deep dive into marketing and the psychology of buying habits that have her looking to take a more specialized approach to her business career. Once she graduates this spring, Lopez says she plans to look for a position in marketing in the Toronto area. She also has her sights set on obtaining a Master’s degree in Marketing, down the road.

“Being involved with Research & Innovation has opened up my mind to having a greater role in marketing.”

She also credits her experiences with R&I to improving a number of skills she says she needed to cultivate.

“I’ve been able to strengthen my writing and also I’m better at public speaking; I’m a little more relaxed now after interacting with the clients,” she says. “I have learned many new things and skills I obviously will use once I graduate.”

For now, and in her spare time, she unwinds at home in Hamilton by watching Netflix, working out and spending time with her dog, a terrier mix named Maya. She’s also adding to her bucket list of things she wants to accomplish and places she wants to travel; that love of architecture remains.

“I definitely want to visit Italy and the beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings there.”

 

To learn more about the work of the Business & Commercialization Solutions division, visit the web page.

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.