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Refrigeration cleaning tips to protect against COVID-19 and food-borne bacteria

With convenience stores and micro markets declared essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, your site likely adopted a stricter cleaning routine to prevent the virus spread. This is also an ideal time to look at best practices for food safety, because commercial refrigerators and freezers can quickly become bacterial carriers if not properly maintained. 

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Given the right conditions, bacteria found in food can double every 10 minutes, which means that 1,000 bacteria can grow to 1/2 million about 90 minutes! So, let’s look at how to create conditions where neither COVID-19 or food-borne bacteria can survive. 

Cleaning 101

Research shows COVID-19 can survive up to nine days onmetal, glass and plastic if these surfaces are not properly disinfected. While it can be tempting to saturate your refrigerated units with a strong cleaner like bleach or ammonia, don’t, as these products can contaminate food. 

Instead, use a soft cloth with a non-abrasive liquid detergent cleaner mixed with water. Soap and water are proven to eliminate the virus, as soap interferes with the fats in the virus shell, which lifts the virus from surfaces and is then rinsed off with water. (This is also why frequent handwashing is effective at preventing the virus spread.)

We recommend deep cleaning your refrigeration units monthly, but exterior door handles and doors are high-traffic areas and should be wiped down several times a day. While most sites these days have hand sanitizer available for customers to use at the checkout counter, it’s also a good idea to provide hand sanitizer or sanitizing hand wipes (with at least 70% alcohol content) directly beside any refrigerated merchandisers.

Before deep cleaning your unit’s interior or exterior, always unplug it. Neverapply or spray any undiluted cleaner directly to the unit, since excessive liquid can seep into the electrical connections and cause a malfunction or electrical hazard. To avoid any contamination, ensure all cleaning materials are cleaned themselves (for instance, use a fresh cloth each time) and stored so bacteria is not transferred from one surface to another. Also, keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other store equipment.

Cleaning also gives you a chance to inspect the unit for any damage. For example, when wiping down the door gaskets and glass, check for gaps or tears in the gaskets, which can cause air leakage or a build-up of dirt or grease. If you’re not able to snap them back into place, they need to be replaced. Most units are self-defrosting, but if you have manual defrost units, follow the manufacturer’s instructions—regular defrosting is essential, as it helps prevent serious damage to compressors. 

If your unit has a conventional condenser, it should also be cleaned monthly to avoid breakdowns caused by an overworked motor. To clean it, remove the front grill, switch off on the control panel and unplug it, then use a small, hand-held duster to clean inside, and, if necessary, a vacuum cleaner for any additional debris. Don’t forget to reattach the front grill, which helps to protect the condenser from debris and damage.Some units are built with low maintenance condensers, which require regular visual inspections and much less frequent cleaning than conventional condensers.

 Freezers need to breath

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.41.35 AMWithout optimal airflow, you risk a blocked condenser, which can result in equipment failure, overheating, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and even a possible void on your warranty. 

  •     Position each unit away from the surrounding walls
  •     Ensure each unit has a dedicated electrical outlet 
  •     Situate away from other equipment that radiates heat or produces airborne oil and grime
  •     Inspect regularly to check for blockages 

In addition, distribute the product evenly inside the unit, as overloading blocks interior airflow, which can lead to spoiled food and equipment damage. Cabinets are also better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re stocked, but not overstocked, versus empty, as the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.

Temperature matters 

Technically, a refrigeration unit can’t get a “fever”, but temperature variations are a serious threat to food safety, potentially contributing to bacteria growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. 

In an environment where doors are being opened and closed frequently, maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is crucial. For example, chilled foods, such as sandwiches should be kept within the 37°F to 41°F range. Short spikes, not exceeding 30 minutes, above 41°F are acceptable. 

 If you do not have a temperature malfunctioning safeguard, you should aim to monitor temperatures frequently each hour to make sure they are within the healthy range. Since you need to sanitize the handles on merchandiser doors often, you can do both cleaning and temperature monitoring tasks at once. 

 Randy Skyba is the vice-president of sales and marketing at Minus Forty Technologies in Georgetown, Ont. He helps retailers merchandise their frozen and refrigerated products.


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Cause for concern

Even in these times, barely a day goes by where there’s not a dire warning about the environmental predicament the planet faces. Climate change, for many, is no longer about what might happen, but rather what is happening. Extreme events ranging from hurricanes to rampant bush fires are becoming the norm. For Canadians, this raises the question of how their food purchases impact the environment.

Mintel’s recent report on Sustainability in Food looks at how Canadians view the connection between what they eat and the impact of that on the environment. The research also looks at what specific issues matter most to consumers, why they matter, what consumers expect from companies in the context of sustainability, and what actions they are willing to take.

Canadians do, indeed, say the environment matters to them when it comes to the food and drinks they purchase, and they are particularly motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and a pervasive concern about climate change. That said, Canadians don’t always make a clear connection between climate change and the food they eat; instead, waste ranks as their top concern—this includes both packaging waste and food waste. Fewer Canadians, however, consider carbon output when purchasing food. This makes sense because waste, of course, is visibly evident in one’s day-to-day life. It can be seen in one’s trash, recycling or compost bin, and also translates, in the consumer’s mind, to wasted money. Carbon generated through food production, by contrast, is invisible.

Younger Canadians are, however, more likely to make the connection between how their food is produced and the carbon footprint it generates, and they are more apt to express concerns over these categories. For instance, the younger generations—gen Zs and millennials—are more likely to be concerned about the impact of meat and dairy on the environment; we can presume this relates to the carbon emissions associated with the production of these products. Such concerns have undoubtedly underpinned the growth of plant-based foods and drinks.

More broadly, companies are in a quandary when it comes to their efforts to support the environment. On one hand, four in five Canadians agree that food and beverage companies are not doing enough for the environment. On the other hand, the same number of Canadians believe many companies engage in “greenwashing” and believe them to be untruthful regarding environmental claims. There’s also an element of confusion, with 80% of Canadians also claiming they’re confused when it comes to knowing which products are better or worse for the environment. The question is how to win consumers’ trust?

While there’s no easy answer to this question, initiatives that are visible and engaging can help build their level of trust. One practical way is to ensure shoppers can easily recycle the packaging from the products they purchase. This can include making them compostable or communicating a plan to extend the lifecycle of a package through “upcycling” initiatives. Other initiatives can involve using foods that would have otherwise been discarded in new packaged goods (for example, misshapen potato chips) or focusing on foods produced locally, which offers the dual benefit of supporting the environment and local economies.

When it comes to promoting sustainability in food, there are no shortcuts. But what is evident is that despite some skepticism, shoppers do view sustainability as an issue influencing their food and drink purchase decisions.

Joel Gregoire is a food and beverage industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter 

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s May 2020 issue.


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Food manufacturers ‘operating 24/7’ to meet consumer demand

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 5.18.22 PMCampbell Soup Company’s production goes into overdrive during what executives dub “soup season.” Starting in October and ending with the close of winter, Campbell’s manufacturing centres run non-stop, staffed by extra employees.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand has soared, eclipsing that of the company’s busiest time. In March, there were more orders during one week than are typically seen in the entire month.

“Our plants are operating 24/7 right now, which is fairly unusual for April, to be honest,” said Beth Jolly, vice-president of communications at the company’s meal and beverages division, which includes Campbell Canada. “It’s really just been a dramatic shift to a full-out production increase.”

Demand for food, particularly non-perishable products, has surged as physical distancing measures keep Canadians close to home. Grocers are ordering more from manufactures, who like Campbell have hired more workers, increased operating hours and enacted other measures to increase production.

At Campbell’s, weekly case orders for that one week in March jumped about 366% at the company’s meal and beverage division, Jolly said.

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Kraft Heinz Canada, meanwhile, reported an 80% increase in demand for its signature Kraft Dinner product last month compared to March 2019, the company says.

To meet that demand, both manufacturers had to make several changes to ramp up production.

Kraft’s Montreal-area production facility – where more than 90% of its food for the Canadian market is produced – now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Av Maharaj, chief administrative officer for Kraft Heinz Canada.

The company is considering new ways to increase efficiency. It may prove simpler to produce only one type of packaging for Kraft Dinner rather than a variety of box designs, Maharaj said.

“From an efficiency perspective _ you don’t want to stop your line, change packaging, build out the other one for a smaller packaging line,” he said. “But rather, produce the most popular brand, popular size and that gets more product to the market.”

More difficult is changing production lines. Demand is down from food service clients, such as restaurants and hotels. But transforming a food service production line to one making grocery products is not so simple.

“In many ways, it’s like, you know, a giant Lego system where every piece is connected,” said Maharaj.

It can be very expensive to switch a production line and take months to do, he said.

“You can’t sort of switch overnight from one product to the next.”

The company has been in talks to see if any of its food service products, such as single-serve peanut butter packets, can be sold at grocery stores.

Campbell’s, meanwhile, is trying to focus more on its most popular varieties of soup.

“It’s a bit of a balance,” said Jolly, since the company has to ensure it has enough ingredients to match the increased production.

“It’s not as if we can just put out chicken noodle and tomato.”

Campbell’s also dipped into its existing stockpiles. The company had about 1.5 million cans with limited-edition Andy Warhol labels ready to release in May, but decided to forgo the promotional activity and release the product in April to address demand.

These changes allowed the companies to make more of their products quicker.

Kraft typically makes about seven million Kraft Dinner boxes a month, according to the company. Last month, it made roughly 15 million.

Once the product is made another challenge is getting the extra goods to distribution centres and eventually grocery stores.

“Most food manufacturers don’t own their own trucks,” said Maharaj, and Kraft hires local trucking firms to transport its goods from production facilities to distribution centres.

“Very often, that can be a bottleneck because everyone needs trucks right now to get food out the door,” he said, noting the company’s logistics team has been working hard and “for the most part, we’ve been able to find the trucks that we need.”

In some cases, Kraft is bypassing distribution centres entirely and instead shipping straight to grocers.

“That’s one of the ways we’re speeding up getting product to customers.”


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Canada has enough food, but COVID-19 brings challenges

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Higher prices and less variety on store shelves is a possibility as the agriculture industry confronts a wide range of challenges created by COVID-19, the federal agriculture minister said Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she’s confident the country had enough food and stopped short of suggesting Canadians start growing war-era “victory gardens” to supplement their own supplies.

But everything from a potential labour shortage on farms to COVID-19 outbreaks among workers at food processing plants will have an impact, she said.

“I think our system is strong enough and resilient enough that it will adapt, but these days it is particularly challenging,” Bibeau said during a video news conference Wednesday, where she fielded questions from her home in Sherbrooke, Que.

“I do not worry that we will not have enough food,” she added.

“But we might see some differences in the variety and, hopefully not, but maybe in the prices as well.”

The federal government has announced millions in new spending for farmers this week alone, including $20 million for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency so it can have enough inspectors on hand to carry out its work.

The funds are partially designed to guard against the potential for CFIA inspectors to be stricken with the virus and be unable to work, further slowing down an already struggling supply chain.

The other labour issue facing the industry is a farm worker shortage. Some 60,000 temporary foreign workers come to Canada annually to work on farms and in plants but border closures mean fewer are expected this year.

They are also required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, and this week, the federal government announced $1,500 per worker to help employers cover salary payments or revamp living quarters to ensure workers can abide by distancing protocols.

Checks on those measures will be carried out by local, provincial and federal authorities, Bibeau said.

The arrival of temporary foreign workers is being stymied by global travel restrictions, and what’s ordinarily an annual shortage of several thousand workers is likely to be made worse, Bibeau said.

The government is examining efforts to get unemployed or under-employed Canadians into jobs on farms, she said.

That’s despite the fact that the very reason the temporary foreign worker program exists is due to Canadians not wanting those jobs–and farmers don’t necessarily want to hire them either, as the work can require extensive training. Many workers return to the same area every year because they’ve developed a specific skill set.

“It’s a challenge, but we have to do even more to encourage them to join the industry,” Bibeau said of the workers the government hopes to recruit.

Another issue facing the sector is outbreaks in processing plants. An Olymel pork processing plant northeast of Montreal reopened this week after the spread of illness among its workers forced a two-week shutdown.

The Cargill Meat Solutions plant south of Calgary, which represents more than one-third of Canada’s beef-processing capacity, announced this week it was idling its second shift of workers.

The union representing those staff said there had been 38 cases of COVID-19 at the plant in High River, Alta.

Bibeau said she is reviewing a pitch by the cattle industry to help weather the crisis. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association wants a federally co-ordinated “set-aside” program that would enable producers to keep their animals longer.

The program would slow down the supply chain because there’s not enough processing capacity, the group has said.

The Conservatives called Wednesday for Bibeau to immediately implement that program and be far more transparent about what else the government is examining.

“Farmers, producers and processors work hard day and night to ensure that Canadians have the food they need while they stay home,” three Conservative MPs who work on agriculture issues–John Barlow, Richard Lehoux and Lianne Rood–wrote in a letter to Bibeau.

“These hard-working Canadians need to know that their jobs will be safe during this pandemic and that they can continue to produce world class products.”

Agriculture group wants Ottawa to prioritize aid to ensure food supply

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says Ottawa should make the industry a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, second only to the health of Canadians, to safeguard the country’s food supply.

President Mary Robinson told a news conference Thursday that the industry is struggling with farmers being hit by higher costs due to the pandemic and a shortage of temporary foreign workers.

“We do not mean to create panic. At the same time it would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm about the realities Canadian farmers are facing,” said Robinson.

“Canadian farmers need immediate, meaningful help from our federal government to continue fulfilling that responsibility. Agriculture, the foundation of our overall food supply, is at this very moment in time at a tipping point.”

Robinson said the federal government needs to establish an emergency fund so producers can overcome mounting costs. She didn’t specify how much money should be put aside.

“Canadian farmers are feeling increasingly stressed. In fact, right now, some farmers are so worried about the mounting challenges they are strongly considering halting their farming operations altogether,” Robinson said.

“Another fear is if planting does go ahead will harvest and processing be possible without sufficient labour or will crops rot in the field as we are seeing now in other countries?”

She warned that consumers could see a decrease in the amount and variety of food in grocery stores, as well as higher prices, if action isn’t taken.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government does recognize the importance of the agriculture sector and has provided a substantial amount of assistance already. She said Ottawa will look at the request.

“As our food producers and supply chains continue to adjust, we welcome recommendations provided by the sector as we work together to respond to the exceptional situation we are in,” Bibeau said in a statement.

“Farmers and food businesses are doing a huge service to feed the nation and they can be confident that their government has their back.”

Bibeau also spoke Thursday with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. She said she affirmed agriculture and food production as critical infrastructure and they spoke of the importance of uninterrupted food and agriculture trade between the two countries.

The CEO of Food Products of Canada is backing the demand for further assistance.

Michael Graydon said farmers represent the first line of Canada’s food supply and need to be reassured.

“Anything less will harm our rural communities, cities and all Canadians now and well into the future,” he said.

“It’s an unprecedented challenge. We’ve worked hard to keep up with record spikes in demand for foods, help employees stay healthy and upholding the most rigorous food safety standards.”


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Plant-based protein companies poised to expand products

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 2.45.10 PMWhen A&W started serving Beyond Meat veggie burgers at its restaurants, the fast-food chain offered many patrons their first bite of the much touted, celebrity backed plant-based patty.

In the year and a half since, Canadians continued searching for plant-based options at home and on the go. By the time A&W added a plant-based nugget in December, many fast-food chains – even long-time holdout McDonald’s Canada – boasted a trendy vegetarian menu item, too.

As restaurants jumped on the plant-based protein craze this past year, the products also proliferated on grocery store shelves.

Earlier this month, Beyond Meat announced grocers across the country would start stocking its Beyond Beef product, which mimics ground beef. It launched its burgers in the summer and they’re now sold at more than 4,000 stores in the country.

Lightlife, meanwhile, boasts seven plant-based protein products with national distribution in Canada, and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. makes about four that are sold in many parts of the country. Both brands belong to Chicago-based Greenleaf Foods SPC, a wholly-owned, independent subsidiary of Mississauga, Ont.-based Maple Leaf Foods.

Kicking off the trend, Health Canada revealed a new food guide in January recommending people “choose protein foods that come from plants more often.” It minimized meat’s dominant position in the previous iteration and put the meat industry on the defensive for their share of consumer plates.

As interest in alternative protein grew, backlash bubbled.

But the folks leading major plant-based manufacturers say consumers want their products and plan to add more varieties and sales points, create tastier options and lower their prices to beat out bargain meat.

A&W sparked a consumer frenzy when it debut the company’s veggie burger in July 2018. The chain temporarily sold out of the patties, having under-estimated people’s appetites.

That sales spike wasn’t a flash in the pan, either. Demand “stayed remarkably stable” since that temporary shortage, said chief executive Susan Senecal.

A&W added a new veggie option this month – Lightlife nuggets. Only its Ontario and B.C. restaurants stock the chicken-nugget imitation, and A&W expects to sell out by the new year. Still, in a sign of the industry’s strength, the company hopes eventually to offer the nuggets nationwide.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for growth in Canada,” says Ethan Brown, the founder of California-based Beyond Meat.

“We’re just getting started.”

Beyond Meat wants to add more product types and sales points, so consumers can find every type of meat substitution conveniently.

After A&W introduced Beyond Meat burgers to Canadians, other eateries raced to offer something for vegans, vegetarians or – most frequently, it seems – flexitarians. The latter describes those who sometimes swap meat for other options for environmental, health or animal welfare reasons.

Today, many fast-food chains boast a veggie burger, some pizza places offer veggie ground “meat” or vegan cheese as toppings, and Kentucky Fried Chicken Canada dabbled with plant-based fried chicken sandwiches and popcorn chicken options at a single restaurant for one day.

McDonald’s Canada, which long resisted consumer calls to bring back a veggie burger, decided to pilot a PLT – a Beyond Meat sandwich – for 12 weeks, starting in late September, at 28 restaurants in southwestern Ontario.

The company is trying to understand what place plant-based proteins may have in its operations, said John Betts, McDonald’s Canada chief executive.

He believes it won’t canniabalize the company’s meat product sales, but will likely reflect what he calls “the salad effect.” When McDonald’s first introduced salads in the 1980s, it removed what executives dubbed “the veto vote” of someone preventing a group visit to McDonald’s because it didn’t suit their dietary needs or preferences, he said.

“Plant-based protein could be the new salad type of option,” he said, stressing the chain expects the addition to drive up meat sales, which remains the company’s focus.

With burgers, nuggets and other plant-based forms becoming ubiquitous, pushback started. In particular, meat producers are taking aim at claims that alternative proteins offer better health benefits.

The Quebec Cattle Producers Federation called on the country’s food inspection agency to intervene on what it called misleading advertising on Beyond Meat’s products, saying the company shouldn’t be permitted to use the word meat.

The Centre for Consumer Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization funded by food industry and consumers, took on the issue of what it calls “fake meat.” It launched a website and created advertisements alleging some plant-based protein products use potentially harmful chemicals and can be worse for humans than their meat counterparts.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Beyond Meat’s Brown of the organization’s campaign he says is geared toward scaring consumers from eating food that will benefit them.

The burger, for example, contains no trans fat or cholesterol, and 20 grams of protein, according to the company. It does include 16 per cent of the daily recommended sodium content, which is comparable to a seasoned meat patty.

Beyond Meat will launch a substantial marketing initiative in Canada next year, said Brown, as it looks to grow its presence in the country.

“The products that we have are limited in scope. They need to be improved and we need to expand our market presence.”

He envisions a future where shoppers can select a Beyond Meat alternative for any animal protein cut they were shopping for at the grocery store, such as a boneless chicken breast or steak, and where diners can sample more of its product range at restaurants. Beyond Meat anticipates more partnerships next year.

For some consumers though, the price presents a roadblock. A pack of two Beyond Burgers costs $7.99 plus tax at one Canadian grocery chain, compared with $12.99 for an eight-pack of its house-brand burgers.

Brown aims to lower prices to undercut animal protein within five years, though it may happen sooner in certain segments.

Greenleaf, too, believes there’s room for growth in Canada.


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Food prices forecast to rise 2% to 4% in 2020: Report

Fresh Food Display_Lg_032619Food bills are going to take a bigger bite out of Canadians’ household budgets in 2020. Food prices are expected to increase 2% to 4%, according to the 10th annual edition of Canada’s Food Price Report—a collaborative effort by Dalhousie University and University of Guelph. It predicts that annual food costs for the average Canadian family will rise by $487 from 2019 figures, with the annual tally on food spend reaching $12,667 for the year.

“For grocers, it’s not necessarily bad news to see food prices go up by 4%—the problem is that you may spook some consumers,” Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University told Canadian Grocer. “The sweet spot for food inflation is anywhere between 2% to 2.5% and we’re going to exceed that in 2020 by far.”

Canada’s Food Price Report uses a predictive analytics model that applies machine learning to support decisions about future food prices. In 2019, it was predicted that Canadian families would spend up to $12,157 on food. Based on the 2019 inflation rate to date, they are likely to spend $12,180, missing the report’s target by just $23.

In 2020, meat will see the highest increases (4% to 6%), while restaurants, seafood and vegetables will all see increases of 2% to 4%. This is followed by fruits (1.5% to 3.5%), dairy (1% to 3%), and bakery (0% to 2%).

The jump in the price of meat is due in large part to Chinese demand for imported beef and pork. China recently reopened its market to imports of Canadian pork and beef after a four-month ban, as the Asian country continues to battle African swine fever. China has lost millions of pigs to the disease and needs to import large amounts of pork—driving up the price of pork and meat in general.

“[Meat] is already costing more for processors and grocers and so increases will be passed on to consumers in the New Year,” says Charlebois.

Expected Headlines in 2020

The report also looks at three big stories that will continue to make headlines next year:

1-Single-use plastic packaging: The report states that consumers are placing pressure on retailers, restaurants, distributors and manufacturers to reduce and ultimately avoid the use of disposable plastics used for food products. However, they’re less inclined to pay more for greener alternatives. “[Greener packaging] will incur more costs and this is something consumers will have to get educated about,” says Charlebois.

2-Climate change and carbon tax: In 2020, climate change will have a big impact on food systems and drive up food prices. The report states the government needs to address emissions levels, as they are above the targeted 30% reduction levels beyond year 2030, far from the Paris Agreement goals of 2016. On the issue of the carbon tax, the report notes while some Canadians believe the tax increases the cost of food for consumers, industry is absorbing most of the costs.

3-Retailing AI: The use of artificial intelligence in retail is on the rise. For example, Sobeys is piloting a technology-enhanced cart called Smart Cart.

The cart’s technology scans and weighs products when customers place them in the cart. It displays a running tally of purchases while the customer shops, and then allows them to pay on the spot. Sobeys says it plans to evolve the cart to include additional features using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. “We are expecting more movement in the area of AI coming from grocers,” says Charlebois.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 


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District Ventures supports food entrepreneurs with new incubator kitchen

Nearly a year after it ran out of funding and abruptly closed its doors, Food Starter has had something of a kitchen reno.

The Toronto-based, non-profit incubator, which helped food entrepreneurs commercialize and scale the development of their products, is now owned and operated by District Ventures–the business accelerator headed by Canadian businesswoman and TV personality Arlene Dickinson.

The newly-minted District Ventures Kitchen remains in the 20,000-sq.-ft. shared food-safe production space once occupied by Food Starter, which is nestled in an industrial area of Toronto’s north-west end. The incubator will continue to offer early-stage food companies access to a commercial kitchen and marketing assistance, among other services, to help them scale.

img-8553“Access to commercials kitchens like this is rare and difficult in this city and across the country, so keeping this alive was a big mandate for us … ” said Dickinson during grand opening celebrations Monday morning.

“We are very excited about what this means for our ability to really make a difference in agri-food. We talk a lot about diversifying our economy, and to me, agriculture and the development of food products and food innovation is incredibly important to our nation’s future,”

Food Starter shut down in December 2018 after funding from the province dried up and organizers were unable to secure additional funding from other levels of government or corporate sponsors. Today, District Ventures Kitchen is launching with private sector support from Sobeys and Chartwells Canada.

Jana Sobey“We understand just how important it is for customers to be able to access locally grown and produced food and we try to make that easy for our customers by identifying local products at store, in our flyers and online. And as I walked around here this morning I was so proud to see so many suppliers are already on our shelves,” said Jana Sobey, vice-president of merchandising, community, Thrifty Foods and Field at Sobeys.

The Greenbelt Fund and the City of Toronto are also financial supporters of District Ventures Kitchen. Toronto Mayor John Tory was on hand for the opening and tour of the production facility, which allowed members of the media to sample products from the brands directly benefitting from the reopened test kitchen.

One such brand was Miura–a brewed hot and then flash-chilled, Japanese-style iced coffee that is now available in Sobeys, Whole Foods Market, Metro and Longo’s. “Every single can I have brewed and canned here,” said its founder Adam Lewis. “This is where the magic happens and it’s been such an entrepreneurial journey.”

img-8539Addressing the crowd, Tory said he was confident District Ventures Kitchen would be taken to unparalleled heights thanks to Dickinson, “who is herself not just a business person but an exciting entrepreneurial person who has other people lined up around her and has the profile to carry this forward.”

District Ventures has been helping support early stage food, beverage, and health and wellness companies in the consumer goods space in Canada since it launched in 2015. In all, District Ventures has supported nearly 300 companies and helped create close to 1,000 jobs, said Dickinson.

One of the company’s recent ventures is a partnership with Sunterra Market and Café in Calgary on a 2,800-sq.-ft. store that carries nearly two dozen Canadian food and beverage products that were developed out of District Ventures including, Chickapea Pasta and Drizzle Honey.

Originally published by Canadian Grocer


More than 70 nations pledge to reduce food waste

More than 70 countries have pledged to do more to cut down on the amount of food lost due to poor refrigeration.

The countries signed the pledge Saturday at an annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol where ministers, government officials and experts work on regulating man-made chemicals used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems that are harmful to the ozone layer. The meeting took place at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome.

About one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted and the hope is that developing better methods to keep food cold while it’s stored and transported will reduce waste.

Poor refrigeration leads to the loss of about 9% of perishable food in developed countries and about 23% in developing countries, where millions of people suffer from malnutrition.

Experts say better refrigeration would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the harmful gases used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

The United States, China, European Union members and many nations in the Americas, Africa and Asia signed the pledge.


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New Canadians shape the future of food in Canada

In 2018, Canada admitted more immigrants than at any point over the past 100 years. As Canada’s population ages, immigration is central to infusing youth and vitality into the economy. This, of course, has a wide-ranging impact—not only in terms of how Canada “looks,” but also in terms of what Canadians buy, which includes food and drink.

Shutterstock Multicultural foods

Shutterstock Multicultural foods

While new Canadians bring with them varied preferences in terms of the foods they eat, they also have an impact on the broader population. According to new Mintel research on ethnic food, more than half of Canadians say they view themselves as being “more open to eating international foods than (they were) a few years ago,” with three-quarters (77%) also viewing international foods as being “more mainstream now than they used to be.”

While this demonstrates that Canadians see themselves as being more open to trying a broader range of cuisines, the perceived mainstreaming of international foods also means it’s likely becoming more difficult for grocers to find new products that appeal to those interested in new foods and more adventurous eating experiences. Both these facets rank as the top two reasons why Canadians turn to international foods in the first place.

To appeal to Canadians’ desire for new culinary experiences, grocers can look to what’s less commonly eaten by Canadians. While Chinese and Italian foods rank as the most commonly eaten international cuisines, according to Mintel research, a sizeable swath of consumers is showing interest in exploring a diverse range of other cuisines. In this regard, Caribbean, African and Korean fare represent interesting opportunities for development. With the vast majority of Canadians viewing international foods as a bridge to experiencing other cultures, focusing on cuisines that are less commonly eaten yet garner interest can help grocers stand out.

Having a concerted international foods strategy is critical for today’s grocers. When asked, more than half (56%) of Canadians agree that “grocery stores that don’t offer internationally-inspired foods are not keeping up with the times,” with nearly half also agreeing that they’re “more likely to shop at grocery stores that offer internationally-inspired foods” and two in five claiming they will “go out of their way to travel to stores that offer specific internationally-inspired foods/ingredients.” Chinese Canadians and South Asians are more likely to hold these views.

In terms of product assortments, by their own account South Asians are more likely to want to try internationally- inspired versions of desserts, baked goods, snacks and breakfast foods relative to Canadians overall. This points to the importance of looking beyond the core supper and lunch occasion when considering how to develop or expand offerings that are inspired by other countries.

With immigration contributing greatly to Canada’s population growth, it’s critical for grocers to have a strategy that considers internationally-inspired offerings throughout their stores to appeal to newer (and even not so new) Canadians. It will set them up for success in an evolving consumer landscape.

This column appeared in Canadian Grocer’September/October issue.


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For Canadians, food affordability is top agri-food issue in election: Survey

With the upcoming federal election, party leaders have a lot issues on their plates, but food and agriculture may not be one of them.

A recent survey by Angus Reid Global, in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, found that only 31% of Canadians believe food and agriculture will be a prime electoral issue. Just 25% of respondents in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario believe food and agriculture will be a key issue, compared to 46% of Quebecers.

“Food and agriculture has never been as hot of an issue as it is now … but when the elections come, people think about other issues like jobs, healthcare and education,” says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. “These issues are obviously very important, but food and agriculture represents the largest manufacturing sector in the country. Most Canadians spend well over 10% of their budget on food so I think we should talk about it [during elections].”

When asked which agri-food issues deserve more attention during the federal election campaign, food security and affordability ranked number-one, with 60% of Canadians saying it’s an important issue.

Manitoba and the Atlantic region have the most respondents believing food security and affordability is an important election issue in agri-food, both at 68%.

When asked what should be the next government’s priority in agri-food over the next four years, food security and affordability also came out on top, at 55%.

“I think the results point to the fact that people are dealing with stagnant wages and higher consumer debt. People are feeling the pressure,” says Charlebois. “For example, fruit and vegetable prices have gone up 17% this year. If you increase your prices by 3% steadily every year, I don’t think people would mind that much. But when it goes up 17%, people notice.”

The survey also found that the use of plastics in the food industry has clearly caught the attention of voters: 54% of respondents believe the use of plastics in food is an important electoral issue.

Food waste was identified as the third most important agri-food issue for Canadians. A total of 61% of Quebecers believe food waste is an important issue for the upcoming election, compared to 45% in Atlantic Canada.

When it comes to agri-food trade policy, Canada is a “highly divided country,” says Charlebois. The issue of supply management and our quota system ranked the highest in Saskatchewan, with 35% saying it deserves more attention during the election campaign, compared to 32% of Ontarians and 27% of Quebecers.

In Saskatchewan, 51% believe global trades for the agri-food sector is important issue for this campaign, compared to only 19% in Quebec.

“Canada’s breadbasket, which is the Prairies, will see trade very differently than say, Quebec. And that comes out in the survey for sure with supply management,” says Charlebois.

Finally, Canadians were asked which national party is best positioned to support the agri-food sector. The Conservatives are seen as the best national stewards for the agri-food sector, followed by the Liberals and the Green Party. However, the number of respondents who are unsure is very high, at 42% nationwide.

The sample size for the survey was 1,524 from across the country, with a margin of error of less than 3%, 19 times out of 20.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer