BioLAB Summer 2021

Page 1


Dr. Daniel Drucker wins the Gairdner Award by exploring the mechanics of digestive hormones


A new, world-class research hub, the Engineering Biology Agri-food Innovation Centre at the University of Saskatchewan

VOLUME 36, ISSUE 2 • 2021





E-COMMERCE IN PANDEMIC TIMES Canadian Publications Mail Product—Agreement 40063567

14 feature story



Exploring the mechanics of digestive hormones led to groundbreaking discoveries


An all-new, world-class biotechnology centre at the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Food Security

standard EDITOR’S NOTE

THE RAPID EVOLUTION OF CULTURED MEAT Is lab-to-fork the next big food trend?

Answering the Question: Is sustainable food economical?


NEWS BITES: The world’s first pizza subscription service, a plantbased egg comes to Canada and some interesting facts about chocolate


FEATURE: Rise of the robots










E-commerce in pandemic times











Mark Juhasz Jana Manolakos David Suzuki


Susan A. Browne



BioLab Business is published 4 times per year by Jesmar Communications Inc., 30 East Beaver Creek Rd., Suite 202, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1J2. 905.886.5040 Fax: 905.886.6615 One year subscription: Canada $35, US $35 and foreign $95. Single copies $9. Please add GST/HST where applicable. BioLab Business subscription and circulation enquiries: Garth Atkinson, Fax: 905.509.0735 Subscriptions to business address only. On occasion, our list is made available to organizations whose products or services may be of interest to you. If you’d rather not receive information, write to us at the address above or call 905.509.3511 The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in part or in whole without the written consent of the publisher. GST Registration #R124380270.

VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


BioLab Business is a proud member of BIOTECanada and Life Sciences Ontario

Popi Bowman

Publisher of BioLab Business Magazine


In our first issue of this year, we focused on gamechangers. As David Suzuki reminded us, climate change might be the biggest one of them all. Scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, but now we’re seeing that many of the past projections were too conservative, in light of recent events. Nobody should need a list of facts to see the growing trend, as this summer’s wildfires, record-breaking temperatures, droughts and floods seemed to spin out of control around the world – just as we started to regain our freedom after more than a year of pandemic lockdowns! The excitement of vaccinations is almost overshadowed by natural disasters, and new uncertainties. While we grapple with adapting to climate change, there are many questions that still need answers. More than a year ago, in our Winter 2019–20 “Feeding the World” issue, we looked at how scientists are addressing food security. As it turns out, that issue won the Gold award in this year’s Tabbie Top 25 Best Single Issues, an international competition among B2B publications! Coincidentally, we were already working on this follow-up issue, taking another look at the science of food. It is a huge topic, which we also tackle with each edition of Canadian Food Business (included in every issue). The food industry is one of many that underwent a major shift due to the pandemic, but it was already undergoing a huge transformation with the rising popularity of meat substitutes and technological advances such as blockchain tracking, along with consumer interest in healthier, sustainable diets. What started with tofu in the 1970s has exploded into a trend that has even permeated the fast food industry, which is jumping on board with meatless burgers, organic options and whole-grain offerings. The big question is whether lab-grown meats will be embraced on the same scale (article on p.14). The Canadian Food Business section (p.30) opens with an excerpt from a new book edited by Nicoletta Batini, a monetary policy scholar who currently works for the International Monetary Fund. In The Economics of Sustainable Food, a roadmap is laid out by a variety of researchers and industry experts to ensure “smart policies for health and the planet.” The intensive analysis is compelling, inspiring and informative, so we included a sample of Chapter One to whet your appetite. Another book I highly recommend, first published in 2012, is High Tide on Main Street by oceanographer John Englander. He uses ample research to support a broad analysis of where climate change is heading, and his conclusions are riveting. This year, Englander’s second book was released: Moving to Higher Ground, Rising Sea Level and the Path Forward. He elaborates on the premise that sea level rise is already unstoppable, and that “intelligent adaptation” is our only course forward. I know what I’ll be reading this summer! We’re also already working on the next issue, which revisits our first-ever “Women in STEM” issue (Summer 2019) but opens the field to BIPOC and LGBTQ. Technically, the field always should be open, and putting the spotlight on some of the key players helps everyone move forward together. In preparation for climate change, future pandemics and whatever else comes our way, we need to be willing to embrace – or at least accept – our differences. Science can be a great equalizer, if we level the playing ground.

Printed in Canada


All the right components for food processing and ingredient manufacturing. Saskatchewan invites you to explore the opportunities for ingredient processing. The province has top-quality crops and is Canada’s largest exporter of peas, lentils, canola, oats and flax. We offer world-renowned research and innovative product development with a responsive government ready to help you succeed.





BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


We all have to eat. But the ways in which we grow, harvest, process, transport, prepare and consume food are profoundly affecting everything on the planet, from climate to biodiversity to water.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Ian Hanington is Senior Editor, David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at


comprehensive study finds food systems  are responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The recent study in Nature Food, by researchers from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, includes a database that examines every stage of the global food chain from 1990 to 2015 by sector, greenhouse gas and country. Most of the emissions (71 percent) come from agriculture and associated land use and land use change, including about 39 percent from early stages – agriculture, aquaculture, fishing and fertilizer use – and one-third from agricultural land use and change, mainly due to carbon loss from deforestation and soil degradation, including peatland destruction. The rest of emissions are from the supply chain: “retail, transport, consumption, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging.” In industrialized countries, these downstream sectors make up a larger average share. Agriculture also takes up half the world’s habitable land. Livestock accounts for 77 percent of that (including land for growing feed), while producing only 18 percent of the world’s calories and 37 percent of total protein. That continues to increase with human population growth: Global food production increased 40 percent between 1990 and 2015, so shifting to more plant-based diets can save habitat and natural spaces while reducing emissions. Although the study shows the percentage of total emissions from food systems declined, that’s only because emissions from other sources – mostly burning oil, gas and coal for energy – increased.

The research has a silver lining. Sonja Vermeulen, program director at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, told Carbon Brief that it shows we can feed the world’s eight billion people if we address the problems. “It is theoretically possible, even with population growth, for everyone in the world to eat a healthy and culturally appropriate diet without transgressing planetary boundaries for carbon, biodiversity, nitrogen, phosphorus and water,” she said. “But that will take a lot of effort both technically and politically.” (Vermeulen wasn’t involved in the study.) She noted resolving the climate crisis means addressing emissions not just from agriculture (which includes shifting to more plant-based diets) but also from energy and transport. Although a major share of transport and energy emissions are carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and gas, food systems are more complex. CO2 makes up only half of food-related emissions. Methane makes up 35 percent – mainly from farming, livestock and rice production, and waste treatment. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but it remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time, so reducing these emissions can have rapid effects. Interestingly, packaging creates more emissions than “food miles” – 5.4 compared to 4.8 percent. The study also found the top six economies are responsible for 51 percent of global food system emissions: China (13.5 percent), Indonesia (8.8 percent), the United States (8.2 percent), Brazil (7.4 percent), the European Union (6.7 percent) and India (6.3 percent). The research “highlights how global food systems are becoming more energy intensive, reflecting trends in the retail, packaging, transport and processing sectors, whose emissions are growing rapidly in some developing countries,” according to the FAO. Potent fluorinated greenhouse gases, used in refrigeration and other industrial applications, are rapidly increasing in industrialized countries. This database helps identify the problems and their sources – a major step toward solving them. A wide range of other research points to solutions. Farming in less disruptive ways is key. That can be accomplished through restorative agriculture to produce food in ways that don’t deplete soils and destroy carbon sinks, and shifting away from diets that rely heavily on animals like cattle and sheep, which require a lot of land and water and produce high methane emissions. (Plant-centred diets are also healthier.) Reducing emissions related to packaging, transport, storage and processing is also important, as is cutting food waste. We have many opportunities to resolve the climate crisis. Food systems are a big part of the puzzle. We need to start making changes now!



NEW CHAIR ESTABLISHED FOR FOOD SAFETY RESEARCH Nearly half a million dollars will establish a new research chair directed by Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), funded by the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. For the past 26 years, Professor Monique Lacroix’s laboratories have been evaluating the antimicrobial and antioxidant potential of natural extracts including essential oils, fruits, spices and, more recently, silver nanoparticles. The financial assistance of $487,590, granted under the Partnership Program for Innovation in Agriculture, will allow these natural solutions to be further developed. To date, the challenge in using natural antimicrobial extracts has been their instability. “Some of the extracts oxidize quickly or are volatile. There is also variability in their composition and their interactions with the different nutrients in foods,” explains Professor Lacroix. “This funding will make it possible to develop different stabilization methods, such as food coating via immobilization in edible polymers. We can also think of nanoemulsion, encapsulation in microbeads, liposomes or biodegradable nanocomposite packaging films developed from natural polymers.” The project also is evaluating the possible interactions between food composition, processing and storage conditions, and the resulting antimicrobial activity. The fermentation of lactic bacteria also will be studied to optimize conditions for the production of antimicrobial bacteriocins. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne adds, “Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their food. They are looking for sustainably produced foods and environmentally friendly packaging. The research chair will allow a transfer of knowledge between the research community and industry, as well as attracting and retaining the next generation of bio-food industry professionals.”

OPIOID MORTALITY ON THE RISE Health Canada reported almost 4,000 opioid-related deaths across the country in 2019, of which over 94 percent were accidental. Current evidence shows that during the pandemic lockdowns, opioid-related deaths increased dramatically. This spring, Ontario Public Health reported that death rates more than doubled in 15 of 34 Public Health Units; there was a 79.2 percent increase in the number of opioid-related deaths between February and December 2020. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in collaboration with subject matter experts and medical regulatory authorities across Canada, recently released updated national clinical guidelines: Opioid Agonist Therapy: A Synthesis of Canadian Guidelines for Treating Opioid Use Disorder.


Professor Monique Lacroix, the new research chair, will continue to evaluate the antimicrobial and antioxidant potential of natural extracts and silver nanoparticles. Photo: Christian Fleury (INRS)

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has issued a call for proposals for the 2023 Major Science Initiatives fund competition, which will award $660 million over six years (2023-29). CFI funding allows pan-Canadian research communities to undertake world-class research and technology development that leads to social, health, economic and environmental benefits; supports facility operations with specialized equipment, services, resources, and technical and scientific personnel; and promotes responsible stewardship through best practices in governance and management. For more information, contact




BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Eight new research projects are launching in Canada to investigate COVID-19 variants of cncern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs). All are being funded by CoVaRR-Net, or Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network, a network of interdisciplinary researchers from institutions across the country created to address the potential threat of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. CoVaRR-Net was created with a $9 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); this first set of research projects represents an approximate investment of $1.2 million. “CoVaRR-Net’s goal is to rapidly answer critical and immediate questions regarding variants, such as their increased transmissibility, likelihood to cause severe cases of COVID-19 and resistance to vaccines,” explains Dr. MarcAndré Langlois, professor at the University of Ottawa and CoVaRR-Net executive director. “The findings from the experts in our network and their teams will provide decision makers in Canada, but also abroad, with guidance regarding drug therapy, vaccine effectiveness and other public health strategies.” Given that wastewater can act as a key early monitoring system for virus spread (the virus can be detected in human waste three to seven days before outbreaks are recognized), three of the newly funded projects involve wastewater and will: • Use cutting-edge technologies to enable intensive wastewater screening, including to test all positive COVID-19 samples for variant signatures in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The data will help to better understand the spread of the virus and its variants, and whether they evade vaccine protection; • Create a Canadian Wastewater Surveillance Database, which will, among other things, identify where case numbers may be fluctuating and communicate this information to decision makers so they can be proactive in minimizing outbreaks; and

• Develop a unified framework for genome sequencing and data analysis across Canada and develop methods to track mutations and variants via wastewater. Other projects investigate a wide array of issues regarding variants and their consequences on the pandemic in Canada and around the world, including: • A “deep dive” into the immune response, looking at which genes are turned on and the relative strength of the responses from these cells based on the type of vaccine the person took, the combination (if there was one) and the dosing interval. • The effectiveness of vaccines against the variants, developing new technologies that can test hundreds, and then thousands, of potential variants to anticipate those that may evade the immune system and/or infect different types of cells in the body (e.g., lungs, gut, brain and lining of blood vessels). • A record keeping of the existing and emerging VOCs, as this will be an important part of public health practice for the foreseeable future. The study aims to help public health units across the country develop efficient and effective processes to detect and mitigate the spread of these variants. • Simplifying access to knowledge, helping Canadians quickly access the latest and most accurate information on VOCs to enable them to make well-informed decisions. This study team will develop automated search tools for the general public and adapt a web application to communicate complex information regarding VOCs to the public. For Canadian researchers, CoVaRR-Net aims to create mechanisms, such as a national biobank, a data sharing platform and material sharing agreements to allow them to share physical research resources, data and knowledge.

AWB-Lab-BioBusiness-one-third-July2021.pdf 1 2021-06-16 11:0



PUBLIC CONSULTATION: NATIONAL QUANTUM STRATEGY The Government of Canada is welcoming public comment for the recently published “Developing a National Quantum Strategy” paper. Complete the online consultation survey or send comments to Budget 2021 included $360 million to launch a National Quantum Strategy, to support the emerging field of quantum technologies and to help build the workforce needed to solidify Canada’s leadership in the sector. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada is hosting a series of virtual roundtables this summer to gain vital insight from principal stakeholders in Canada’s quantum research and business communities. A National Quantum Strategy website also was launched to facilitate public consultations and to share updates. C









The Government of Canada invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020, mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Additional investments have been made through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.



Studying effects of nanoplastics in food and water

GENOMIC APPLICATIONS PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES GAPP (Genomic Applications Partnership Program) funds downstream R&D projects for implementing genomic innovations into the market for either commercialization or public-good purposes. Past examples of funded GAPP projects and partnerships can be found in Genome Canada’s database of previously funded projects. Genome Canada will provide up to one-third of the funding for projects with budgets from $300,000 to $6 million; at least one-third of funding must be provided by the applicant, and project duration can range from six months to a maximum of three years. Expression of interest submissions are due this October; for more information, visit: BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Nanoplastics may affect the nervous, immune and reproductive systems of humans. To further explore this issue, Professor Daniel G. Cyr of Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has received funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) and Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) “Plastics science for a cleaner future” funding opportunity. The study will be among the first to address this issue. Previously, the health impacts of products used to make plastic, such as phthalates, bisphenol and polystyrene, have been studied; however, few toxicological studies have assessed the risk of exposure to nanoplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic can be found everywhere in the environment, including in food and drinking water. This research will allow Professor Cyr and research teams from INRS, Canadian and Brazilian universities, Health Canada and ECCC to assess how these contaminants affect the body’s inflammatory response. “Increased inflammation is linked to several neurodegenerative diseases, imbalanced immune responses and altered fertility,” said Professor Cyr. “Unlike chemicals emanating from plastics, which are rapidly metabolized, plastic fragments could have long-term consequences.” In addition to the effects of plastics, the research will provide a better understanding of the consequences of inflammation on various biological systems.

UPCYCLING FOOD WASTE INTO BIOPLASTICS In 2019, Genecis Bioindustries was featured in BioLab Business. The Toronto-based startup has since grown considerably, with a recent announcement of a $6 million collaborative project with Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), to develop, scale and integrate a novel biotechnology platform. A demonstration-scale technology unit with an anaerobic digestion plant will convert organic waste feedstock into high-value PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) bioplastics, the world’s best alternative to petroleum plastics. Genecis’ platform leverages existing infrastructure to upcycle waste into high-value materials and chemicals, contributing to a circular and bio-based economy. The first product line of PHA resins will serve as plastic replacements for packaging, agricultural plastics, medical plastics and additive manufacturing filaments. The demonstration project will occur at the StormFisher Resource Recovery Centre in Drumbo, Ontario, which is designed to recycle discarded packaged food and municipal green bin waste. Commercialization of the technology will cement Canada’s position as a technology leader in biomanufacturing while reinforcing Canada’s commitment to long-term environmental sustainability. This project is funded by NGen under Canada’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative. To date, NGen has approved 105 projects with 242 industry partners, investing $181.2 million of Supercluster funding and leveraging $437.5 million in total project investment. NGen investments have led to $32 million in new R&D investments by industry, created 15 new companies, supported 63 new products in development and enabled the creation of 177 new IP assets and subsequent licensing opportunities for NGen members.



Schematic representation of M6A modifications (blue) attaching to RNA in the liver. CREDIT: Sallam Lab/UCLA

A chemical modification that occurs in some RNA molecules as they carry genetic instructions from DNA to cells’ protein-making machinery may offer protection against non-alcoholic fatty liver, which can lead to advanced liver disease, according to a new study by UCLA researchers. The study, conducted in mice, also suggests that this modification – known as m6A, in which a methyl group attaches to an RNA chain – may occur at a different rate in females than it does in males, potentially explaining why females tend to have higher fat content in the liver. The researchers found that without the m6A modification, differences in liver fat content between the sexes were reduced dramatically. In addition, in a preclinical model, the investigators demonstrated that gene therapy can be used to enhance or add modifications to key RNAs to slow down or reduce the severity of liver disease. The authors compared the effects of diets with differing fat contents to assess the effects of the modifications on fatty liver disease. In addition, they used measurements from human patients who had undergone liver biopsies during bariatric surgery to correlate markers of m6A RNA modifications with liver fat content and inflammation. In recent years, scientists have identified hundreds of chemical modifications like m6A that can occur in RNA molecules, altering the RNA’s instructions for making proteins without affecting the core DNA. Some modifications can be beneficial, as in the case of liver disease; others can have a detrimental effect. A key question moving forward is how genetic and environmental factors affect the body’s natural ability to create RNA modifications. Because m6A appears to act as a protective checkpoint that slows the accumulation of fat in the liver, the investigators hope their findings will spur future research on the development of therapies to enhance chemical modifications as a way to protect against liver disease and similar disorders. The study was published this summer in the journal Nature Metabolism.

Millions of people could face an increased risk of malnutrition as climate change threatens their local fisheries. New projections examining more than 800 fish species in more than 157 countries have revealed how two major, and growing, pressures – climate change and overfishing – could impact the availability of vital micronutrients from our oceans. Analyses by an international team from the U.K. (led by scientists from Lancaster University), the University of B.C. and the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University (featured in the 35th anniversary issue of BioLab Business) reveal that climate change threatens the supply of vital micronutrients from fisheries in 40 percent of countries. An article about the study was published by Current Biology. Countries among those whose fisheries are at risk from climate change tend to be tropical nations and include East Asian and Pacific countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia, as well as Sub-Saharan African countries such as Mozambique and Sierra Leone. These countries are also less resilient to disruptions of their fisheries by climate change because they strongly rely on fisheries and have limited societal capacity to adapt. A key reason for why climate change is such a threat comes down to the species of fish that the countries are targeting as part of their catches. Professor William Cheung, co-author from the University of British Columbia, said: “As well as highlighting the growing threat of climate change to the food security of millions of people, our study also offers hope for the future. Armed with nutritional information about different fish species, many countries have the capacity to adapt their fisheries policies to target different more resilient fish species. By doing this, these nations can ensure a more reliable supply of micronutrients for their people.” This research was funded by the European Research Council, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Trust and NSERC Canada.


RNA modification may protect against liver disease




BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


As early as the Neolithic period, the domestication of animals likely led to the development of diseases including measles and smallpox. Since then, zoonotic disease has led to other major transnational outbreaks including HIV, Ebola, SARS, MERS and H1N1 swine flu, among others. Currently, more than half of all existing human pathogens, and almost threequarters of emerging infectious diseases, are zoonotic in nature. COVID-19 is the latest and most impactful zoonotic event of the modern era, but it will certainly not be the last. Preventing future pandemics suggests re-examining the current global food system – in the name of protecting public health. In an article published in the journal Food Ethics, the authors – Florida Atlantic University’s Justin Bernstein, Ph.D., and co-author Jan Dutkiewicz, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Concordia University – offer three plausible solutions to mitigate zoonotic risk associated with intensive animal agriculture. They explore incentivizing plant- and cellbased animal source food alternatives through government subsidies, disincentivizing intensive animal source food production through the adoption of a “zoonotic tax” and eliminating intensive animal source food production through a total ban. “Modern medicine has not only failed to catch up to the zoonotic threat, but in some ways is losing ground, due in part to growing global antibiotic resistance. So, from a public health ethics perspective, we should assess measures aimed at mitigating zoonotic risks,” said Bernstein, whose expertise focuses on questions in moral and political philosophy and bioethics, and the intersection of the two. “This is especially the case with systemic, predictable sources of zoonotic risk such as agriculture and food production. We argue that if the government may protect public health generally, then this permission extends to radically altering current animal agricultural practices.”

Associate Professor Clarissa Schwab, Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering, Aarhus University. CREDIT: Ida Jensen, AU Foto

NEW RESEARCH INTO NATURAL FOOD PRESERVATION Associate Professor Clarissa Schwab, from the Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering at Aarhus University in Denmark, recently received a grant worth more than $2 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation for her research project, BioFunc, which aims to improve sustainability in the preservation of food products. The project focuses on using natural biological preservation methods rather than chemical preservatives. “Worldwide, approximately 30 percent of the food produced is lost, and the biggest cause is spoilage by bacteria and fungi,” says Schwab. Biological preservation using microbes is not exactly a new concept. Favourable microbes and the bio-preserving substances have been used for thousands of years, and natural methods of food preservation have become more popular among consumers. More than 50 percent of Europeans are concerned about the use of preservatives in foods and want natural alternatives (Eurobarometer 394). “There are a lot of different organic acids, but it is still not entirely clear why and how these organic acids inhibit microbes, and which organic acids work best in a particular food product,” says Schwab, who explains that one of the main aims of the project is to achieve a far better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms behind these processes. Another purpose of the project is to examine which organic acids are most active and under what conditions, and to develop a proof-of-concept for a bio-preservative system that can significantly enhance food safety and reduce food waste.


The report finds that in nearly every country that has measured food waste, it was substantial, regardless of income level. Most of this waste comes from households, which discard 11 percent of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain.


An estimated 931 million tonnes of food, or 17 percent of total food available to consumers in 2019, went into the waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants and other food services, according to new UN research conducted to support global efforts to halve food waste by 2030. The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-tonne trucks – enough to circle the Earth bumper-to-bumper seven times. The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP (one of the U.K.’s top five environmental charities), looks at food waste that occurs in retail outlets, restaurants and homes – counting both food and inedible parts like bones and shells. The report presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling to date, and offers a methodology for countries to measure food waste. More than 150 food waste data points were identified in 54 countries. The report finds that in nearly every country that has measured food waste, it was substantial, regardless of income level. It shows that most of this waste comes from households, which discard 11 percent of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain. Food services and retail outlets waste five percent and two percent, respectively. On a global per capita level, 121 kg of consumer-level food is wasted each year, with 74 kg of this happening in households. This also means that eight to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed, when losses before consumer level are taken into account. To build on the work of the report, UNEP will launch regional working groups to help build countries’ capabilities to measure food waste in time for the next round of reporting in late 2022.

Over two decades, while the rate of hospital admissions in the U.K. increased dramatically due to food-induced anaphylaxis, the death rate for the same cause halved, according to research published by The BMJ. Food allergy is the commonest cause of potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis. While substantial increases in hospital admissions due to food anaphylaxis have been reported globally, it is unclear whether this trend is continuing, and if it is, whether this has led to an increase in fatal reactions. To explore this further, researchers from Imperial College London’s National Heart & Lung Institute studied U.K. data between 1998 and 2018, measuring time trends, age and sex distributions for anaphylaxis admissions due to food and non-food triggers, and then compared these with reported fatalities. Between 1998 and 2018, 101,891 people were admitted to hospital for anaphylaxis. Of these admissions, 30,700 (30 percent) were coded as due to a food trigger. Food anaphylaxis admissions showed an annual increase of 5.7 percent, with the largest increase seen in children younger than 15 years (an annual increase of 6.6 percent). Over the 20-year period, 152 deaths were identified where the fatal event was probably caused by food-induced anaphylaxis; the fatality rate decreased from 0.7 to 0.19 percent for confirmed fatal food anaphylaxis, and to 0.3 percent for suspected fatal food anaphylaxis. At least 46 percent of all deaths between 1992–2018 were triggered by peanuts or tree nuts, while cow’s milk was responsible for 26 percent of deaths in school-aged children. The data also showed that over the same time period, prescriptions for adrenaline autoinjectors increased by 336 percent – an increase of 11 percent per year. The researchers say that improvements in the recognition and management of anaphylaxis could partly explain the decrease in the case fatality rate despite increasing hospital admissions for anaphylaxis. No evidence exists to suggest that the clinical criteria used to diagnose anaphylaxis have changed in the U.K. over the study period, they add. The researchers conclude: “Cow’s milk is increasingly identified as the culprit allergen for fatal food reactions, and is now the commonest cause of fatal anaphylaxis in children. More education is needed to highlight the specific risks posed by cow’s milk to people who are allergic to increase awareness among food businesses.” They add: “Further work is needed to assess the evidence for an age-related vulnerability to severe anaphylaxis in young adults.”







BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1




rguably, we are in an unprecedented time for innovation  in the food proteins sector. A broad array of factors is motivating consumers, and the industry alike, to find alternatives for animal-based proteins, from public and personal health concerns to awareness of the environmental impacts of industrialized animal agriculture and overfishing. Other factors such as regulation, financing and the politics of food are influencing a rapidly shifting market, which now hinges on the growing popularity of meat substitutes. We have more choices than ever between animal-based, plant-based and, soon, cultured proteins, including lab-grown dairy products. As such, the food industry is undergoing a tremendous amount of new product development involving applied science, biotechnology and venture capitalism, in Canada and internationally. In 2013, a Dutch team led by Dr. Mark Post developed a lab-grown hamburger made from bovine stem cells, where the cost of the patty was estimated at approximately US$375,000. According to an extensive study on cultured meat by consulting firm Kearney, “solutions for increasing the efficiency of conventional meat production have been almost exhausted,” and “all predominant innovations [in industrialized animal agriculture], including digitization… won’t overcome global agricultural and food challenges.” Large-scale livestock operations often are cited for cruel conditions and zoonotic transmission of serious afflictions such as SARS, swine flu and mad cow disease.

The authors of the BCG report claim that alternative proteins, including cultured meat, can contribute to supporting six UN sustainable development goals: zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water and life on land.



This March, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon released a document entitled, Food for Thought: A Protein Transformation. The authors anticipate that Europe and North America will reach “peak meat” in 2025, at which point the consumption of conventional, animal-based meat will start to fall. The report also claims that by 2035, the annual market for animal-based alternatives (meat, eggs, dairy and seafood) will reach $290 billion. Even if these projections are correct, what will be the feedstock source for the bioreactors that produce cultured meats? What are the implications for economies, communities and animal husbandry that are impacted by the movement toward animal-based alternatives? What are the job prospects for the cultured meat industry if it uses highly automated processes? Despite the unanswered questions, many jurisdictions clearly are signalling a movement toward less meat consumption. In the U.K., schools and hospitals plan to implement a policy to serve 20 percent less meat, and health professionals are calling for a climate tax on meat. Last November, Singapore approved the sale of cultured meat for the first time. The authors of the BCG report claim that alternative proteins, including cultured meat, can contribute to supporting six UN sustainable development goals: zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water and life on land.



Competition and disruption in the meat alternatives category

BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


One of the considerations for the cultured meat food sector will be the degree to which it displaces plant-based meat alternatives. How will consumers migrate toward cultured meat, especially if they are vegetarians or vegans? More broadly, the global meat market in 2018 was estimated to be worth US$1 trillion according to Kearney, and by 2040, cultured meat could represent 35 percent of this market. Furthermore, the BCG study speculates that “nine out of 10 of the world’s favourite dishes will have a realistic meat alternative by 2035.” This will be dependant on matching the taste, texture and price of conventional meat products. It is also evident that cultured meat, and its specific variations, will look different in different regions. For example, the Asia-Pacific region is more likely to indicate consumer approval. Israel is leading in cultured meat through a combination of private and public sector support, and in the past five years alone, a variety of companies have been established: Redefine Meat, SuperMeat, MeaTech, Aleph Farms and SavorEat. These developments are not being lost amid the conventional meat industry, where U.S. meat giants Tyson Foods and Cargill are investing in cultured companies such as Memphis Meats. Forty percent of leading food firms, including Kroger, Tesco and Unilever, now have dedicated teams developing conventional meat alternatives. Investment is coming in a variety of forms and policies. The competition driving cultured meat companies is often for the innovative science behind the products. Canadian startup Future Fields outline in a 2020 interview in Tech Crunch how “the next steps are more about iteration and commercialization to produce a [cultured meat] growth medium at scale and to do it 1,000 times cheaper.” Alternately, food startup BlueNalu is focused on simulated yellowtail fish, which is cultured in a serum-free solution containing plant proteins. A recent article in Anthropocene magazine draws attention to a technical and ethical dilemma in the development of cultured meat. A form of “scaffolding” is required to provide a framework in which the food product is “grown” or produced in the bioreactor. Some food scientists have defaulted to gelatin derived from beef, which negates the “animal free” benefit. Scaffolds also are being made from algae, and a new finding discovered that spinach’s veiny structure can be ideal as scaffolding for cultured meat, while also being ready-formed, abundant and cost effective. These scientific challenges are what the newly established Cellular Agriculture Canada (CAC) organization seeks to address. According to its advocates, these novel foods would be regulated by Health Canada’s Food Directorate, and CAC writes, “We believe it is crucial to start a dialogue with regulators.”

Venture capital and financing in the cultured meat space

A recent CB Insights report shows that the majority of venture capital funding in 2020 is financing alternative protein companies. The list of venture funds is extensive and includes such names as Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson (DFJ), Atomico, Eat Beyond Global, Finistere Ventures and Big Idea Ventures. The BCG report adds that “investors with the right vision and expertise can fund the transformation and participate in every step of the value chain.” When speaking to The Guardian this spring, the policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, Acacia Smith, said that “the cultivated meat sector had a record-breaking year in 2020, but much of this progress has been happening outside of Europe.” In 2019, U.S.-based Big Idea Ventures launched its New Protein Fund, and companies chosen for funding include an alternative version of Spanish cured ham, a cell-based bison jerky, Biftek (which is seeking to replace the use of controversial fetal bovine serum in producing cultured beef ) and Peace of Meat, a B2B supplier of cultured animal fat. In Canada, Eat Beyond Global (EBG) claims to be the first investment fund of its kind focused on conventional meat alternatives while allowing retail investors to engage directly with brands. EBG also performs due diligence so that investors can support a company’s growth with less risk. A major element in venture capital financing will be funding scale in production so that cost factors begin moving toward parity. According to the BCG report, cultured meats will reach conventional meat prices by the early 2030s. Cargill’s managing director of alternative proteins adds that “in the coming years, speed to parity [in terms of cost production] will be a key differentiator.” Recently, Israelbased Future Meat claimed to half the production costs of a four-ounce cultivated chicken breast from $7.50 to $4, and expects to drop production costs below $2 within 18 months. Last spring, the New Scientist reported that “about 60 startups around the world are developing and improving on cultured meats.” Each of these companies needs to formulate a process by which to grow these special cells within a growth media, and with cellular scaffolding. A big challenge is scaling production to reduce costs, all within the right formulation. Different companies can have up to 100 ingredients in their products, including sugars, salts, amino acids, micronutrients and growth factors. Some companies are using animal byproducts, while others are seeking completely animal-free elements. For example, according to the New Scientist report, “culture media can cost hundreds of dollars per litre.” Companies are racing to develop the scaffolding and specialized bioreactors needed to scale up.


One of the important aspects that the cultured meat industry will need to address is consumer perception and associated terminology for these products. Certainly, the broader food industry – especially critics – and those in the conventional meat sector will resist or be concerned with the use of the term “meat.” This has been an issue specific to milk, for example, where the dairy cow industry has been resistant to plant-based beverages using the “milk” moniker. The authors of the BCG study note that “the growth of the alternative protein market depends largely on consumer willingness to use these substitutes in their chosen diets, and that acceptance depends on [price] parity.” Last year, a step in this direction was the establishment of a concept restaurant called The Chicken, in Tel Aviv, Israel. Diners are seated in a room with a view of the bioreactor that makes their cultured chicken. Patrons do not pay, but provide feedback on the products, and according to a Fast Company article, “feedback from multiple tasting panels are consistent with conventionally manufactured chicken.” The verdict is still out on the terminology for this new food category. Advocates for cultured meat, such as the Good Food Institute, are seeking to use the term “cultivated meat.” Other terms, depending on the proponent, have also included: lab-grown, cell-based, clean, slaughter-free, franken food or schmeat. The Good Food Institute is aware that “consumer acceptance starts long before someone walks into a grocery store or sits down to a meal at their local diner. It starts in the headlines, debates on social media and conversations that people have with their friends.” The academic community is weighing in with consumer studies on perceptions of cultured meat. In a 2019 article for Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, a survey on “clean meat” in the U.S. and Asia found that there is significantly higher acceptance in Asia. The authors noted that when consumers encounter cultured meat through a “high tech” approach, they have significantly more negative attitudes

toward the concept and are less likely to consume the product. Another study published last year in Trends in Food Science & Technology found that “the academic sector can play a vital role in understanding and communicating the science of cultured meat to the public.” Other research suggests that there may be generational differences in openness to trying cultured meats, and that academic and scientific research on consumer perceptions of this new food category can support a better understanding of product development, messaging and the likely adoption path of this food innovation. In Canada, University of Guelph professor Simon Somogyi is leading a research group, along with Second Harvest and

CAC, to understand what retailers and consumers think about cellular agriculture. Somogyi explains, “There is a bit of a yuck factor, uncertainty and hesitancy about something that is very new and complicated.”

Last spring, the New Scientist reported that “about 60 startups around the world are developing and improving on cultured meats.”


Consumer perception, marketing and terminology



Speculation on the future of cultured meat, plant-based foods and animal agriculture

The 2019 study by Kearney on how cultured meat will disrupt the animal agriculture and food industry outlines eight essential criteria that will be required to lead the development magazine draws attention to a of these new products. These are: input materials (the media technical and ethical dilemma required to grow and build these foods); conversion rates; product features (e.g. muscle-fat-nutrient ratios); scalability; in the development of consumer acceptance; ethics and sustainability; regulatory cultured meat. approval; and venture capital. Undoubtedly, this is a busy space. The business prospects are clearly attractive if these ventures and companies meet scale, with products that have appealing taste, price and presentation. Scientists are asking the technical questions about product structure, while food engineers are DREAM. GROW. THRIVE. developing the bioreactors required to turn prototypes into working models. Amid all this enthusiasm, there also are critical perspectives to consider. In Forbes last year, the research director for the Food Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future, Max Elder, noted, “I worry most startups in the cultured meat space are overestimating their short-term timeline to get to market, and underestimating their potential long-term impact on completely redesigning our food system from the cell level up.” Cultured meat is not without its critics, never mind the serious concerns from the industrial animal agriculture industry. Last year, an article in Frontiers in Nutrition, “The Myth of Cultured Meat: A Review,” drew attention to the unclear nutritional composition of cultured meats, and the implications for plant-based alternatives. The authors referenced how consumers often dislike “unnatural” foods, and how some animals will still need to be reared to harvest cells for production of cultured meat; however, there are Partner with the only lender 100% already companies trying to eliminate invested in Canadian food. this aspect. 1-800-387-3232 | Furthermore, with the offerings of cultured food products, what are the religious implications for Kosher or Halal diets? In this rapidly developing sector, there are many questions – and many possibilities – that will have sweeping implications for human food consumption in this decade, and far beyond.

A recent article in Anthropocene

BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


You’re invested in your business So are we


Dr. Daniel Drucker

Exploring the mechanics of digestive hormones leads to a Gairdner Award BY JANA MANOLAKOS

his is a story of the relentless pursuit of new knowledge, driven by observation, collaboration and hope. It’s almost epic in some ways, but quiet champions like Dr. Daniel Drucker probably wouldn’t classify it that way. The endocrinologist is a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto (UofT) and senior scientist at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. He is also a winner of the 2021 Canada Gairdner International Award, along with two of his colleagues, Joel Habener of Harvard Medical School and Jens Holst of the University of Copenhagen. It’s an honour bestowed on them for their work with previously unfamiliar hormones – glucagon-like peptides (GLP-1 and GLP-2) – which they found help maintain healthy sugar levels in our blood. The team’s work also led to the development of dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors. The decades-long research opened the door to lifesaving drugs for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and bowel disorders that affect millions of people worldwide.





Based on Drucker’s work, effective medications like Trulicity and Ozembic became available in Canada in the last few years. Every year, seven winners are selected for the Gairdner, each receiving $100,000. Almost a quarter of them go on to win Nobel prizes. “The path to commercial success and the introduction of a drug to the clinic is not always a rapid, straightforward journey,” explains Drucker, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Regulatory Peptides and the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre – Novo Nordisk Chair in Incretin Biology. “There are all kinds of challenges to be met, and it can be a long and difficult process. But many things in life are like that.”

BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Indeed, the work for which the trio was recognized represents four decades of research, eventually leading to the development of several new classes of drugs for treating more than 100 million people worldwide. These unique peptides are released by the lining of the intestines and act to control insulin and glucagon for the management of sugar levels in the body. Smaller than proteins, peptides play key roles in regulating the activities of other molecules. Drucker, Holst and Habener identified GLP-1 and -2, observing and classifying their molecular and physiological effects in cells and animals, and applying their discovery in human studies. “GLP-1 therapies have really advanced our treatment for diabetes and metabolic disorders, and GLP-2 can effectively address a huge unmet need in people with intestinal failure,” notes Drucker. Based on his work, effective medications like Trulicity and Ozembic became available in Canada in the last few years. These mimic GLP-1 and GLP-2, so that when sugar levels rise after someone has eaten, the drugs trigger the secretion of insulin. Worldwide, millions of people with Type 2 diabetes have benefitted from either GLP-1 analogue or a DPP-4 inhibitor, another class of drugs that supports GLP-1 and GLP-2 functions in the body. Drugs based on GLP-2 can improve nutrient absorption in people with short-bowel syndrome, eliminating the need for intravenous feeding in some patients. GLP-1-based drugs show promise as cardio-protective agents and may help against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dementia.

Beyond the simple joy Drucker finds while working alongside other great minds – people like University of Toronto’s Charles Hollenberg, Gerard Burrow and Patricia Brubaker, as well as his colleagues, Habener and Holst – he is also fascinated by the human body’s ability to produce hormones in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract and the brain. The story began in 1984, when the Montreal-born Drucker worked as a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, studying molecular endocrinology. “I loved the simplicity of the endocrine system – too much or not enough hormone is easy to understand – and I was excited that many endocrine disorders are not that difficult to diagnose and treat, often with excellent clinical outcomes,” he explains. In the mid-1980s, Drucker joined Habener’s team as a post-doctoral researcher, helping to detail the biological function and systemic effects of glucagon-like peptides that Habener had discovered. His discovery was based on work by Holst, who had identified a type of glucagon in blood that originated in the gut but was different from glucagon made in the pancreas. Holst made the initial observation that patients who had undergone intestinal surgery experienced a rise in insulin, followed by a drop in blood sugar after eating – an early sign of links between the gut, sugar levels and the pancreas, which is the main site of insulin and glucagon production. The scientists later observed that gut cells release GLP-1 into the blood in response to food – increasing insulin release in the pancreas and tempering glucagon, while also slowing digestion and decreasing appetite, a promising discovery for the treatment of obesity. Together with Patricia Brubaker in UofT’s Department of Physiology and Department of Medicine, Drucker worked on

the role GLP-2 plays in supporting the growth and health of intestinal cells that enable food absorption, which led to a new treatment for short-bowel syndrome. Subsequent work on a chemical that inhibits gut hormones yielded another class of drug called DDP-4 inhibitors. Both classes of drugs help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar without causing weight gain or hypoglycemia, side effects of previous generations of drugs. As both a physician and a scientist, Drucker believes much of his success lies in asking research questions with medical relevance. “I’m a clinician-scientist, and I probably know far more clinical medicine than I do science, to my embarrassment, but I’ve always kept one eye on unmet clinical needs and chosen research experiments accordingly,” he explains. “For a physician, there’s nothing better than every day doing something that may improve the health of someone. For me, to actually see decades of work translate into medicines that actually make a difference, that the GLP-1 drugs do things that the other medicines don’t do, [that’s a great feeling].” Commercialization isn’t a primary driver for Drucker. “We study basic mechanisms of hormone action. We do not set out initially to design our experiments with a view towards discovering an invention,” he admits. “We do the science, we hope that we ask good questions and we hope that our findings are novel and of interest. When we make observations or discoveries, we always have a little light on that says, beyond the pure joy and satisfaction of understanding how this works, might this be relevant to treatment of human disease, and might this have commercialization potential?” On the 10th floor of Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto, Drucker often can be found glued to his computer in a nondescript office, pouring over reports and studies, or





Drucker believes the global pandemic has made the need to engage and support young researchers even more relevant than before. BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


wearing a white coat in his lab among benches, a jumble of tubes, banks of refrigerators and analyzers. Over decades of seeking answers, he’s relied on highly sensitive equipment to point the way. The most stalwart has been the Mettler Toledo balance. “Our research is not very sophisticated, and we often make fascinating discoveries by weighing animals and their organs’ hormone administration, like body weight loss or intestinal growth,” Drucker explains. As a standard bearer for the Gairdner Award, Drucker encourages young people to pursue STEM fields. “I can’t think of a better place to put yourself in, to be able to lead the health and prosperity of your nation, while having a great time, constantly learning new things, being very productive and being challenged and excited,” he says. Drucker believes the global pandemic has made the need to engage and support young researchers even more relevant than before.

To young scientists, he says, “Stay focused, rigorous, persistent, committed and patient. Solid important science ultimately triumphs, but not overnight.” So, what needs to happen to encourage future scientific discovery and build the country’s reputation as a global leader in the innovation space? Drucker explains, “Canada has wonderful scientific talent and very good infrastructure, yet as a nation, we seriously under-invest in funding scientific research, relative to our economic peers. We also have a less developed pharmaceutical biotechnology sector, for various reasons, and no philanthropic organizations to rival those operating in other countries, so it is a challenging environment right now for Canadians in science to maintain an internationally competitive program.” At a time when every nation is recognizing the importance of their scientific communities, Drucker is among the leaders we should listen to.


Engineering Biology Agri-food Innovation Centre



USask computer scientist Ian Stavness (right) and his team in a plant greenhouse. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)




t isn’t easy to improve on nature, but a new engineering biology hub at the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) has received funding to take up the challenge. With an investment of $3.2 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), GIFS is launching a one-of-a-kind research and innovation centre and biomanufacturing facility dedicated to the agri-food sector and food security. The federal funding will augment the $9.2 million price tag for the facility, which opens its doors to researchers, entrepreneurs and students in the coming months. The Engineering Biology Agri-food Innovation Centre has the potential to transform what consumers eat, the medicines they take and the fuels they use. It will foster the type of advances in engineering biology that are contributing to the global bio-economy. When the new facility at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) was announced, Vice-President of Research Dr. Baljit Singh said, “This new centre will establish the University of Saskatchewan as the national node for engineering biology applications in agriculture and food that will accelerate science and innovation to support and grow our agri-food sector. Using automation and other emerging technologies, our researchers will harness the power of biology to design more nutritious and sustainable crop varieties and food products.” The funding will be used for critical infrastructure including robots, computers, cell culture systems and

BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Photo by David Stobbe.

other equipment for the centre. “We’re using it to purchase equipment that will enable the engineering biology platform. Engineering biology is a critical enabler to the global bioeconomy,” stated Steve Webb, GIFS executive director and CEO. He is also a member of the National Engineering Biology Steering Committee, which is helping drive the influx of engineering biology in Canada. Last November the committee released a white paper, “Engineering Biology – A platform technology to fuel multi-sector economic recovery and modernize bio-manufacturing in Canada.” The new centre is similar to Concordia University’s Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology, which focuses mainly on health applications. “The planning stage for the project was relatively short,” explains Webb. “Consultation with researchers on campus and industry within the agri-food ecosystem demonstrated the real need and demand for its capability. It integrates across various verticals and horizontally into other business areas – health, manufacturing, etc.”

Rapidly growing innovation with ancient roots

Historically, far more rudimentary forms of biomanufacturing and bioengineering technologies existed as early as 5,000 years ago, when the Mesopotamians first fermented lactobacillus bacteria to make yogurt and the ancient Egyptians used yeast to cause bread to rise and beer to bubble.


In the coming months, more than 20 researchers will set up shop in the 10,000-sq.ft. lab space, with access to platforms for advanced computational and genomics support.

Today, engineering biology is an exploding field that combines genomics and molecular biology with highperformance computing, automation and artificial intelligence, unleashing the power to transform what we eat, medicines we take – like COVID vaccines – and the fuels we use. A May 2020 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, The Bio Revolution: Innovations transforming economies, societies and our lives, estimates engineering biology could have a global economic impact of up to $4 trillion in the next 10 to 20 years, with more than a third of this growth in the agrifood area. In the coming months, more than 20 researchers will set up shop in the 10,000-sq.ft. lab space, with access to platforms for advanced computational and genomics support. They’ll be exploring such areas as climate change–resilient canola varieties, new ingredients and flavours for pulsebased meat alternatives, and nonanimal enzyme alternatives for the dairy industry. “Engineering biology integrates automation, biology and computation – the ‘ABC’ approach – to advance research and new product development by accelerating the design-build-testand-learn cycle, beyond the reach of traditional approaches,” explains Webb. USask plant scientist Tim Sharbel believes that engineering biology will enable researchers to advance the application of genomics to agriculture. “We can now identify important genes, but translating this into something that’s useful to industry and beneficial to society is a gap that’s been very difficult until now,” he explains. Significant automation and computational power is required to enable the rapid production and testing of thousands of gene and protein variants, for the development of new products and plant varieties. For USask pharmacy researcher Jane Alcorn, the lab will enable creating compounds to discover new drug candidates. USask nutrition researcher Carol Henry will use new protein variants produced at the facility to improve the nutritional quality of foods, while agricultural researcher Bobbi Helgason is looking to enhance plant-microbial interactions that help plants with stress tolerance. Key researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the National Research Council and the private sector also will use the facility.

Investing in powerful automation and machine learning

“We’re talking about automation and machine learning. This is something that we need to a great investment. Countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan, the European Union and Singapore have all been investing in this,” Webb commented in a CFI news release. He adds, “It’s really about being able to harness the power of automation, miniaturization, computational power and biology to create new and better tools and technologies – things like herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, new plant varieties – even faster, and new seed treatments based on microbial treatments. There’s so much we can give to farmers with this technology.” The centre’s technology platform – comprising separate “suites” for engineering biology, proteomics and genomics, and metabolomics (the study of small molecules in an organism) – will be integrated into the workflow . of GIFS’s existing technology platforms, which include the Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL), Data Management and Analytics, and Cell Biology. “GIFS and the Global Institute for Water Security partner with the University of Saskatchewan through Copernicus, a general purpose, high-performance computing infrastructure,” Webb explains. “Through this system, GIFS has storage and computing capacity available for use. GIFS leverages this capacity for its technology platforms and science programs, including OPAL and its imaging technologies. GIFS’s biomanufacturing facility will represent its own storage and computational node in the Copernicus environment.” Designed for efficient workflow, the facility will use a range of standard laboratory robots. Among these, there are automated liquid handling platforms, like the Agilent Bravo and TECANS robotic systems for dispensing liquids, colony pickers that automate the process of isolating colonies or species so they can be identified, and the KingFisher Flex, a lab instrument used for extracting and purifying DNA, RNA, protein and cells from a large number of samples.


The Engineering Biology Agri-food Innovation Centre has the potential to transform what consumers eat, the medicines they take and the fuels they use



BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Essential collaborations

Webb says academic and industry researchers will be able to order the DNA, RNA, peptides and other proteins they need for their studies from the centre’s bio-manufacturing facility, or “biofoundry.” The research will be proprietary to GIFS and its clients; however, the engineering biology technology platform will be integrated into the emerging Canadian engineering biology network. “What GIFS develops and uses will fit the national and international standards for foundries, and the institute will have an unencumbered path to market,” explained Webb. As the centre continues to ramp up, the foundry is expected to begin operating again in the next 12 months. Collaboration is key for the centre, which looks to work with other Canadian universities that have biofoundries, as

well as with industry and international partners such as the U.S., U.K., Australia and Singapore. Moving forward, GIFS will continue to engage the National Engineering Biology Steering Committee and its network of key players in the space, like Ontario Genomics, the National Research Council of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Concordia University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and other experts in bringing core biotechnologies forward and products to market. The group created a technology roadmap for promoting engineering biology as a national opportunity to advance Canada’s knowledge-based economy and create high-quality jobs and training opportunities. It will also ensure that Canadian biotechnology companies and manufacturers don’t get left behind in the rapidly growing global market.


GAMECHANGING DEVICE LETS ELECTRONIC PIPETTES COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER Eppendorf recently introduced its VisioNize pipette manager, a potential gamechanger for digitalized manual pipetting. The system is ideal for scientists who manage high workloads and require many intricate pipetting steps. The VisioNize pipette manager acts as a control panel and communicates with connected electronic pipettes from Eppendorf, boosting speed, accuracy, efficiency and collaboration. It can be used to quickly enter volumes, immediately transferring all settings to the connected electronic pipettes. The integrated software provides guidance to ensure accuracy when working with different liquid types. Conventional tablets also can be connected alongside the electronic pipettes to work in parallel.


KEEPING VACCINES AND OTHER BIOLOGICAL SAMPLES COLD Distributed through Avantar’s VWR delivery channel, the PHCbi MPR series pharmaceutical refrigerators offer a complete, integrated solution for achieving strict and regulated storage temperatures for pharmaceuticals, medicines, vaccines and other temperature-sensitive biological samples. The slim front-to-back design and optional sliding shelves allow for ergonomic, accessible retrieval. A highly efficient hermetic compressor provides efficient cooling and maintains set temperature levels. Defrosting is performed automatically during compressor “off” cycles by sensing frost, and the defrosting heater also acts as an emergency heat source to prevent samples from freezing in extremely low ambient temperature conditions (below 0°C).


Pharmapod’s Clinical Services app streamlines the end-to-end process for patients and those administrating the vaccine, allowing individuals to easily book their vaccine (via any device), complete their eligibility criteria and provide details of any side-effects that have occurred – with the data flowing securely from patient to administrating organization and to national governmental organizations, where required. By simplifying the entire process, the solution promotes vaccine uptake, minimizes the time required to administer each vaccine and provides critical sideeffect trend data, enabling corrective actions, if necessary.




COMPACT PHOTOREACTOR COMES WITH SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE The ThalesNano PhotoCube Series is the first professional photoreactor in the world that is available as a self-assembly kit as well. Various customized configurations can be applied to a diverse set of batch, flow, stop-flow and CSTR photochemical reactions. Options for multicolour and UV LEDs enable the users to apply up to 7+1 wavelengths simultaneously for a wide range of chemical applications. Reactions can be carried out in the same instrument with a range of UV to red lights in an effective and easy manner. The compact and flexible design, combined with high performance, makes this modular product series unique.

Agilent Technologies recently unveiled its Agilent 8697 Headspace Sampler, the first headspace sampler with integrated gas chromatography communication. Advanced hardware features, such as a microchannelbased electronic pneumatic control module with atmospheric pressure compensation and valve-based sampling, allow for precision and performance. Customers also will have increased troubleshooting capabilities, more robust connections between the HS and GC system, and integrated instrument connectivity through the increased headspace-gas chromatography system intelligence. Removable sample racks can be exchanged while the device is operating to allow the addition of samples while the sequence is running. An isolated carrier flow path allows for alternate carrier gas use and safely vents vials. The system’s touch screen enables easy communication anywhere in the lab network.


BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 2 • 2 0 2 1


Cole-Parmer analog ultrasonic cleaners feature simple controls with superior cleaning technology. They offer heating temperatures from 30–80°C, in 5° increments, with a rotary dial and can operate continuously or in timed runs. Sweeping waves ensure even sound distribution throughout the bath at 37 kHz. A pulse mode option increases ultrasonic power for tougher soils and pastes. For safety, there’s an auto-shutoff after continuously running for eight hours, or if bath temperature exceeds 90°C. A sealed display and elevated feet protect against splashes and spills. Baths with capacities above one gallon also feature a side-mounted drain for easy emptying and cleaning.

LIST OF ADVERTISERS & WEBSITES Bio Talent Page 2.................................................................. Government of Saskatchewan Page 5................................... Ag-West Bio Page 9...................... FCC Page CPDN Page 51............................................................................................. Canadian Laboratory Suppliers Association Page 52...........................................................

FIBRE ANALYZER IS FAST AND CONNECTED The fully automatic analyzer for crude and detergent fibre determination needs minimal operator time and offers a unique user interface and cloud connectivity. All reagents are contained in dedicated glass tanks and bottles located inside the instrument. The analyzer preheats, dispenses and collects hot chemicals automatically so the risk of contact with the operator is eliminated. The VELP Ermes cloud platform enables operators to monitor and control the analyses from any location, avoiding routine instrument checks and data downloads. The seven-inch touchscreen display and the user interface developed by VELP make operations simple and smart. While the FIWE Advance comes with pre-installed methods, it also allows for customization.

» The science of food and beverage ISSUE 2 • 2021

Rise of the Robots

Next-generation tech is tackling some of Canada’s greatest challenges in the agri-food sector






Answering the Question:

Is Sustainable Food Economical?




by Nicoletta Batini, editor; Island Press, 2021 (320 pp.) So far, twenty-first-century macroeconomists have largely ignored food systems. This is odd, considering that the agri-food sector is both the largest, fastest-growing industry in the world and the major employer in the developing world. Perhaps more worryingly, many macroeconomists have overlooked the fact that our current food systems pose several existential threats to people and economies. First, almost half of humanity is chronically malnourished, and most of the rest is either overweight or obese, because the food we produce is less and less nutritious and the way we distribute it globally is grossly inefficient and vulnerable to disruptions. This has huge implications for labour productivity and health expenditures and, accordingly, for private and public finances.

Second, industrial food production, from intensive monocrops and confined animal operations in the Northern Hemisphere to thousands of small-scale ranchers in the Amazon serving the cattle industry, is bringing entire ecosystems to biological collapse, causing a human-made mass extinction. Crucially, the food system is the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the number one degrader of natural resources, including water and air.

Third, human diets have shifted progressively toward consumption of more foods derived from animals. Many of these animals are fed from birth with growth-promoting subtherapeutic dosages of antibiotics, generating conditions for the proliferation of new, untreatable superbugs resistant to known antimicrobials. Industrial animal farming operations that raise large numbers of animals in confined spaces also breed bacteria and viruses such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and the 2009 swine flu H1N1. Even more concerning is the spread of zoonotic diseases such as SARS-CoV, Zika, HIV, Ebola, and today’s SARS-CoV-2, as more and more pathogens confined for millennia to the animal kingdom jump species to infect ours. This spread is traceable to the increasing disturbance of wildlife, both through the consumption of wild animals for food and through the loss of wildlife habitat as more land is cleared for farming and urbanization.

The impact of each one of these threats on people and the planet is immense and is economically unbearable, making their combined adverse effects too large to conceive. The good news is that this implies that reforming food systems promises incredible opportunities to advance both human and environmental wellbeing. Apart from feeding us properly and conserving the natural world, well-managed food systems can secure multiple social, economic and environmental goals, such as keeping humanity healthy and well-nourished, sustaining inclusive trade and income, and creating millions of local high-quality jobs. In this sense, reforming food systems is central to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the pledges of the Paris Climate Agreement.



integral component of the science of food is the business of food, so when The Economics of Sustainable Food crossed our desk, we took notice. After digging in and reading the first few chapters, we decided the best option was to share the editor’s overview. More than 20 authors – academics, researchers and others – contribute to a collection of essays that forms the roadmap for a more balanced, sustainable global food system.

311 3


Food systems do not only feed us, influence our health and shape the way we interact with the natural world – including climate and pathogens. They also affect employment and labour productivity, drive international trade and domestic intermediate exchanges.

The first step is to recognize that economic health is human health is planetary health.

The Great Food Transformation



At the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, delegates spoke of a “Great Energy Transformation” needed to ensure a clean and secure energy future. No less urgent for the future of the planet is what we might call a “Great Food Transformation.” Importantly, agriculture, fishing and forestry are fundamentally different from other industrial sectors in that the former deal with living substances subject to their own laws, whereas the latter do not. Altering these laws, as through synthetic fertilization or genetic manipulation of factory-raised animals, is creating biological imbalances of vast proportions, the effects of which are known to be either extremely dangerous or totally unpredictable. The crises of the modern food system – malnutrition, diseases, and ecosystem collapse – generate incommensurate economic costs. However, the importance of developing economic policies that can help transform the system have long disappeared from the economic profession’s radar screen because of the widespread belief that producing food industrially would solve global food problems. Reflecting this belief, economic analysis regularly disregards the primary sector and its interactions with the rest of the economy, and macroeconomic policy design largely abstracts from it on the grounds of the low value added and job intensity of the sector in the advanced world. Accordingly, when major developments wreak havoc on the food system, such as foodborne pandemics, mass

extinctions, spikes in food prices, record crop losses or record deforestation from abnormal wildfire seasons, they are treated as exogenous, unanticipated “shocks” even if they are the direct result of specific public or private agents’ actions. The joint health and economic crises unleashed by the coronavirus outbreak and the burning down of large sections of the Amazon rainforest in 2019–2020 demonstrate that ignoring the role played by food systems in the economy is an expensive mistake not just from a public health and environmental perspective but also from an economic point of view. This is because food systems are an integral part of economic systems and intersect with human activity in many ways. Food systems do not only feed us, influence our health and shape the way we interact with the natural world – including climate and pathogens. They also affect employment and labour productivity, drive international trade and domestic intermediate exchanges, and via land and sea rights have traditionally spurred exploration, commerce and financial activities, helping to build nations’ wealth.

Step One

To begin with, policymakers need to understand the public health, economic and environmental trade-offs between using land and sea for food production and their use for competing activities: urban, extractive, industrial, recreational and conservational. In addition, policymakers need to appreciate the different impacts of alternative food systems on natural


Policymakers need to understand the public health, economic and environmental trade-offs between using land and sea for food production and their use for competing activities: urban, extractive, industrial, recreational and conservational.

Step Two

Having identified the direction in which food systems must go for health and planet, society needs clear operational frameworks to guide shifts at the country or regional level. Ideally, these frameworks should reflect scenarios obtained with integrated land and sea use models calibrated nationally. These models can typically compare the environmental, dietary and socioeconomic implications of alternative production and consumption templates given specific geographic, resource, climate and cultural initial conditions in various places around the world.

The joint health and economic crises unleashed by the coronavirus outbreak and the burning down of large sections of the Amazon rainforest in 2019–2020 demonstrate that ignoring the role played by food systems in the economy is an expensive mistake not just from a public health and environmental perspective but also from an economic point of view.


resources, biological diversity and greenhouse gas emissions. Farming and fishing methods that are more resource intensive eat into resources that could be used for other ends, raising the opportunity cost of producing food relative to methods that are less resource intensive. Also, policymakers need to have a clear sense of how different diets affect health. Diets that are healthier are less burdensome for people and the economy because they minimize the risk of premature death, the need for and cost of sick care and nonmedical care, and losses of work and income due to illnesses. In recent years, researchers have come up with precise measures of these relative impacts and have arrived at three broad conclusions. First, the true cost of food produced industrially is very high for people, nature and the economy (IPCC 2019). In contrast, regenerative agriculture and fishing follow ecological principles that can heal the environment, are more adaptive to changes in climate and produce nutritious, safe food that is comparatively cheap (FAO 2019; FOLU 2019; UNEP 2019). Second, diets that are primarily plant based are healthier and more sustainable than diets that are heavy in animal products (Willet et al. 2019). Finally, biological diversity of both animals and plants is key to human food security because a significant diversity of organisms is necessary to protect the web of life that sustains crops and livestock. Conservation of pristine ecosystems is also essential to stabilize climate, which in turn shelters food production from an exacerbation of extreme weather events and global warming (IPBES 2019).


In turn, these frameworks can be weaved into larger analytical and modeling setups involving energy planning and macroeconomic variables, such as the country’s international trade balance, to assess the overall environmental and socioeconomic impact of competing food supply models. Advanced geospatial models of land, food production and trade can then be built to test policy options and develop pathways, as has been done successfully for Brazil, France, Indonesia and the United Kingdom (Bretz, 2016; Solagro 2016; Vergara et al., 2016; Harwatt and Hayek 2019; Schmidt-Traub et al. 2019)

Step Three



Finally, policymakers need to design economic policies and structural reforms that can transform food systems to meet their country’s development and environmental goals. These are the actual policy levers that change food production and consumption. Regrettably, although today we understand how to produce and eat food for the well-being of people and the planet (Step One), and these precepts are starting to be investigated more pragmatically in some countries (Step Two), the design of economic policies to make a food transformation happen is much sketchier. Globally, only a handful of countries have announced plans to earmark modest amounts of public investment and changes in regulations or green food production and consumption. Elsewhere, reforms to promote food sustainability and health continue to be sidelined to a bilateral debate between agriculture ministries, non-government organizations and the few large corporations that dominate the sector (Andersen and Kuhn 2014). And yet macroeconomic policy is ideally suited to improve food systems. “Green” fiscal, trade and financial policies, as well as structural reform measures used successfully to spur green transitions in other markets, such as energy, can be deployed in food markets to arrive at more sustainable production and healthier diets and reap the ensuing economic, social and planetary gains. The route to food system reform via well-targeted economic measures is uphill but far from impossible as food markets everywhere seem ready to embrace change. Promising trends toward greater agri-food sustainability are emerging independently, including a global acceleration in land and sea used for nonconventional, regenerative farming, a shift away among Millennials and Generation Z members from animal-based protein, and technological advancements in restorative methods of agricultural production and regenerative ocean farming. These trends are accompanied by parallel, self-directed shifts in financing, which is slowly

but relentlessly becoming more engaged in funding “green,” sustainable agri-food production and consumption solutions (Batini 2019c). Novel investment trends, which largely respond to emergent demand trends, include plant-based investing, alternative protein investing and agricultural technology venture capital investing. They also include a growing class of green and sustainable bond investing that is no longer limited to green projects in the energy realm, but increasingly incorporates a focus on land use. Although the potential benefits of making global food systems sustainable are enormous, not all of them can be achieved through a business-as-usual approach. In fact, current trends in global investment do not yet reflect the potential for disruption in demand-side agri-food innovations – innovations that target and affect consumers. The lower levels of investment in food systems are due in great part to the complexity of the sector. Fragmented rural markets, poor infrastructure, high regulatory burdens and other factors raise costs, while revenues are constrained by customers’ limited ability and willingness to pay. In addition, much of the food systems’ startup activity is concentrated in developed countries and on improving the production landscape, indicating both the risk of unequal access to new solutions and the opportunities for scaling in developing countries and in demand-side innovations. Coordinated efforts by policymakers, investors, educators and others to accelerate a transformation of food systems in all regions can overcome those obstacles. To green our food supply, science shows that at a global level, we need to halve animal-based food production, replacing it with plant-based production, and shift away from conventional farming and fishing to regenerative farming. This can be achieved by raising taxes on intensive animal farms and farms growing crops destined for animal use, cutting subsidies to these operations and redirecting subsidies to sustainable farms just as carbon taxes are being proposed and raised to shift away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy sources. Reforms to make land cheaper for regenerative farmers or to limit land available for conventional farming can complement these measures, alongside labour market reforms promoting regenerative agro-fishing jobs and the setup of enterprises involved in small agro-business. Other measures include public investment in research and innovation and public sponsoring of food industry initiatives aimed at promoting healthy food. These policies would mostly interest developed and large emerging market economies, which are

Economic policy levers, as well as efforts by businesses, organizations and consumers, can also help cut the amount of food that goes to waste.

Alongside efficient use of all food and demand for sustainable food, small-scale regenerative agriculture is the backbone of global food security. And of course, wildlifefriendly farming both on land and at sea provides crucial ecosystem services. Equally important for climate mitigation, however, is the ability of forests, other undeveloped lands and our oceans to absorb greenhouse gases, keeping them out of the atmosphere. Using less land to support animal agriculture is key not just to carbon sequestration but to protecting the biological diversity that is necessary for food production. A barrage of economic policies and regulations can be used to incentivize private entities to engage in conservation efforts. Fiscal policies and structural reforms at the national and international level are well suited to ensure conservation of land, forests and seas. Indeed, success stories show remarkable benefits for the economy and the environment. Mapping land and seas to account for natural capital is essential to successful conservation efforts, and innovative techniques are now available to do this accurately and globally.

Greening agri-food production in less industrialized countries indicates that the challenges are great, but the opportunities exist.


The IPCC’s 2019 report indicates that by 2050, reforms in agriculture could mitigate up to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and dietary changes alone could reduce emissions by the amount currently emitted each year by the United States and India. Eliminating food waste could cut another 8–10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Shifting production and consumption toward plant-based foods would also halt deforestation and enable conservation of critical ecosystems. Beyond securing our planet’s habitability and biological richness, the wins for current and future generations would be vast. The food we eat would be more nutritious, more varied, safer, more humanely raised and more affordable. We would live longer and healthier lives. Savings from lower healthcare costs – one of the top expenditures for governments and households – could stabilize global finances. Labour productivity would rise with fewer work years lost because of ill health, disability or early death. Critical progress would be made in eradicating world hunger, income inequality and social immobility, averting mass migration due to climate change. All in all, the promise of reforming our food systems is too great to be overlooked. To grab it, though, governments will need to act quickly and with conviction. This book shows them the way.

From The Economics of Sustainable Food edited by Nicoletta Batini. Copyright © 2021 Nicoletta Batini. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.


the world’s top suppliers of meat and dairy, as well as the main exporters of key food commodities such as grains, sugar and rice. In these markets, 98 percent of production is industrial, highly concentrated all along the supply chains and heavily subsidized. Greening agri-food production in less industrialized countries indicates that the challenges are great, but the opportunities exist. In some countries, regenerative farming is timidly but successfully emerging as an approach to increase income while supporting sustainability. Affordable sun-powered irrigation systems are gradually empowering farmers to take charge of their crops even during droughts, and producers are experimenting with combinations of agriculture and aquaculture to create more productive and sustainable food systems. Policymakers in those countries need to consider public health and environmental outcomes along with production goals when determining which crops and production systems receive support through research, extension and policy. Everywhere, policies should sustain old and novel sustainable farming practices that include polycultural small farming, urban vertical farming, regenerative ocean farming and alternative-protein farming. Economic policy levers, as well as efforts by businesses, organizations and consumers, can also help cut the amount of food that goes to waste. Reducing this waste, which is responsible for almost one-tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions, would conserve natural resources, create economic opportunity and feed the hungry. This important goal is more challenging than expected because food is wasted for different reasons in different places. In low- and middle-income countries, food waste happens largely within the supply chain, whereas in wealthier countries it occurs at the consumer level. At the same time, not all interventions to reduce food waste are equally effective or justifiable from an environmental, nutrition or economic point of view. Yet cutting food waste is one of the lowest-hanging fruits in transforming food systems, and country cases indicate that many policies can make a dent in the amount of food that is wasted. In developing countries, strategies include public investment in weather systems to increase farming accuracy, training in quality standards and storage, removal of infrastructure constraints and investments in cooling systems, refrigeration, improved storage and roads to get perishable food onto the market faster. In developed countries, policies include education to foster a no-waste culture, portion sizing, food banks and regulation for restaurants and grocery stores.



World’s first pizza subscription service

Toronto-based General Assembly has launched the world’s first pizza subscription service. The game-changing club aims to take a bite out of the competition by delivering subscribers stacks of four, six, eight and 10 frozen pizzas every month. A stack of the 10-in. pies has a tidy freezer footprint, lasts up to 60 days and is perfect for meal planning or spontaneous convection. Chef-crafted, featuring premium ingredients and 100 percent naturally leavened dough, these pizzas are made without preservatives, additives or commercial yeast.

Which chocolate, and why?

Top-selling plant-based JUST Egg arrives in Canada



Eat Just has begun to distribute a locally made, toaster-ready, folded version of its plant-based egg in Canadian grocery stores. “With millions of Canadians embracing plant-based proteins for healthier, more sustainable diets, there’s no better time to launch our folded product here,” says CEO Josh Tetrick. JUST Egg is cholesterol free and has more protein than many animal proteins (13g per serving). It is Non-GMO Project verified, egg-free, dairy-free, has no artificial flavours and its ingredients use less water, have a smaller carbon footprint and use less land than conventional animal sources. The key ingredient is protein from the mung bean.

Reducing the ecological footprint of bottled natural products Wampole is now offering its natural products and nutritional supplements in bottles made from 100 percent recycled materials to reduce its ecological footprint while promoting local sourcing and a greener lifestyle. With the gradual introduction of these new bottles to the market, Wampole is aiming to produce 30 percent of its packaging made from recycled materials by the end of 2021. The new bottles are also manufactured at Wampole’s facilities in Quebec. “We offer products that help maintain the health of consumers, which is intimately linked to the health of our planet,” explains Wampole’s General Manager, Louis-Philip Vermeersch.

Along with flavour, packaging and marketing have a considerable influence on consumers’ chocolate choices. Last year, food scientists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences released one of the first studies to investigate desirable attributes of chocolate bars. The study, published in PLOS ONE, included looking at consumers’ perceptions of “bean-to-bar” craft chocolate, made by smaller companies. Lead researcher Allison Brown noted, “The U.S. craft chocolate market is estimated to be worth $100 million and growing.” As part of the Penn State study, participants tasted five chocolate bars in three categories: mainstream (Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar), premium (a Lindt Cocoa Dark Chocolate Bar, a Green and Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate Bar, and an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds), and craft (Dandelion Chocolate 70% Ambanja, Madagascar). Participants gave their opinions on flavour, packaging, sustainability labels and other aspects that they found to be appealing and unappealing. Overall, participants responded favourably to every sample because, as Brown pointed out, “It’s hard to make chocolate undesirable.” Almost all consumers found the craft chocolate sample to be novel and exciting, likening it to coffee and wine in terms of flavour and packaging elements. They were wowed by the product’s intricate label design and thick gold foil, with one consumer saying it was “like getting a golden ticket from Willy Wonka.” Products with higher price tags – and those available only at specialty stores or online – also were deemed to be top notch. The Endangered Species bar was a hit because its label indicates that proceeds support wildlife conservation. “Participants viewed it as a guilt-free indulgence,” Brown said.


Chocolatier making all products sustainable

Quebec-based chocolate maker Chocolats Favoris now uses sustainable cocoa to make the majority of its chocolate products, and by 2023, the company will be using 100 percent sustainable cocoa for all products, partnering with the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and Brazil provide the raw goods for products at the company’s 52 chocolate shops in Canada; online orders can be shipped countrywide.

Breakfast of champions Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital collaborated with investigators at the University of Murcia in Spain to study the impact of eating chocolate. They discovered that when postmenopausal women eat a concentrated amount of chocolate in the morning, it may help burn body fat and decrease blood sugar levels. Consuming 100g of chocolate in the morning (within one hour of waking) or evening (within one hour of bedtime), the 19 women in the study did not gain weight despite increasing caloric intake. Evening chocolate intake was noted to alter next-morning resting and exercise metabolism.

By some estimates, more than two million children work in the African chocolate industry. Researchers from the University of Bath, University of the West of England and Surrey Business School have developed an affordable DNA test that can verify slave-free, humane production techniques by tracing the origins of a chocolate bar. After isolating the DNA biomarkers at specific farms, the cocoa biomarkers can be detected in the final products and matched to a database of suppliers. Current certification methods are limited due to the mixing of raw materials early in the supply chain. “This has the potential to revolutionize sustainability in a market rife with environmental destruction and human misery, in that firms will now be able to buy from a specific set of known farms which have approved labour and environmental standards and to prove that their chocolate is made with that cocoa,” said Michael Rogerson, researcher at the University of Bath School of Management. A pilot study proved the method, but industry engagement is now required to implement the system at scale.

Next step: Lab-grown chocolate

A team of biotechnologists and food technologists at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) discovered a process to develop lab-grown chocolate from cocoa bean scrapings. Grown in a bioreactor, the substance is incubated over several weeks in complete darkness, then mixed with a suspension culture. The end product was taste tested to verify its similarity to the “real” thing.


Guilt-free chocolate via DNA testing




Next-generation tech is tackling some of Canada’s greatest challenges in the agri-food sector By Jana Manolakos




year, people on Toronto streets were startled by “Geoffrey,” a small pink robot, as it quietly rolled past them on the sidewalk. Beside the fact that Geoffrey is undoubtedly one of the world’s cutest restaurant delivery bots, it’s also symbolic of a dramatic surge in robotics and automation throughout the Canadian food supply chain. From precision farming to automated food distribution centres – and even, Geoffrey the delivery bot – Canada’s food sector finds itself in a rapidly evolving robotic age, where cutting-edge technology is changing the game for production, processing and distribution. Over the last decade, an influx of machine learning and artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G, robots and automation have reached new degrees of sophistication, becoming faster, more reliable and secure – far beyond what the fathers of robotics, George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, envisioned in 1959 when they introduced Unimate, the world’s first industrial robot. These smarter-than-ever machines come in different shapes, with a range of functionalities, mobilities, dexterity and cost, from robotic process automation to drones with powerful image- and data-capturing capabilities. Increasing numbers use artificial intelligence to recognize and learn from their surroundings and make decisions independently.

A June 2020 agribusiness market study by Calgary Economic Development suggests that the global agricultural technology market is growing exponentially, and is expected to reach US$729.5 billion by 2023. Factoring prominently in this growth is the adoption of precision farming, which uses technological innovations like GPS, drones, sensors and soilsampling robots to help farmers make better decisions and grow crops more efficiently. According to Alberta Innovates, the province’s largest research and innovation agency, “at the core of agriculture’s technological future is the concept of the smart farm, where sensors, automated equipment, agricultural drones and other high-tech machinery and software applications are all connected, giving farmers a full, real-time picture of what’s happening with crops, from planting to harvest.” In the food, beverage and meat processing sector, these numbers are even more dramatic, with an expected growth to US$4.1 trillion by 2024. This is particularly relevant in Canada, where the sector contributes $28.5 billion to the national GDP, generating over $112 billion in production value as the second-largest manufacturing industry.


Despite the global demand for Canadian food products – Canada is the fifth-largest agricultural exporter in the world – the sector is grappling with a significant labour shortage in the coming years. Add to that the need to feed an exploding global population, and it’s no wonder that many in the agri-food industry are counting on robots to come to the rescue. According to Hussam Haroun, director of automation for Ontario-based Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, “With automation, we can solve the labour shortage problem, while also bringing a new generation of workers into the industry by being able to offer people challenging jobs as engineers, technicians and system operators.” An RBC report, Farmer 4.0, predicts that by 2030, Canada’s agricultural sector could be facing a shortage of 123,000 workers. Each year, 600 fewer young people are pursuing agricultural careers. The shortage is due to a combination of increasing production and a rising number of retiring individuals. By 2025, one in four farmers will be 65 or older, with 110,000 expected to retire in the coming decade, and experts say that’s putting pressure on the cost of labour. In horticulture, labour represents 40 to 60 percent of production costs for growers. To meet increased demand, farmers are looking to automation and robotics, technologies like selfdriving tractors, automated cultivators and robotic harvesters. For example, Vineland is working on automated harvesting of fruits and vegetables, a finicky process that requires artificial intelligence to help the machine identify the fruit on the plant, determine if it’s ripe and pick it without bruising.

Transforming Canadian farms into high-tech operations

On the leading edge of precision agriculture in Canada, the Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) brings agri-food companies together with tech companies to boost farm productivity, while keeping the food supply safe. Launched in 2019, the non-profit is funded by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.


Robots to the rescue as Canada faces farm labour shortages





To meet increased demand, farmers are looking to automation and robotics, technologies like selfdriving tractors, automated cultivators and robotic harvesters.

Dr. Cornelia Kreplin, executive director of Alberta Innovates and a CAAIN advisor, says, “We have a responsibility to help feed the 10 billion people we expect to be on this planet by 2050. To do that, we will need to increase agricultural production by between 50 and 70 percent from current levels.” That’s where precision farming can help. Kreplin believes the only way forward is to increase the productivity and efficiency of agri-food companies by applying new technological solutions, including artificial intelligence, automation, advanced sensor technologies, hyperspectral imaging and blockchain applications.

Hyperspectral imaging wins CAAIN funding

Last October, CAAIN issued a $15-million call for project proposals focused on automation and digital technology that advance the agri-food sector. This May, the first of eight winners was announced. Quebec-based MatrixSpec Solutions, which specializes in hyperspectral imaging in the food processing industry, will receive a portion of the funds for its high-tech, non-invasive approach to identifying chicken egg genders and fertility. Over the next three years, the funding will cover almost half of MatrixSpec’s $2.8-million Optimizing Hyper-Eye initiative, which aims to help hatcheries produce female-only eggs, avoiding the cost of culling male chicks


Cheaper, smarter, more powerful robots

A 2017 McKinsey report suggests that cheaper, more capable and more flexible technologies are accelerating the growth of fully automated production facilities, as a counterpoint to the rising cost of labour. From increased production outputs to improved quality and consistency, there are numerous reasons why the agri-food industry is rapidly adopting these technologies. Agri-bots are no longer as cost prohibitive, with prices dropping significantly in the last 30 years, a factor in their rapid adoption. For example, Saskatchewan-based Dot Technology Corp. introduced Canada’s first autonomous power platform, a self-driving, AI-powered vehicle with a range of attachments like seeders, sprayers or a harvester cart. At a cost of US$260,000, the all-purpose robotic machine is cheaper than high-end traditional tractor models with ticket prices that can top US$500,000. The company says its platform helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and leads to savings on fuel, labour and equipment capital costs. “The introduction of autonomous functionality has presented many opportunities for us to continue to develop our technology, and we are pleased with both the number of acres we’ve put on the machines and the amount we’ve learned over the course of this process,” says Norbert Beaujot, who founded Dot Technology Corp.

Interconnectivity is the name of the game in intelligent automation

Interconnectivity, like IoT and G5, is disrupting agri-tech and reshaping how autonomous robots and drones communicate with other machines and learn. It’s helping reduce costs, offset labour shortages, increase worker productivity, reduce errors, improve inventory and optimize picking, sorting and storing times.

Geoffrey is undoubtedly one of the world’s cutest restaurant delivery bots. It’s also symbolic of a dramatic surge in robotics and automation throughout the Canadian food supply chain.


– a practice that has raised animal welfare concerns in the past. Project partners include the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and Egg Farmers of Ontario. “Our innovation is world-leading and important for three principal reasons,” explains MatrixSpec founder and CEO, Dr. Michael Ngadi. “First, hatcheries must devote significant resources to the gender identification of day-old hatchlings. Second, existing methods of pre-incubated egg gender identification are invasive. Ours is not, which offers significant advantages. Finally – and this is very exciting – using our hyperspectral imaging tool to identify in ovum gender and fertility is only the beginning. This technology may well provide solutions to other agri-food challenges.” The technology has proven to be more than 90 percent accurate, and the company will use the additional funding to work toward scaling up for industrial application.


FEATURE Late last year, Telus launched Telus Agriculture, a new business unit dedicated to providing innovative solutions to support the agriculture industry with connected technology, which the Canadian Federation of Agriculture says is essential to precision agriculture. At the launch of the new division, Telus president and CEO Darren Entwistle said by digitizing the entire value chain and linking these technologies together for the first time, Telus Agriculture would facilitate a secure exchange of information to allow farmers and ranchers, agri-business organizations, the agri-food industry and consumers to make smarter decisions. Rogers Telecommunications isn’t far behind, with clients like Metos Canada, delivering IoT-based digital technologies that send information to the farmer’s mobile and desktop from the fields every five minutes and allowing for remote field monitoring, weather monitoring and forecasting, water management, disease modeling, insect monitoring and nutrition management.

Cargill brings facial recognition capability to Canadian meat farms



From automated milking barns to hog sorting robots, new technology can provide a clearer picture of animal health and well-being. This spring Cargill, one of Canada’s largest processors of beef, poultry and oilseed, teamed up with Dublin-based machine vision company Cainthus to introduce facial recognition technology to dairy farms. The software uses predictive imaging to identify individual animals based on hide patterns and facial recognition, and tracks key data such as food and water intake, heat detection and behaviour patterns. The software then delivers analytics to inform decisions on milk production, reproduction management and overall animal health. David Hunt, president and co-founder of Cainthus, explains, “Technology will truly help farmers succeed. We think this partnership will be a gamechanger for farmers because it will allow them to efficiently scale their business.”

Food and beverage processing leads demand for robots

According to the International Federation of Robotics, a global industry hub, the food and beverage processing sector is the second-largest manufacturing market for robotics in Canada, just after the automotive industry. Spurred on by the new norms of the pandemic, this trend shows no sign of stopping, especially in the pick-and-place, packaging and palletizing space. While food processors generally have been slow on adopting automation – especially small and medium enterprises – according to a report by the Canadian government, that’s changing. The report suggests that “to remain competitive in an increasingly global market for food and beverage processed products, firms are likely to consider new avenues to manage input cost, productivity, efficiency and the changing characteristics of demand. Automation and robotics can help address some of the challenges faced by these processing firms.”

ABB Robotics

Headquartered in Switzerland, this company employs more than 11,000 people in 53 countries. ABB’s robots are flexible, fast and adaptable – even when it comes to strict hygienic demands. ABB robots are designed and built to suit all aspects of different processes within food and beverage industries to increase productivity and optimize the end product.


The Quebec-based innovator specializes in automated vertical farming equipment, such as a tray extractor that eliminates the need for going around the farm by fetching trays and bringing them straight to a centralized workstation, all from the touch of a screen. This feature greatly facilitates the way humans interact with the crops while maximizing production space, but it is also designed for compatibility with a fully automated harvesting system.


COMPANIES LEADING THE CHARGE IN AGRI-FOOD ROBOTICS Vancouver-based AIS develops mobile agricultural robots. Among these, its autonomous mobile robot uses a set of sensors to observe the surrounding environment. These sensors enable the robot to either autonomously make decisions about its behaviour or to pass the information to an operator. The second option allows an operator to control the robot remotely. The AIS IoT platform helps the robots learn from each other and, as a result, work collectively.

Jantz Canada

Located in Grimsby, Ontario, this systems solution provider and machinery integrator offers high-quality machinery, conveyor systems and robotics for the food industry, such as its robotic bag palletizer, which can accommodate different pallet patterns and product types and handle up to four different SKUs simultaneously.

Opus Automation

OMNiDRIVE is an easy-to-integrate aftermarket system that can be installed on several popular tractor models, allowing the farmer to monitor and operate a driverless tractor from the cab of the harvester; the harvester can offload on-the-go in the field, then return the tractor to a predetermined unloading area.

This engineering manufacturing company specializes in robotic and automated solutions. In addition to offering palletizing, case packing and pick-and-place, the company sells machine tending robotics. Industrial robots are utilized to pick product from a supply position, transport the product to a machine, position it and then interact with the machine. Opus Automation’s customized end-of-arm tool designs allow the handling of parts as small as a pin or as large as a refrigerator, in a wide range of positions and orientations with precision.



Raven Industries

Based in Beamsville, Ontario, Propack Processing and Packaging Systems Inc. is a manufacturer and supplier of automated packaging machinery, leading the way in robotics and innovation in the packaging industry. Since 1996, Propack has been designing custom pick-and-place packaging systems for a variety of markets and applications. Their systems can handle cartons or trays at high rates of speed for maximized efficiency.

This robotics consultancy specializes in aerial and groundbased solutions serving a range of industries, including agriculture. The DJI Agras MG-1S or T-16 is an octocopter designed for precision variable-rate application of liquid pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, for a high degree of efficiency and manageability.





A new state-of-the-art automated distribution centre scheduled to open in 2023 is the latest to enter the Canadian food supply chain. Quebec-based Groupe Robert, which owns and operates more than 40 distribution centres, recently announced plans to build a fully automated distribution centre in Varennes. The new facility adds to Groupe Robert’s Boucherville agri-food complexes and is designed to meet the food industry’s growing demand for refrigerated and frozen goods. The total investment of $150 million includes $40 million provided by the Fonds de solidarité FTQ and a $15 million loan from the Government of Quebec. At a height of 150 feet, the new centre will have the storage capacity for 60,000 pallets: 30,000 for fresh products and 30,000 for frozen products. A speedy automated system allows trailers to be unloaded in only a few minutes. Energy efficient with a low carbon footprint, the centre’s heat recovery system reuses heat generated by the refrigeration equipment as part of its climate control system. Solar panels and a rainwater collection system will be used for washing trailers.



Metro invests $800 million into new automated distribution centres

Metro, a leading food and pharmacy retailer in Canada with over $16 billion in annual sales and over 90,000 employees, recently opened the first of three semi-automated distribution centres in Ontario and Quebec. It’s part of a multi-year, $800 million investment. Working with German storage and logistics expert, Witron, Metro began construction of its first centre in 2019. Located in Toronto, the 700,000-sq.ft. structure includes a fresh foods facility and a frozen foods facility, both with state-ofthe-art technology to provide improved product assortment, freshness and selection accuracy for Metro’s store network. The Toronto warehouse supplies more than 250 stores in the province of Ontario with an assortment of 3,600 different frozen products. The new automated system includes nine automated palletizers and a case picking system. The machines are able to pick over 112,000 cases, more than 100 full pallets, for shipment to Metro stores on a peak day. The distribution

centre also includes a five-aisle-high bay warehouse with 12,500 pallet locations and an automated storage and retrieval system with 118,800 tray locations. Innovative conveyor system elements, as well as 18 high-speed stacker cranes – developed and manufactured by Witron’s subsidiary, FAS – keep the system operational even at a temperature of -28°C.

Sobeys pairs its automated warehouse with home delivery

Sobeys took its Vaughan, Ontario, distribution centre to a new level last year by opening a fully automated Customer Fulfillment Centre. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect as the world was grappling with a global pandemic that was driving stay-at-home protocols and online grocery sales. The 500,000-sq.ft. automated warehouse opened in 2009, costing $150 million. With ceilings that soar to 70 feet, the warehouse hums with machines that save the company 30 to 40 percent in labour costs. Space at the Vaughan facility is optimized through Witron’s automated case picking and palletizing system, which stacks pallets with enough precision to enable eight to 10 percent more products on each pallet. Faced with steeply growing competition, Sobeys decided to launch Voilà by investing $100 million in new technology and a platform created by Ocado Group, a U.K. technology-led global software and robotics company. Ocado’s technology fills orders at the Vaughan centre, using robots to assemble the orders that staff deliver to customers. Sarah Joyce, senior vice president of commerce, explains, “Because Voilà delivers customers’ orders directly from an automated warehouse, we have tremendous control over the freshness and quality of our products and the reliability of our deliveries.” A second centre is currently being built in Montreal to bring Voilà par IGA to major cities in the province of Quebec, as well as Ottawa.

Geoffrey, Canada’s cutest delivery bot

Last year, Tiny Mile, a startup based in Toronto, launched an innovative way to deliver food to consumers. They developed a fleet of robots that provide on-demand delivery in Canada. The Geoffrey robot – named after Geoffrey Hinton, one of the “godfathers of machine learning” – weighs 10 pounds and can carry up to six pounds in its locked trunk, or basically the equivalent of an $80 takeout order. Moving along sidewalks at a top speed of six km/hr – roughly the same pace of an easy jog – the tiny pink robot is able to deliver orders within a two-km radius from the source restaurant, powered by a 12hour battery. Restauranteurs show Geoffrey a custom order number, which triggers the robot to open its lid so the food order can be loaded. Five onboard cameras give the remote pilot a wide, 220-degree view, equipped with a zoom lens to read addresses. The autonomous delivery robot market is expected to reach a value of US$3.82 million by 2026.


E-commerce in Pandemic Times

A runaway train, or a leisurely ride into profitability? F

uelled by the pandemic, e-commerce has exploded onto the Canadian food industry. Social distancing, stay-athome protocols and restaurant closures drove consumers to shop for their food online, and triggered unprecedented growth in virtual grocery stores and unique direct-toconsumer strategies – from boxed meals like Hello Fresh and Pepsi’s bundled pantry and snack shops, to home delivered groceries and artisanal foods. The phenomenon shows no sign of stopping, carving out a starring role for e-commerce in Canada’s food landscape. A lead authority in the Canadian food industry and senior director of Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, Dr. Sylvain

Charlebois says that even this far into the pandemic, the food industry is struggling to predict what people will want, how they will live, where they will eat and what they will eat. “We still don’t know what the market will actually look like, which is both scary and exciting at the same time,” he explains. “There’s a great deal of speculation how the industry will emerge at the other end of the pandemic.” Among the churning, however, major players are betting on e-commerce. According to a report released by Charlebois’ lab last year, an estimated $12 billion will be invested by Canada’s food industry players into online interface services for the next five years – much of it triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.


By Jana Manolakos



Lacking faith in Canada’s food supply chain



There has been considerable growth in the consumer market for fresh delivered meal kits in 2021, such as HelloFresh, Chef’s Plate and GoodFood. Continued growth is a sure thing if you consider how shopping behaviours have changed. According to the 2021 Canada’s Food Price Report, one-quarter of Canadian shoppers are currently, or are strongly considering, ordering groceries online for delivery. Of these shoppers, 86 percent would like their groceries delivered directly to their homes. Charlebois, who led the project, estimates that over the last six months, 4.2 million more Canadians are ordering food online at least once a week than before the pandemic. So what foods do Canadians buy online, and why do they buy them? A survey of 7,000 Canadians, conducted by the Agra-Food Analytics Lab, found that fast food was the most popular online purchase (33.1 percent), followed by fruits and vegetables (22.0 percent), dairy products (21.5 percent) and baked goods (20.6 percent). A smaller number (8.7 percent) purchased alcoholic beverages online in the last six months. While it came as no surprise that convenience was a major factor in online purchases, concerns over COVID-19 and mandatory selfisolation also led to more Canadians ordering online.

During the pandemic, what took Charlebois aback was how people lost trust in the food supply chain. “A great number of people were concerned about food access, with reports of shortages. That, to me, was just surprising,” he says, “because I’ve always believed that Canada was well-resourced. The food industry is quite resilient and able to serve the market well. I was not ready to see the number of Canadians doubting our industry’s capacity to deliver.” What stands out for Charlebois is that until the pandemic, Canadians were not concerned so much over where and how their food arrived on store shelves – they were more concerned over whether it was safe to eat. “Before the pandemic, a lot of people were wondering how food supply chains can become more transparent, but with COVID, I think it got people to try to better understand how food supply chains actually work,” he explains.

Our relationship with food has changed

Along with working from home, more people are spending time in the kitchen. “As soon as you do that, your relationship with food completely changes,” Charlebois notes. Last summer, a study released by the University of Guelph looked at the impact of COVID-19 on health behaviour, stress, financial and food security among middle- to highincome Canadian families with young children. It found that 60 percent of Canadians reported making more meals from scratch, 70 percent spent more time cooking, 55 percent ate more meals with children and 50 percent involved their children in meal preparation more often. Participants also reported changes in eating behaviours like eating more food overall, eating more snack food and eating less fast food or takeout. There also has been considerable growth in the consumer market for fresh delivered meal kits in 2021, such as HelloFresh, Chef’s Plate and GoodFood. Along with lockdowns, this has been a hard hit on the restaurant industry, explains Charlebois. “There’s been a huge shift away from the food service industry, with restaurants suffering the greatest hit from the pandemic. Before the pandemic, 35 percent of our money for food was spent on food consumed outside the home. It went down to nine percent at the beginning of the pandemic. Now we’re up to about 24 percent. That represents billions and billions of dollars not spent in restaurants.” To survive, some restaurants chose to partner with online delivery apps, like Uber Eats, Door Dash and SkipTheDishes. Will restaurants bounce back after the pandemic? Charlebois believes it will take some time. “I don’t think it’s going to happen over the next couple of years. It’s going to take a while.”


According to Mark Juhasz, research associate at Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab (also the author of the article on p.14), efforts to adapt to the new realities have significantly reshaped e-commerce. Businesses hoping to succeed in the sector will need to understand shoppers’ wants and overcome some challenges to meet their expectations. “Labour markets, products and consumer sentiments have changed how people are eating, and this requires important attention across the supply chain,” he says. Juhasz points to Amazon, which responded to a surge in online purchases by allowing consumers to reserve a “virtual” spot in line during demand spikes when production runs low. He adds, “Pepsi launched direct-to-consumer platforms in 2020 to allow purchase bundling.” But not all e-commerce newcomers have the infrastructure in place to deliver a world-class customer experience. It isn’t easy for smaller grocers who need to invest in new infrastructure, such as websites, inventory management, staffing and delivery capacity, to fulfil online orders. There’s also the spectre of ongoing consolidations in the Canadian grocery retail landscape, explains Juhasz. In March, Canada’s secondlargest grocery retailer, Empire, announced its purchase of a majority share in Longo’s and its Grocery Gateway e-commerce business. Empire operates Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, Farm Boy, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods and Voilà.

Around the same time, Empire announced it was working with Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada on a proposed grocery code of practice designed to address unfairness in the market. Juhasz notes that while large grocer consolidations can lead to improved customer experiences, at the same time, “there’s an upward pressure on costs for smaller grocers. The bigger companies can invest in advanced technology, but it puts pressure on smaller food companies to find digital platforms to help them keep up with these changes.” An answer, he says, lies in banding together. For example, 2020 saw the creation of Best of Calgary Foods, a new owneroperated collaboration between 24 of the city’s chefs and food artisans. “Initially, members of the group tried to go it alone,” Juhasz explains, “with the associated third-party logistics and delivery costs, but they then combined forces under one banner, and now deliver bundles of products to customers. “What is interesting about this is that they don’t necessarily have the volume or ability to list in large grocery chains. They found that selling to buyers as individuals was cost prohibitive. So, they combined forces and now have a suite of options consumers can buy if they want to buy from local artisans and producers. It’s a solution for smaller companies and allows them to deliver to people in the Calgary area using a direct-to-consumer business model, which is more feasible for these smaller companies. By teaming up, they have better economies of scale.”


Smaller grocers are determined not to be left behind



Digitizing the Saturday morning farmers’ market

E-commerce also works for farmers who are looking to sell directly to consumers. The pandemic led to a surge in direct field-to-consumer online sales of boxed meats and produce, with some farms reporting up to 400 percent increases in sales. User-friendly e-commerce platforms like Local Line are making it easier to set up digital farmers’ markets. But in the virtual world, the vibrancy and ambience of a bustling Saturday morning market is lost – presenting a hurdle for e-commerce, explains Juhasz. Researchers at the Agri-Food Analytics Lab found that when shopping online for groceries, Canadian consumers felt uncomfortable about purchasing food without seeing it first and had concerns over food quality. “Not being able to see their food before they buy it online means savvy grocers will need to improve their website presentations with detailed product descriptions and superior photographs. “All of these brands across the sector need to be thinking about the e-commerce platform and how they represent themselves to consumers, whether it’s direct-to-consumer or online – more so now, as the pandemic has really accelerated the need.” Timing of food delivery also was a concern that led retailers to rethink how they can get their products out quicker, notes Juhasz.

Rising food prices and the low-income consumer



With food prices expected to rise by five percent, well ahead of Canada’s inflation rate, Charlebois says, “Engaging in e-commerce will also put some pressure on food prices. Food affordability is going to be an issue.” For 43 percent of Canadians, price isn’t so critical, according to Canada’s Food Price Report. They’re able to pay extra for online food retail services, delivery services, meal kits and the fees many of them charge. The report cites apps like Instacart, an online grocery delivery service, which includes delivery fees, service fees and tip options. As grocers increasingly invest in e-commerce platforms, consumers also can expect to see fewer food bargains and discounting.

Juhasz explains that’s going to be hard for lower income earners, among whom “there is a sensitivity to the cost of service and delivery fees.” Research from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab found that delivery and service fees are a big barrier for many Canadians when using online services, with almost half not willing to pay any fee. Another consideration is those consumers who do not have online banking access or credit cards.

The e-commerce boom

Even before the pandemic, grocers were responding to consumer demand for convenience by launching online delivery services like Longo’s Grocery Gateway, which was Canada’s first in 2004. And while there was some interest in the Longo’s strategy, the real wakeup call for the industry came in 2017, according to Charlebois, when Amazon bought Whole Foods. But even after this, “most grocers really didn’t want to embrace e-commerce until COVID happened. COVID created a market that really needed e-commerce, and so grocers needed to adapt.” The shift from food service to food retail also impacted food distributors. For example, surplus food initially intended for restaurants was redirected to retailers; foods were repackaged for food retail rather than food service; and there was reduced bulk demand. “Right now, Sobeys is ahead of the curve with Voilà, and Walmart is trying to find its e-commerce footing. Walmart is deploying a very aggressive strategy along with Costco as well,” says Charlebois. So how will e-commerce in the food industry change in the next decade? “It’s going to grow,” Charlebois predicts. “We don’t know to what extent, but it is going to grow because there are two things going on. There’s tremendous investment in e-commerce, for one. And secondly, I think that grocers are starting to better understand, or better appreciate, how to make money with e-commerce.” With the data that’s out there, and the investments made by industry, Charlebois believes that even after the pandemic subsides, Canadians will continue to appreciate the convenience of shopping for their food online. Most likely, we can consider this a permanent part of the new normal.

The pandemic led to a surge in direct fieldto-consumer online sales of boxed meats and produce, with some farms reporting up to 400 percent increases in sales.



FRYING OIL MONITOR ENSURES QUALITY As cooking oil degrades, harmful peroxides are produced from the unsaturated fatty acids, not only spoiling the quality and flavour of food, but potentially leading to serious health issues for consumers. With Geneq’s new frying oil monitor, the ATAGO DOM-24, the quality and condition of degraded oil can be managed using quantitative, objective values to determine the right time to replace the oil. The DOM-24 easily measures oil degradation without any complicated setups, and no other equipment or preparation is needed.

The BACT/ALERT 3D rapid microbial detection system enables better productivity, faster product release and significant cost savings. Highly sensitive, it has been engineered for automated, objective and high-throughput microbial detection. The system’s versatility makes it customizable for almost any facility. The device uses three simple steps to detect a broad range of microorganisms using a proven, patented liquid-emulsion sensor to detect CO2 and other metabolites.

AI-BASED PROGRAM PREDICTS MARKET DEMAND As a Nielsen Connected Partner, Fiddlehead pulls syndicated data directly from Nielsen, analyzes the data and generates downloadable reports. The Category Foresight Report is a fast-moving consumer goods retail report that identifies competitive blindspots, predicting competitor pricing and promotions. Using deep learning, predictions are made for every Universal Product Code manufactured in the food channel, in every Nielsen syndicated major market. The forecasts are made every week, between six and 12 months after purchase, allowing the customer time to adjust their tactics. Fiddlehead identifies future opportunity gaps, where there will be markets with low promotion and high demand.


WEIGHING MEAT JUST BECAME EASIER The new WS 910 weighing system from Handtmann guarantees accurate-to-the-gram weights in every packaging unit. It is particularly useful in the application areas of minced meat and in the production of formed products. The WS 910 weighing system with the SB 912 sorting conveyor offers a turnkey solution, integrated into a production line for process monitoring. The main functions include production control, monitoring and weight control, as well as ejecting under- or overweight portions after the forming and portioning process. The weighing system forms part of the Handtmann LineControl concept.




In its latest report released this March, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) revealed that only eight

By Jana Manolakos

BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 1 • 2 0 2 1


Despite the decline in fake fish, 62 percent of Canadians still worry about food fraud, a concern that has not gone unnoticed by the Canadian government. “Tackling food fraud will not only protect consumers, but also Canadian food businesses who must compete with inauthentic products,” explained Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, underscoring the role that the CFIA plays in a vast arena that involves potentially catastrophic consequences. The CFIA began operating in 1997 as a science-based regulatory agency, created to eliminate duplication by combining the inspection services of three federal government departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Health Canada. Today it continues to partner with various national and international bodies – from Public Health Canada to the FDA – in its mission to meet food safety standards and improve awareness and consumer protection. When it opened, the CFIA was one of Ottawa’s largest bureaucracies, with 4,500 employees and a budget of $300 million. Today those numbers continue to grow, with a current staff complement of over 6,000 employees – including veterinarians, inspectors and regulator scientists, 13 diagnostic and research laboratories across Canada, and an overall budget of $820 million last year. And by all accounts, the CFIA is kept busy. Approximately 3,000 food safety investigations occur each year, leading to an approximate annual average of 250 recall incidents. One of the worst of these occurred in 2008. A year after opening, the CFIA was met with a nationwide listeriosis outbreak that resulted in the deaths of 22 Canadians and a massive recall of packaged and fresh meats. The costs associated with the outbreak in Canada at the time were estimated to be nearly $242 million. The numbers are staggering. More than four million Canadians, almost one in eight people, get sick from food poisoning every year. Foodborne illnesses account for 11,600 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths annually. Among these, allergic reactions and microbial infections rank at the top, although recalls also have been issued on occasion for adverse chemical residue and contamination by materials such as hair or glass.

percent of Canadian fish and seafood were mislabelled – a dramatic improvement from two years earlier, when a study out of Guelph University found a whopping one-third of these products had been mislabelled, or fraudulently represented.

According to a survey released this March by Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, despite pandemic fears, over 72 percent of Canadians remained confident in the safety of their food products. To maintain its traction in surveillance and oversight of new food pathogens, invasive species and animal diseases that threaten Canada’s agricultural and natural resources, the government continues to support and modernize the CFIA. This past January, it invested an additional $162.6 million over the next five years and $40 million per year on an ongoing basis. The money will enable CFIA to digitize its services and help Canadian businesses overcome pandemic interruptions and global trade volatility.


consolidated, direct and economical

pharmaceutical distribution • Manufacturer-led versus Wholesale • Transparent Inventory Control • Nationwide next-day Delivery • Accurate DailySales Reporting • FirstChoicebyHospitals

Contact us to help you enable sales growth and enhance the customer experience. 1-800-680-3839 • •

Expand Your Network & Grow Your Business JOIN THE CLSA

We are an organization that serves our membership by providing services that can grow your business. • Quarterly Macro/Micro reports providing detailed information of the Canadian environment business. • Salary Surveys that are specific to our industry and data that is 100% Canadian. • Workshops that address subjects or issues that are common to all of us and affect our business.

The Canadian Laboratory Suppliers Association is a group of scientific companies committed to promoting and serving the Canadian laboratory marketplace. The CLSA provides a non-competitive environment for executives of Canada’s leading scientific suppliers to share ideas and concepts. The objective of the CLSA is to provide market analysis on the scientific industry, and to understand and discuss issues that influence the Canadian laboratory scientific market. These issues include: how government policies affect the scientific industry, how and why the industry is changing in Canada (changing economic climate) and market trends.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.