NC’s Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit a sell-out success

A sold-out crowd of innovators in the food and beverage space assembled at Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-lake campus on October 23 for the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit. The one-day event was hosted by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the Research & Innovation division.

Product developers and business owners in the food space and cannabis industry spent the day learning innovative concepts and forecasted trends from experts, in areas of flavours, colours, and packaging. 

Attendees also discovered the complexities surrounding the hottest topic of the day: the integration of cannabis into the food and beverage chain. In the second phase of legalization, cannabis-infused edibles gained legal status by Health Canada on Oct. 17, one year after legalizing recreational marijuana in the country on the same date in 2018.

The inaugural event was organized by the CFWI Innovation Centre with the support of several sponsors, including Food in Canada Magazine; Invest Hamilton Niagara; Niagara Industrial Association; Food and Beverage Ontario; Two Sisters Vineyards; and Ontario Craft Brewers. Funding support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“It was exciting to collaborate with industry experts and innovators to drive growth and development in the food and beverage space,” said Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager for the CFWI Innovation Centre. “This innovation summit seemed like a logical step given how intimately connected our institute is with food, beverage, and cannabis from an educational and applied research perspective. It just made sense to bring industry and researchers together to share the latest developments in these key sectors.”


The first keynote of the day was world-class chef Christine Couvelier, a culinary executive and founder of Culinary Concierge. 

Global culinary expert Christine Couvelier was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23.

As a global culinary trendologist, Couvelier spends much of her time in gourmet and grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food shows around the world. Her forward-looking predictions in the culinary world are what she called her ‘trend-watch’ report – things to look to one to five years ahead. 

One of the most significant areas of growth this year, said Couvelier, is breakfast anytime. “It’s about innovation, it’s about convenience and it’s about taste.” Things like frittatas on the go, breakfast meal kits or overnight oats. Eggs are also being reimagined. For example, hard-boiled eggs have been taken to a completely different level with the innovation of Buffalo-wing flavour.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the one category that is continually innovating is plant-based foods. Couvelier said 42 percent of consumers want to eat more vegetarian dishes, and 41 per cent want to eat more vegan meals – a vast market considering only three percent of Canadians are vegan and six percent are vegetarian.

“It means we’re designing plant-based options for everybody, not for a narrow category,” she said. Think about how this trend applies to all of you – whatever category, whatever product, whatever you’re innovating, this all applies to you.”

For an inside look into Couvelier’s forecast of food & beverage trends click HERE 

To expand on trends, a panel of experts joined Couvelier on the stage; the specialists included: Jason Mittelheuser, a biochemist with FONA International; Kaela Lewis, Senior Product Developer at Hela Spice Canada;  Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, Senior Food Scientist at the CFWI Innovation Centre and Mitin Rathod, a marketing, research and innovation professional.

An expert panel discuses food and beverage trends: Jason Mittelheuser; Kaela Lewis; Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD; and Mitin Rathod.

As for trends in the beverage space, Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, identified non-alcoholic products as being a significant trend and said her research team at the College has developed many alcohol-free beverages.

“Consumers are looking for a healthy alternative, with lower calories,” she said. “We’ll soon be seeing a greater number of seniors in the population and they’re more conscious of their health, but still want to enjoy the tastes of wine, beer or distilled spirits.”

That same health consciousness applies to food choices in general, she added. “Consumers are wanting more healthier choices with more clean-label ingredients. They’re looking for the nutritional value of the produce: lower calories, fewer fat, less sugar… they are looking for the whole package of health.”

During a number of breakout sessions, hosted by experts, participants took away strategies to de-risk new product introductions, taste modification and plant-based science.



The afternoon keynote speaker was Skyler Webb, the Director of Product Development at Cannabistry, a professional research and development company based in Illinois, United States. With his background in chemistry and food science Webb spoke about the complexities surrounding the cannabis edible space and shared science in developing effective cannabis delivery systems – a method for providing an active ingredient to the body – such as food and beverage, sprays, and tinctures.

Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry in Illinois, U.S., was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College.

Since the cannabis plant contains more than 600 chemical compounds, it’s no wonder that complexities are many in terms of formulation, interactions with carriers and monitoring a product that’s easily degraded by temperature, explained Webb.

Considerations in the edible cannabis space include the route of administration, applied dose and additional factors in the formulation, he said.

“A proper route can be selected depending on what your desired effect or outcome is desired to be – whether it’s for therapeutic, wellness or recreational purposes,” he said. “The number one takeaway here is to remember when you’re developing cannabis-infused products you’re actually developing a drug-delivery system, since cannabis is biologically active for the human body.”

Many things affect bioavailability (the percentage that is available to the body), including carrier oils; however, these absorption methods are understudied, Webb noted. “While it’s one of the most important things in understanding the resulting effect of your product, unfortunately, it’s one of the most difficult to determine.”

An expert panel also discussed the integration of cannabis into the food and drink world, the trends, food safety, and regulatory challenges in the edibles industry. Panelists included: Peter McCourt, PhD, a plant molecular biologist and professor at the University of Toronto; Peter Crooks, a neuropharmacologist and Chief Product Innovation Officer for Dosecann Cannabis Solutions; Kimberley Stuck, a leading expert in cannabis food safety and Certified Quality Auditor; and Christopher Sayeh, founder of the popular Herbal Chef™, a pioneer in cannabis-infused fine dining. 

A panel of experts discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink space. Peter McCourt, PhD; Peter Crooks; Kimberley Stuck and Christopher Sayeh.

The dosing of edible cannabis products is so highly regulated in Canada, companies doing product development have to measure homogenization and potency every step of the way to hit a targeted dosage spec, explained Peter Crooks.

“I can’t underscore enough that having analytical validated methods internally makes a massive difference,” he said, adding there’s a strong competitive advantage for those companies who have in-house analytical capabilities, otherwise it would take some six weeks to get a result back during product development. 

Learn more about the expert discussion surrounding cannabis edibles HERE

The day also included tours of the research labs at the CFWI Innovation Centre, the College’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery. Attendees got an inside look into NC’s Cannabunker, the school’s teaching facility for its Commercial Cannabis Production program, launched in September 2018, and the first of its kind in Canada. 

Bill MacDonald, Coordinator of NC’s Commercial Cannabis Production program gave a tour of the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus Cannabunker to attendees of the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit.

“This event was a unique opportunity for thought leaders, product developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and innovators in the food, beverage and edible cannabis sectors to learn from one another, as well as other world-renowned experts,” added Ashton.

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI) team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and 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’s needs. For more information visit

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