Kristine Canniff: creating a legacy of inspiring others

It’s known as the Pygmalion effect – a prominent concept demonstrating that people are influenced by the expectations put upon them. This phenomenon, proven by psychologists in classroom and corporate settings, shows that others will do better when more is expected of them. Think self-fulfilling prophecy.

For Kristine Canniff, Project Manager at Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, she readily anticipates her team of student and graduate researchers will all shine. It’s just part of her nature.

“I have high expectations of people … at first, they often don’t think they can do it and I just assume they can,” she says. “I see what their potential is and give them opportunities to achieve things; that is what’s most fun.”

Indeed, cultivating and nurturing that excellence in others is what makes her tick.

“I like to see more in people than they see in themselves,” she says. “It’s personally rewarding to help others accomplish more than they’d thought possible.”

And there’s perhaps no better arena than an educational research setting to reap those rewards – being able to witness the complete transformation of the students that are mentored during their time at the CFWI Innovation Centre.

While her expectations for her team are high, her management style is the opposite of hard-nosed; hers is a calming presence, and she looks to an immediate solution in the face of inevitable adversity.

She’s also someone who celebrates failure, believing that mistakes can bring the team together, with an opportunity to learn. “Mistakes will happen; it’s what you do about them that defines you as an individual and a team.”

Bringing the team together, helping others realize their goals, is all about managing relationships, says Kristine. And she has perfected this skill throughout her 20 years of project management experience in various sectors, including consumer packaged goods, as a consumer services program manager for Nestle Canada.

At the College she’s had the unique opportunity to develop many relationships – with students, faculty, research leads, industry partners and other stakeholders – having worked in every area of the Research & Innovation division, save for the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, since arriving in 2013.

Initially hired as Industry Liaison Officer, Kristine took on the responsibility as Acting Project Manager of the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre prior to moving to her current role in the CFWI Innovation Centre in 2015. More recently, she added to her portfolio as Acting Project Manager for the Business & Commercialization Solutions team for half a year.

The last five years at the CFWI Innovation Centre’s Technical Access Centre (TAC) has seen considerable growth, to an extent she describes as “exponential.” Starting out with four food labs at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, the TAC has increased its expert team and leading-edge equipment to expand into the Agri-Food Research and Training facility within the new 49,000-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex – a hub that directly supports applied research and world-class training specifically for Niagara’s wine, beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic beverage sectors.

Part of this growth is attributed to Kristine, who worked on a number of these key funding proposals that will benefit R&I for years to come.

The expansion of more equipment means more service offerings, all to meet the rising demand from industry for the College’s world-class culinary, beverage, and food science expertise, facilities, and equipment.

In just a short period, Kristine has managed projects that include: developing the award-winning Red Apple Cider beverage for Reinhart Foods, who have now expanded their label with another SKU; a line of mead products, now on the LCBO shelves; Ontario hop analysis; craft brewing quality and troubleshooting; organic bone broth product development; and crafting food safety plans for organizations, such as Iron Will Raw, to name but a few.  

There was one project, in particular, a few years back that would break the model of separating out applied research projects, course-based projects and fee-for-services projects and open the door to integrating the three pillars – a significant step for the R&I division, she adds.

Rich Products Corporation, a world leader in non-dairy toppings and innovator of other key product categories such as dessert and bakery products, approached the CFWI Innovation Centre looking for an inventive approach to cake and pastry decorating for a new product line. They wanted results in mere weeks, just as the College’s spring term was coming to a close. The request was also for services outside the division’s regular model.

“They wanted some activities done in course-based projects, and other things that required more expertise and consulting; but that integration didn’t fit our model,” Kristine explains. “So we broke the model. We were really entrepreneurial and tried something new, which is what I love about working at the Innovation Centre.”

Her team of culinary students, graduates and research leads came up with hundreds of innovative ideas for decorating baked good products and then prototyped a large number of them. Rich’s was happy and has returned as a client. It also set the groundwork for future strategic solutions for the division.

Kristine Canniff and her entrepreneurial research team creating prototypes of their innovative ideas for decorating baked good products for Rich Products Corporation.

Even with the breadth of projects and services being completed, Kristine says she still meets people and potential clients that are surprised by the offerings the Innovation Centre brings – an array of resources for new recipe development, optimization, and commercialization; shelf-life and packaging testing; nutritional labelling; packaging options; food and beverage safety, and regulatory assistance.

“I think people assume we are an institution that comes with bureaucracy and long delays,” she notes. “They don’t expect that we have access to funding, we have great minds and we can help them. They’re often surprised that we’re so industry-focused.”

It’s this commitment to these start-up and established enterprises that has her, on a typical day, taking care of allocating resources, liaising with clients, leading informal scrum meetings, ensuring projects are on schedule, and writing funding proposals. And a lot of product sampling of whatever her team is in the process of creating.  

In order to hone her palate, as well as gain a high-level knowledge of what students are learning, she has taken courses at NC in wine sensory, culinary innovation, food regulations, food chemistry and microbiology; a background that also helps her better understand the needs of industry partners.

This collection of technical and food innovation skills may seem like an untypical trajectory for someone wanting to be a writer growing up. An avid reader who loved writing fiction and poetry, Kristine describes her younger self as an introspective kid, with “different, somewhat wacky ideas.”

She did earn an undergraduate degree in Communications from Brock University – a grounding that’s surely of value today given the steady stream of successful grant proposals for government research funding she pens.

But it was her desire to help others realize their potential that always drove her.

“I like to see more in people than they see in themselves … it’s personally rewarding to help others accomplish more than they’d thought possible.”

Accordingly, she became certified as a life coach and, while living in Toronto years ago, had a full client base of personal one-on-one clients as well as corporate workshops before returning to her home base in Niagara and to project management, guiding teams to surpass their potential.

Not surprisingly, her high expectations are not reserved just for others – she’s no slouch at making and achieving her own personal goals. Last year she graduated from Leadership Niagara’s “Accelerate Civic Leadership” program, after being put forward by Niagara College; and this year her objective is to make health a priority. Today, she eats better, incorporates strength training and yoga – twice a day, and being an outdoorsy type, she hikes as much as possible.

Her latest pursuit: executing the yogic art of the handstand – a feat requiring ample strength and balance. She’s been at it a few weeks but is in no hurry. “It’s all about the journey,” she smiles. 

In the meantime, she’ll continue her life-long intention to leave her mark inspiring others. “I think that’s how we can all have a legacy; by being kind and compassionate to other people and inspiring them to grow,” she adds. “I think that’s what’s important in life.”

Kristine lives in Fonthill with her husband and two sons, who no doubt, all benefit from her positive reinforcement and her belief there’s a superstar in everyone.