Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Making her mark in the craft beer industry

Sarah Polkinghorne is a 2016 graduate of Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Program and was a research assistant with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre from October 2015 until December 2016. Sarah was hired in July 2020 as the head brewer with Black Kettle Brewing in North Vancouver, B.C.

As one of only a handful of female brewmasters in B.C., Sarah has received much media attention this past fall: She was featured in North Shore News, and Vancouver Is Awesome, which led to a CBC Radio & TV story. She also landed the cover of The Georgia Straight, Vancouver’s weekly lifestyle magazine, and articles in Brewers Journal and Beer Me BC.

Tell us about where you work:

Black Kettle Brewing is a brewery, a bottle shop, and a communal hub that has been creating and pouring brews in North Vancouver since 2014.

What were you doing before that, after graduating?

After graduating, I worked in quality assurance and as a brewer at Foamers’ Folly Brewing from January 2017 to March 2020.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

As head brewer, I am in charge of creating and brewing all beers, packaging, creative design of labels, quality assurance, and general brewery operations. I created the recipes and helped design the new labels for our line of canned beers that we released in May 2021.

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

It helped me expand my knowledge of quality assurance testing by allowing me to research various quality assurance testing techniques – and do more hands-on testing that I had not done previously.

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

I was the research assistant for the Craft Brewers Shelf-Life Reference Manual project. I learned how to monitor beer stability by doing flavour analysis and how to identify biological and non-biological products found in beer under a microscope and how each affects the beer over time.

You initially earned a chemistry degree from the University of Victoria; what then led you to Niagara College?

After graduating from the University of Victoria, I worked at Northam Beverages as a quality assurance technician, doing analytical testing on all their beers, ciders and coolers. This led me to become fascinated by brewing, and I began brewing my own beer at home. After a year of working there, my interest became a passion, and I decided I wanted to become a brewer and applied and was accepted to Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Program.

Most memorable experience at NC?

While taking the Brewmaster program, I was able to travel to Freising, Germany for one week with the Be World Ready program and visited some of the world’s oldest breweries, as well as global suppliers of grains and equipment. This included visiting the longest operating brewery, Weihenstephan, malt supplier Weyermann Malts and Weltenburger Kloster Monastery. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the behind-the-scenes of such important places in brewing history.

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

Dr. Dirk Bendiak was the project lead for the Craft Beer Shelf-Life Manual. He taught me techniques for beer analysis than I hadn’t known before and how important shelf stability is in the craft beer industry.

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

Follow your passion. You never know where it will lead you. When I studied chemistry, I never thought I would wind up becoming a brewer, but that is where life led me and it’s been a great adventure.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Hard work and a willingness to go after what you want, even if it’s far away or completely different from what you are doing, will result in a great career.

Sarah Polkinghorne brewed a single malt and single hop hazy IPA and donated $1 from every pint sold for the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit supporting women in brewing.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Increasing female representation in the brewing industry by joining the only 7.5 percent of female head brewers.

Tell us more about how you are collaborating to support women in the beer industry.

I am a member of the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit organization that supports women working in the brewing industry. They exist to ASSIST, INSPIRE, and ENCOURAGE women beer professionals through EDUCATION. I brewed a single malt and single hop hazy IPA [India Pale Ale] using the Pink Boots Hop blend named “S.M.A.S.H the Patriarchy” with $1 from every pint sold going to the society, and raised $1,645.

You received a lot of media attention this past spring. What has that experience been like?

The media attention has been unexpected. It started when I posted on Black Kettles’ Instagram page about the Pink Boots Society fundraiser. This led to an article about me in the North Shore News, then a radio and news interviews with CBC and then a front-page picture and article in the Georgia Straight. I’m not very comfortable giving interviews and being photographed, but it has been great to showcase women in brewing, bringing attention to the Pink Boots Society and to Black Kettle, so it’s been worth it!

Interests outside of work?

In my spare time, I play soccer, softball, travel and visit all the wonderful breweries the world has to offer.

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

Believe in yourself, and it will all work out in the end.

A curious thirst for the engineering of beer

Like many engineering minds, Rodrigo Ribeiro Meireles is endlessly curious. The 30-year-old chemical engineer always wanted to learn how things work, intrigued by how machines function – and notably, how beer was made from barley, and vodka from potatoes.

“I am so curious in that regard that I would see myself satisfied in other types of engineering as well –like mechanical, electrical, or even automation,” Meireles explains. “But chemical engineering was the one that answered most of my questions.”

It’s also the one field that could combine his passion for beer and engineering, offering a playground to apply technical know-how to the precise process of brewing.

For Meireles, it also set the stage to work for the top two largest breweries in the world.

“The process of making beer applies a lot of what we learn in chemical engineering, and the good part is that you can taste it at the end … well, at least if you make good beer,”says Meireles, currently a student in Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program (Canada’s first ever program) and a brewery research assistant working on real-world projects with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.

“The structure of the lab and pilot plant is incredible, and I get experience working with the equipment I will surely have to deal with in a brewery in the future.”

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Universidade Federal do Ceará, in his home country of Brazil, Meireles was accepted into a one-year international chemical engineering exchange program in Bordeaux, France. During that time, he was exposed to various types of beers, different styles he could not find back home.

“I tried different beers from Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, Spain, and more,” he recalls. “It fascinated me how broad the beer culture could be and the different flavours I could extract from mainly three ingredients: yeast, hops and malt.”

After returning to Brazil, Meireles got the opportunity to work at the multinational AB (Anheuser-Busch) Inbev as packaging supervisor. There he learned best practices and management methodologies, leading teams with up to 50 employees. He later joined another giant, Heineken, in 2019, as packaging coordinator, overseeing four major production lines, including mineral water, soft drinks, canned beer and bottled beer.

“These two breweries were like a second university to me, as I learned a lot about beer, engineering and people management – and it just made me more certain that I chose the right path for myself.”

He describes the packaging and production field of brewing as dynamic and an opportunity to learn something new every day. Yet, he wanted to take a deeper dive into the making of the beer itself. In his search for the best education in this specialization, he identified the NC Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program for its excellence in this field.

“The quality of the staff was sure one of the main reasons to choose Niagara College; they are all highly experienced and renowned in the field,” explains Meireles. “Also, with the practical learning aspects that come with the Teaching Brewery here, it really makes this course stand above most in the industry.”

This spring, he jumped at the chance for additional hands-on experience when the Research & Innovation’s CFWI Innovation Centre posted a position for brewery research assistant.

Inside the research labs and the Centre’s new pilot processing plant, Meireles is currently working on three different projects: One is related to dairy emulsion formulation. The second, quality control and product development for alcoholic ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages. The third involves distilling and creating one vodka-based and one gin-based RTD beverage.

“The most interesting for me is the vodka and gin distillation, as this is something I have studied in chemical engineering but never had the chance to actually do it.”

In all the projects, he has the opportunity to learn from the research experts. “The specialists are all very knowledgeable and willing to help and teach, and that, in my opinion, is one of the best benefits of working here,” he says. “The structure of the lab and pilot plant is incredible, and I get experience working with the equipment I will surely have to deal with in a brewery in the future.”

As a surprise wedding gift, Meireles created and bottled a unique India Pale Ale and dedicated it to his new bride Luísa.

He’s hoping that future includes a permanent opportunity to stay in Canada and work in the beer industry.

“I’m working on it, and I am one French test away from it, and hopefully, I can obtain permanent residency this year.”

Meireles continues to enjoy his hobby of homebrewing. In fact, using his brew-engineering savvy, he created and bottled a unique India Pale Ale as a surprise wedding gift to his bride for the 2018 celebration. The bottle was adorned with his wife’s name, Luísa, and included a special side description (translated from Portuguese): “This beer was made to celebrate one of the most important moments in a couple’s life, the wedding day. Luísa is a strong, balanced beer, perfumy and memorable, just like the woman in which it was inspired. This beer was made to be appreciated for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; in joy and in sorrow; to love and to cherish.”

He and his wife live in St. Catharines.

The art of risk management during food innovation

By Angela Tellez-Lance, PhD,
Research lead and senior food safety and risk analyst
CFWI Innovation Centre – Research & Innovation

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre uses a holistic approach to food innovation, where the product development team and the food safety experts work in parallel to develop successful, novel and safe products. We use food safety risk analysis tools to help manufacturers protect their brand, build consumer trust and loyalty.

Assessing the food safety risk of the proposed formulation and processing steps as the product is developed enables us to design the best risk management options to reduce risk without compromising sensory attributes, optimize costs and comply with regulations.

Over the years, we have worked on risk assessments for new and existing products, validation studies of process and formulations, shelf-life extension studies, and the design of food safety strategies to solve regulatory issues.

Did You Know?

~ The Safety Foods for Canadian Regulations applies to food (including ingredients) that is imported, exported, or inter-provincially traded for commercialization.

~ Bacteria such as Listeria and viruses like hepatitis survive in frozen foods. Listeria and hepatitis are biological hazards to food safety.

~ Food safety risk assessment has four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. The risk assessment is carried out to know the level of risk associated with a particular hazard.

~ Validation is required to determine if a control measure (for example, pasteurization at a set time and temperature) can reduce the risk associated with a particular hazard (for example, Listeria). Validation studies can be done using predictive modelling tools, scientific studies, and challenge studies.

~ Verification is conducted to know if a preventive control is working efficiently. For example, the metal detector is verified during production at a set frequency to ensure the equipment is working as expected.


As part of the full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization, the CFWI Innovation Centre provides essential food and beverage safety and regulatory assistance. This includes guiding industry partners through applicable food and safety standards, developing HACCP/CFSI plans and food safety documentation. Find out more on the website.

Food scientists develop superfood products

In the midst of a global health crisis, one industry partner continues to deliver healthy superfoods to the market.  

Miski Organics’ most recent offering: a vegan, gluten-free pancake-waffle mix, a product developed with the food science expertise of Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. 

“The pancake and waffle mix is in the market already, and despite the pandemic, is moving well,” says Miski Organics president Ricardo Irivarren. “Not too many gluten-free-organic-vegan and non-GMO pancake mix options in the market. The taste is also great.” 

The family-owned agri-food company specializes in creating Peruvian-inspired organic superfoods (powerhouse foods known for their nutrient-rich properties). Miski Organics sources from farmers in Peru, which is home to foods that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. All their products are organic certified, non-GMO, kosher and gluten-free.  

Following a competitive analysis of the marketplace by Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team, Miski partnered with the CFWI Innovation Centre to expand its health-conscious dried/powdered superfoods line. They were interested in formulations with products such as a cookie mix, a pancake mix, a smoothie mix and a sasha inchi butter. 

The food research team at the CFWI Innovation Centre provided a preliminary risk assessment, product development, sensory evaluation, processing and regulatory advice throughout the project. This resulted in more than 10 different prototypes, of which Miski chose six final formulations, including a cookie mix, smoothie booster, pancake mix, yacon cereal and two natural butters.  

Miski Organics has successfully introduced the two natural peanut-free butters into the market: Organic Sacha Inchi Butter and Organic Sacha Inchi Choco Butter. These two unique products were officially launched last year with great acceptance.  

“My experience dealing with the CFWI Innovation Centre has been great since the beginning,” adds Irivarren. “Ana [Cristina Vega-Lugo, senior scientist] and her team have provided us with new products currently under development, so there will be more options that Miski will introduce into the market.” 

The Peru link has been the company’s backbone, says Irivarren, whose wife Mariella and her sister, Lia (both Peru natives) founded the company in 2016. 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 importing, packaging and distributing 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 United States,” notes Irivarren. 

Miski Organics currently has a network of primarily health food stores across Canada and online through, and their own website. 

The company recently relocated its production facility from Burlington to Barrie, and a “more organically certified” processing plant. 

This research project received funding from the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) through the College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program. 

The CFWI Innovation Centre team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and the 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. 

Centre manager elected to Tech-Access Canada board

Lyndon Ashton, manager of Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, has been elected to the Tech-Access Canada Board of Directors in a recent by-election to fill an Ontario director position.

Tech-Access Canada is a national, not-for-profit network, which links 60 Technology Access Centres (TACs) housed at colleges or cégeps and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). TACs are specialized R&D centres that provide businesses – particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – with applied research and innovation services to produce new prototypes, scale-up manufacturing and solve unique business challenges.

“We’re excited to welcome Lyndon to the Board of Directors at this great time of growth for the network. His multidisciplinary skills and professional experience will be strong assets as Tech-Access Canada implements its multi-year Strategic Plan,” said Ken Doyle, executive director, Tech-Access Canada. “Being elected by his peers shows a strong vote of confidence in his abilities to advance the network’s mandate, and foster deeper collaborations among peer Centres.”

Niagara College provides access to equipment, facilities and expertise at its two TACS: the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at the Welland Campus, and the CFWI Innovation Centre at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“The 60 Technology Access Centres across Canada represent leading minds in applied research and innovation enablement, delivered directly to industry through partnership with our college sector.”
~ Lyndon Ashton, manager, CFWI Innovation Centre

Companies that work with the TACs retain all the intellectual property (IP) and receive assistance de-risking the financial investment required by accessing government funding programs for applied research projects.

“I’m truly honoured to be elected by my peers into this important position with Tech-Access Canada. The 60 Technology Access Centres across Canada represent leading minds in applied research and innovation enablement, delivered directly to industry through partnership with our college sector,” said Ashton. “My job is to listen to their needs and work with my colleagues on the Board of Directors and Executive of Tech-Access Canada to ensure we continue to provide supportive programs, guidance, and leadership – all with the aim of further advancing our industry’s effectiveness at commercializing new products and services and increasing our collective competitiveness on a domestic and global stage.”

In his role at the CFWI Innovation Centre, Ashton is responsible for the overall operations and strategic leadership, including the successful development and implementation of food and beverage innovation services. He joined the Research & Innovation division in 2017 after a diversified career, beginning in the culinary arts and eventually leading to economic development, management consulting and business planning. He earned his Culinary Red Seal, and he holds a combined degree in Political Sciences and Labour Studies from Brock University and a certificate in Economic Development from the University of Waterloo.

To learn more about the CFWI Innovation Centre and the full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes, visit the website.

A passion for inspiring, helping others

Call it an entrepreneurial spirit or the “it” factor. Karla Perez-Islas was seemingly born with it. The rest – a drive for independence and a devoted student of life – has empowered her along the way.

As a child, she sold trending toys to classmates, and in high school, she marketed and sold skincare products. During a university class project in her home country of Mexico, Perez-Islas started her own business selling customized T-shirts, mugs and laptop bags.

And while her long-term goal is to open her own business, for now, her passion lies in helping current companies flourish. In her role as a business research assistant with Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, the Niagara College student gets to do just that.

“I honestly see myself doing both. Since I started working as a research assistant, I became more passionate about helping businesses from different industries thrive.”

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

In her capacity with BCS, Perez-Islas works with industry partners – mainly small- and medium-sized businesses – to solve problems related to operations management, sales and marketing. Projects include market research, competitive analysis, marketing plans and target market identification.

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

Wanting to broaden her horizons and improve her language skills, Perez-Islas moved to Canada at age 19. Less than a year later, she completed NC’s English for Academic Preparation program. Today, she’s in her third and final year of the Business Administration-Marketing program.

Working on real-world projects with BCS, Perez-Islas puts into practice what she’s learning in her class studies.

“Most importantly, I get to help businesses achieve their goals, make an impact and learn valuable lessons from my research leads who have an amazing work ethic and are very knowledgeable.”

Perez-Islas says she was grateful for the opportunity to work remotely during the pandemic since joining the BCS team in March 2021. In fact, she completed her first research project while in hotel quarantine after returning to Canada from a six-month stay visiting family in Mexico last year. 

“The work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow.”

“This first project will always have a special place in my heart because I realized that the work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow,” says Perez-Islas, describing the project as an environmental scan, competitive and target market analysis and creating the pricing and promotions strategies for a pasta sauce brand.

Following that project, Perez-Islas worked on market research for a notable Canadian chef looking to start a root vegetable chips brand.

“What I liked about this project was the chef’s passion for connecting with consumers from various communities such as Caribbean, African, Latino, and Asian through her brand image, flavours and marketing messages,” she says. “As a person who loves cultural diversity, this was an exciting and valuable project.” 

She also describes herself as someone who is easily bored, so learning from different areas in a field like business and marketing is a perfect fit for her curious nature.

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills,” she notes. “You learn a little bit of everything, from accounting, business law, international commerce, marketing and even psychology because you have to understand consumer patterns and behaviours.

“All the skills I am acquiring can later be transformed into something big like a brand or product.”

Her appetite for learning new things was evident at her previous employment with a local Japanese restaurant. The company has what they call a “roll test” in which the server would learn the ingredients used to make 82 different sushi rolls – among other things – on the menu. 

After acing the quiz, Perez-Islas then wanted to learn about the marketing side of the restaurant. She contacted the human resources manager and asked if she could join the marketing team as an apprentice.

“I knew they were not hiring, but I did not care about the pay; I genuinely wanted to learn more about my program,” notes Perez-Islas. “When the marketing director saw my passion, he decided to give me a chance.” 

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills.”

As a marketing apprentice, she learned customer data management, market mapping and how to create promotional materials. Although she left that job to accept her current position at BCS, Perez-Islas is now learning the Japanese language online in her spare time.

Reflecting on the past few years, Pere-Islas says she was not expecting to stay in Canada after her English course was completed, although “deep down,” she always wanted to pursue a career here to have a better quality of life and gain her independence.

“I didn’t have the chance to be as independent as I am now because of the lack of opportunities,” she says. “And with the level of violence, primarily in my city, I couldn’t even go out by myself – which is something everyone should be able to do without fear.”

Looking to future goals, Perez-Islas vows to help empower other women, particularly those living in her home country.

“Although Mexico is a beautiful country, there is a surge in violence against women and gender inequality. There is so much talent that has been overshadowed by the lack of opportunities for women,” she adds.

“I want to inspire them to fight for their happiness, to believe that they can achieve anything, and to take the reins of their life.”