Frequently Asked Questions about the Canadian Food Innovators Network

19 July 2019

What is Canadian Food Innovators – Innovateurs Canadiens en alimentation (CFI-ICA)?

Canadian Food Innovators (CFI-ICA) was established in 2013 as an industry-led initiative for Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector to access innovation funding. The organization has hands-on experience working with food companies in Canada on food and beverage research and innovation, successfully delivering the first food and beverage cluster for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2013-2018. As a result, CFI-ICA has been awarded funding to deliver the second food and beverage AgriScience cluster program 2018-2023.

Six of CFI-ICA’s eight board members are business people from Canadian food and beverage manufacturing firms chosen by each of the regional food and beverage trade associations. The other two spots are filled by representatives from the research community and FOODTech Canada. CFI-ICA is also supported by a $1.3 million endowment in support of food innovation from the Guelph Food Technology Center (GFTC) Legacy Fund.

What is SIF funding and the Canadian Food Innovators Network?

The Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) is a federal government initiative through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. CFI-ICA submitted a successful proposal in the pillar dedicated to automation and digital technologies in the agriculture and agri-food sector for the creation of the Canadian Food Innovators Network.

What will SIF funding be used for?

The Canadian Food Innovators Network will be investing its funding nationally in four main areas:

  • Establishing the Innovation Network to connect relevant centres, firm and skilled personnel in the food and beverage processing sector
  • Supporting SME innovators to find practical and innovative solutions in automation, digital technologies and data usage for the food and beverage processing sector
  • Investing in major projects focused on advanced technologies that will create or enhance Canadian technology for the benefit of multiple firms
  • Funding automation enabling projects at research centres that will allow for testing, development and pilot scale activities

Where will the network be located?

The vision is not about additional “bricks and mortar” at a new physical location, but about strengthening the connectivity across existing research facilities to increase their usage and drive high impact outcomes. The network will leverage current research centres, firms and people to build nodes of activity across Canada for connectivity nationally and beyond. CFI-ICA’s office is in Winnipeg but its staff and board are located across Canada, giving it national reach.

How will this benefit Canada and the industry? 

The Canadian Food Innovators Network is led by Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector with a singular focus on helping firms advance their innovation with practical, results-oriented solutions. This initiative will help Canada become a global leader in food and beverage manufacturing innovation, as we already are in sectors like aerospace and automotive. It will also better connect firms with significant research and innovation resources Canada has at FOODTech Canada centres, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centres, universities and colleges. Ultimately, it will let Canada grow its food economy by exporting high value food products and related technologies and digital solutions to global customers.

Why is a national food innovation network important?   

Last year, the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table Report identified the need for the creation of a Canada Agri-Food Innovation Centre to meet consumers’ evolving desire for innovative products and to advance industry development, demonstration and adoption. Currently, Canadian investments into food processing innovation are fragmented, with limited personnel or infrastructure resources to commercialize new products at a significant scale, develop advanced technologies for the industry, or help firms of all sizes access national and international markets.

Two years ago, CFI-ICA undertook an extensive cross-country consultation with food and beverage manufacturing sector stakeholders about needs and opportunities in the sector. Overwhelmingly, participants identified the need for a national food and beverage manufacturing innovation network that can provide resources, connections to innovation experts and research centres, and support for activities often not covered through existing innovation and commercialization infrastructure and programming.

The Canadian Food Innovation Network is a response to that need and one of the tools the sector will need to help Canada meet its global agri-food export goals.

What are some examples of anticipated projects, activities and events the network will undertake?

The focus will be on meeting the needs of Canadian food and beverage manufacturing firms in the fields of automation and digital technology. This includes:

  • automation that contributes to higher productivity, enhanced worker and food safety, higher quality and waste reduction;
  • smart packaging that uses fewer non-renewable resources, improves food safety, increases product shelf life and improves resilience during transport;
  • block chain technologies that enhance traceability and food protection, provide supply chain integrity and validate specific product claims;
  • artificial intelligence to analyze consumer patterns and supports personalized nutrition
  • sensor data feedback loops that lead to less energy and water use, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lower production costs

CFI-ICA will also create a national agri-food innovation network that includes innovation concierges, digital platforms for connecting and collaborating, and an accurate, accessible database of resources relevant to innovation in food and beverage manufacturing.

When will more information be available about the activities and how can I learn more?

Work is already underway. Information will be posted on the CFI-ICA website as it becomes available, and an e-newsletter is also being established that will be distributed regularly to stakeholders.

Please visit www.canadianfoodinnovators.ca to learn more; a newsletter sign up form will also be posted there once available. Information will also be shared via CFI-ICA’s Twitter account, @CanFoodInnov.