Ontario’s food and beverage processors nourish people across the province and the globe. It’s time to celebrate these wonderful businesses. Food and Beverage Ontario is delighted to launch FoodTalks - an initiative to feature our members and their successes.
Read on to meet with Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager at Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre. Enjoy!
Q. Lyndon, from what we have read, every food and beverage processor in Ontario should know about your centre at Niagara College.
A. I would agree! We assist food and beverage businesses of all types and sizes develop new products and processes, scale up production, and be ready to enter markets. The concept for the Centre was cleverly designed. We have a team of in-house researchers and can quickly engage academic expertise and students from across the college for additional project support.
Q. Your mission is to help businesses get product on the shelf. Can you share a few recent success stories?
A. We have over 100 success stories to tell. Although many of the companies we work with are SMEs, we have enjoyed partnerships with businesses like Rich’s, Bacardi and Ferrero. It’s important to know that our company clients always retain the intellectual property developed at the Centre.
For a recent story that I love, I would have to mention Royal Canadian Mead. This company came to us with a challenge to develop a line of mead products – an alcoholic beverage made from honey, yeast and water. Together with Niagara College’s Teaching Winery and beekeeping program we crafted new styles of session brews. Check out the hopped buckwheat mead, Feels Like Friday, in the LCBO. Delicious!
Q. Niagara College has always been a champion of FBO’s Taste Your Future program and developing the next generation of talent. Tell us how the college’s students factor into your work.
A. Students from Niagara College’s brewmaster, distillery, culinary, food science, and winemaking programs are key to the success of our company projects. Students bring their education and passion to the table and in return learn in the real-world environment of product development and innovation. For many it’s a gateway to their dream job. For employers, it’s a talent pipeline of people who have worked directly with industry partners and gained relevant, practical training that helps in the hiring process.
Q. What about new technology at the Centre?
A. It’s a given for us. We are making it possible for companies to transition from an innovative idea to prototype and prepare them to scale up for commercialization with processes and technology to support that pipeline. We are just reaching the final stages for a beverage and liquid pilot space that will be ideal for niche products and test market production. And since we operate like a business, we know our value proposition well and build solutions around the client’s needs.
At the Centre, we have our own value chain which includes public and private partners that can provide complementary expertise and resources for a complete solution through a single window of service delivery. For instance, we connect with co-packers, certified labs, flavour and ingredient houses, and other innovation centres to lend support where it makes sense.
Q. For those interested in food innovation and trends you have the upcoming Niagara Food & Beverage Summit on October 23rd.
A. This summit with internationally-recognized food trendologists, food marketing experts and panel conversations will bring together entrepreneurs, innovators, developers, thought leaders and foodies to explore future trends. It’s a great and unique opportunity to learn the latest on hot topics like cannabis edibles from experienced product developers and connect with industry leaders. It’s our pleasure to offer FBO members a discount to attend.
Thanks Lyndon. You are a red seal chef, trained meat cutter, economic development professional and clearly passionate about the Centre and its role in the success of Ontario food and beverage businesses.
To learn more about specific services of the Centre, visit the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre or have a listen to Lyndon’s recent radio interview here with Tim Denis, Newstalk 610.
Read on to meet with Jenifer Dean, Managing Director and Head Cidermaker at The County Cider Company Inc. Enjoy!
Q. County Cider is more than a cidery, isn’t it?
A. Absolutely! We are located in the heart of Prince Edward County in the hamlet of Waupoos. At County Cider, we grow apples on our own family farm, host visitors at our Tasting Room, retail store and Patio Restaurant which overlooks the Bay of Quinte. You will also find our ciders including flavoured options and Waupoos Premium in the LCBO, grocery stores, restaurants and bars across Ontario. I love the one-offs we have been making this past summer with flavor like lime, root beer, coffee, blackberry peach and our newest elderflower sour.
Q. What makes your cider unique?
A. We grow a number of traditional English and French cider varieties – varieties with great names like Yarlington Mill, Brown Snout, Kingston Black, Dabinett and Michelin. You may not want to eat these apples fresh because of their high acidity or tannin but the balance of those qualities along with culinary and dessert apples makes for really good, complex ciders. Ciders with ‘sessionability’!
Q. Tell us about Grant Howes’ legacy.
A. My late husband founded the company and we have been specializing in authentic hard ciders since 1995. Grant was not the first cidery in Ontario but we were the only cider company for a long time. Grant was a true leader and supporter of the industry. He was very passionate about recognition for Ontario- made ciders and today there are over 100 cider companies in the province.
Q. What are the job opportunities in the industry?
A. This is a second career for me after realizing I wanted a more rewarding job. I went back to school full time for three years and became a wine maker which transitioned nicely to cider making. There are so many exciting career paths for people from management of apple and cider production to quality assurance, marketing and branding – it’s a farm to table business.
Q. What’s next for County Cider?
A. We are looking at opportunities to expand distribution across Canada and have an ongoing trial with Hong Kong that I am optimistic about. We really value Ontario consumers and supply large markets in Toronto, Ottawa and Quinte. We have a product for every palette, from fresh and fruity to mature and English-style like our Tortured Path Cider inspired by trips to Somerset. Everyone can enjoy their perfect cider match with County Cider.
To learn more about The Country Cider Company follow this link.
Thanks Jenifer for your time!
Food and Beverage Ontario
Read on to meet with Philippe Blondin, VP Procurement at Whyte’s Foods. Enjoy!
Q. Philippe, tell us about the recent expansion of Whyte’s Foods into Ontario.
A. This has been an expansion plan five years in the making. We looked across North America for the best location and decided on Wallaceburg in Chatham-Kent. With two facilities in Quebec already at maximum capacity for primarily pickle production, we were definitely ready to grow.
Q. Why Wallaceburg, Ontario?
A. As part of our search for the perfect location, which means close proximity to growers and customers, we spoke with economic development officials in New York, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Wallaceburg, Ontario. We were made to feel truly welcome in Wallaceburg by regional officials and staff and also the federal and provincial governments. Whyte’s already had excellent relations with growers in the area so it just made sense.
Q. How is the start- up going?
A. We are into week one with great success! We have recruited a plant manager, director of quality assurance, human resources, office manager, millwright and mechanic and have one production line running now. By early Spring we plan to be operating 5 days a week, 1 shift per day with potential for a second shift during the local crop season from July to October. When running at full operations, the facility will require up to 90 employees.
Q. It is clear that Whyte’s values its people and grower partners.
A. I am excellent example of that with 28 years at Whyte’s. We have a long-standing senior management team that really cares about our employees. In 2016, we hosted an event that recognized the contribution of our employees, including some of our production staff that provided 40+ years of service! And we partner with growers in Quebec and Ontario that offer excellent quality product and great customer service.
Q. Any parting remarks about Whyte’s?
A. I have to recognize the owners of the company. They are really committed to growing, investing and building the business. They believe in Canadian-made and Canadian partners and we have an open-door policy for discussing new co-packing opportunities and new product ideas and collaborations.
To learn more about Whyte’s Foods visit whytes.ca
Thanks Phillipe for your time!
Food and Beverage Ontario
Read on to meet with Michael Bates, Marketing Manager – Digital Media & Communications with Steam Whistle Brewing. Enjoy!
Q. Michael, tell us about Steam Whistle.
A. If you love beer, and more specifically craft beer, you probably know Steam Whistle Brewing. We are an iconic brewery located in Toronto that started almost two decades ago and has become one of Canada’s largest and most well-known independent breweries. We are known for Canada’s premium pilsner but this summer we were very excited to launch a new product.
Q. Is this the new Steam Whistle Pale Ale?
A. Yes! Our new Pale Ale is a hop forward, balanced beer with a crisp bite finish. Beer lovers can find the 473 ml tall can in blue right beside our traditional pilsner in green where beer is sold or join us here at The Roundhouse for a pint where we welcome thousands of visitors a year.
Q. If you are Canadian you know Steam Whistle Brewing. Do you have any international marketing plans?
A. We are really focused on the Canadian market and recently opened up new distribution into Quebec. We currently have a partnership with New Belgium in The United States to brew and sell Fat Tire Amber Ale in Canada, but for the immediate future the Canadian consumer is our main focus.
Q. Why are you a member of Food and Beverage Ontario?
A. We always enjoy hosting FBO’s annual conference and connecting with people in the food and beverage sector – it’s important to be a part of the community and share our knowledge. We recently opened a new event space, that is perfect for Toronto functions, and partnered with Toronto’s own, Food Dudes, to create a unique restaurant space called The Steam Whistle Biergarten. Inspiration for this space came from the 5 year reward that all Steam Whistle employees receive; a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest. At Steam Whistle we care about doing right by our community.
Thanks Michael for your time!
Food and Beverage Ontario
Read on to meet with Mike Kagan, Sales & Marketing Director at Giraffe Foods. Enjoy!
Q. Mike, tell us about Giraffe Foods.
A. We are Canada’s leading manufacturer of private label sauces, dips, marinades, dressings and other similar products. We supply our products to retail, foodservice and industrial customers throughout Canada, the United States and internationally. At Giraffe Foods, we work closely with customers to create delicious custom formulated products in a wide variety of customized packaging. We now have three locations in Mississauga – one dedicated to production and two others focused on research & development and warehousing.
Q. And what about your people?
A. We have 200 people on the team including a very large research & development and regulatory unit that is at the disposal of our customers to help them launch new and exciting food products. My own background is in chemistry, which has proven a real asset in understanding the food science behind new product development and scaling up of production.
Q. Giraffe Foods was recognized as one of Canada’s best managed companies. What did that mean for the team?
A. We all felt a sense of pride and accomplishment with this award - it really galvanized the team in support of our strategy. We know people around the globe recognize this award so it lends supports to our brand identity and great reputation within the industry.
Q. Much of your business is about staying ahead of food trends. Tell us what’s on the horizon.
A. Great food is our passion. We love the continuing trend to more exciting and diverse flavour profiles which really let’s us have fun and be creative with the development process. People want authentic global experiences at home and at restaurants. At the moment, our corporate chef is deep into Middle Eastern flavours - think North African, Turkish and Lebanese. He’s also experimenting with peppers and I am not talking about chipotles. We are designing products with poblano, ancho, aleppo, maresh chili and calabrian chili to name a few.
Q. How do food companies find Giraffe Foods and what drives their decision to work with you?
A. Most of our clients are referred to us by a contact in the food industry, such as a product developer or perhaps one of our vendors. We work quickly and are agile which makes it possible to act fast when a client needs a new product on the market promptly. We take pride in understanding shifting demographics and related consumer preferences towards ethical sourcing, sustainability practices and trends such as new ingredients for organic and non-GMO products.
Q. Why are you a member of Food and Beverage Ontario?
A. We want to stay connected and support our own colleagues in the food industry by participating in trade shows and networking events. Being a member of Food and Beverage Ontario is an example of engaging with the whole food community we work with.
Q. Last question is on the latest announcement by the Government of Canada to ban single-use plastics. What’s the expected impact for you?
A. Like other manufacturers we are still waiting for more details but we anticipate working closely with our packaging partners and customers on new products and materials. Shelf life is clearly a top consideration for us but we are generally supportive of this policy and do not anticipate a negative impact.
To learn more about Giraffe Foods visit giraffefoods.com
Food and Beverage Ontario