Canadian Food companies do Innovate

December 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

I thought it would be appropriate at this reflective time of year to look back and acknowledge the many companies, and their staff, who have succeeded at innovation.  We often hear that Canadian food companies perform poorly when it comes to “innovation” even though we see hundreds of new products introduced into the marketplace each year.

Recently, FOODTECH Canada was asked to participate in an innovation showcase to highlight “innovation successes” from Canadian companies that worked with our food centre members. Fortunately, we had many to choose from. The showcase occurred at the end of November, and featured eleven products from five food technology centres. All of these food and bio-products are agriculture based, and all feature Canadian raw materials. Products included Honibe solid honey drops, Buckshots buckwheat snacks, Three Farmers Camelina oil, Bajong energy bars with dried berries and ginseng, Tabletree’s pure Black Cherry juice, Siwin Foods meat based meals, Ceapro’s dried beta-glucan, Manitoba Harvest Hemp hearts, Buffalo Stix bison and cranberry jerky, Solberry Seabuckthorn purée, and Etuvé sous-vide meals.

A number of these products have been recognized for their uniqueness and quality. Awards include both national and international recognition as ‘best new products’, including Seabuckthorn, Honibe drops, Buckshots and Black cherry juice. It’s not surprising to also hear that two of these products (Honibe and Buffalo Stix) were recently launched into space with Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, after being chosen in a national campaign to select the top 10 Canadian food products for this mission.

These products were developed with support from FOODTECH Canada’s network of food technology centres. Centres help companies understand what is involved in commercializing food products  including the technology, equipment, food safety and regulatory requirements that are needed to enter the marketplace. Collectively, food centres work with 1,000 companies each year, resulting in several hundred new products and multiple improved processes.

Despite these efforts, the Conference Board of Canada released a study showing that only one-third of companies considered product or process improvements priorities that would impact their ongoing success. According to Daniel Munro, Principal Research Associate, “when it comes to innovation, the Canadian food industry is content to compete for the bronze medal.” We know that Canada’s trade balance continues to decline, and the Conference Board also compared Canada’s performance to Brazil and China for their share of global food exports. While Canada’s share rose 0.7 per cent in 2011, Brazil’s share tripled and China’s nearly doubled in the same time frame.

So, what to do? The Conference Board recommends eight actions for business and government. While all of these are sound, quite a number are focussed on R&D. Most of  the above products, as innovative as they are, were not heavily supported by “research” in the traditional sense (with a few exceptions). Rather, they involved much applied developmental work, that looked at maximizing agriculture materials, to create higher value food products. We need more focus on this activity in Canada, to both increase our domestic uptake of agriculture outputs and to add value right here in Canada. In addition to the eight actions,we would add that we need more support for companies to access the spectrum of innovation resources, such as those found within our food technology centres. Obviously, they seem to know how to help Canadian food businesses achieve innovation success.

Entry filed under: Food Centre News, Innovation News, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

You get what you focus on

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