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Future-Proofing Canada’s Agri-Food Industry

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Sponsored by:

Shelley King

CEO, Natural Products Canada

Can Canada’s agri-food system meet the global demand for products that are better for people, animals, and the planet? Natural Products Canada CEO says we can — and introduces eight companies leading the way.

Canadian innovators are reimagining the agri-food industry. They’re making sure it reaches its full potential as a reliable source of sustainable products for the world and an economic powerhouse for Canada. Tapping into ingenious solutions from natural sources, these companies are helping Canada meet the growing demand for planet-friendly solutions, while mitigating the risks of climate change, food production, and much more. Shelley King, CEO of Natural Products Canada, a leading investor and champion of sustainable innovation, explains how these world-class companies are leveraging the power of biology to improve productivity, create economic opportunity, maximize quality, and optimize resources within the agri-food industry — and well beyond it into manufacturing, textiles, and more.  

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How are Canadian start-ups creating new economic opportunities for the agri-food industry? 

The opportunities stem from a different way of thinking. We work with over 1500 start-ups across the country. These founders are not just creating products; they’re building businesses with a vision to create meaningful, sustainable industries for their communities, while making sure they leave the planet better than they found it. More and more, the global investment world is seeing the value in that and rewarding them for it.

For example, Bast Fibre Tech (BFT) is a material sciences company with a completely new approach to manufacturing everyday items. They use plants like hemp to produce fibres for items like clothing, textiles, and menstrual products. BFT is diligently focused on having a positive impact across the whole life cycle of products. Starting with regenerative farming practises that make soils healthier, they are enabling Canadian brands and retailers to create products that move consumers beyond sustainability to regeneration. This has the potential to create a new industry for Canada, leading the world in the creation of positive impact products for everyday purchasing choices.

Another example is Sunnydale Foods. They’re tackling the Canadian problem of shipping locally-grown crops to other countries for value-added processing. Sunnydale’s novel manufacturing process uses less water and fewer chemicals to transform Canadian crops into ingredients for the growing plant-based market. They also recently acquired Lovingly Made Ingredients to expand the potential for food manufacturing right here in Canada.

Both companies have caught the attention of public and private funders, including Natural Products Canada, because of their unique vision and approach to these important issues.

Farmers are under pressure to produce more without harming the environment. How are these solutions helping productivity? 

Many of our clients are developing powerful solutions to help farmers increase their yields. BioSun Solutions has proprietary biostimulants and biofungicides that strive to enhance plant and root growth while improving soil productivity over the long term — reducing the need for synthetic chemical application.  

The use of antibiotics in livestock is another big issue for farmers. As antimicrobial resistance develops, antibiotics may be less effective. NovoBind has developed game-changing alternatives to antibiotics called NBXs that shut down a pathogen’s ability to infect an animal. Novobind recently published research that showed NBXs can replace or prevent the use of antibiotics in poultry, which is welcome news to farmers.

We only have so much land and water to work with. Can you explain how these solutions are maximizing our resources?

One of the ways is in upcycling — transforming waste into valuable products. Crush Dynamics has developed a food ingredient from the waste of the wine industry. It enhances the flavour of foods, which allows food formulators to reduce sugar and salt content. Crush partnered with Purdy’s chocolate last year, in which they were able to create a delicious chocolate with 50 per cent less sugar. 

Samples of a sustainable alternative to leather made from apple waste. Credit: Flaura, cuir végétal

Another unique product is being developed by Flaura Cuir Végétal. They are using waste from the apple industry to create alternatives to leather that can be used for clothing, furniture, and decor. The interior design and fashion industries are working hard to reduce their environmental impact, and removing animals and petroleum-based products from their supply chain is one way to do that. Although Flaura is in early stages, they have an interesting prototype and a lot of interest from some major names in the design industry. It’s this kind of thinking that shows the true potential for Canada’s agrifood industry.

These references to global industry players are interesting. What is it about Canadian innovation that they like? 

It comes down to quality. Canadian founders are fantastic to deal with, but their commitment to excellence is where they stand out. Take Prairie Fava. They are North America’s only supplier of fava beans that are certified to be free from residue of the herbicide glyphosate and low in the allergen, vicine. So they have this completely clean fava bean packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins that is in high demand by international food processors. And it’s only in Canada.  

In a different category, we have Index Bio who has a transformative approach to food traceability. They use baker’s yeast to create microscopic barcodes that preserve the identity of products from farm to fork. This is an incredible advantage. BioTags can reduce product recall size by 10 times and verify sustainability claims. This allows Index to provide market-leading insurance to an underinsured food system.

These examples just scratch the surface. With partners like the Government of Canada, and NPC’s network of investors and other experts who see the incredible value in these solutions, the Canadian agri-food industry is ready for its future as a reliable resource of sustainable products, and an even stronger economic engine for Canada.

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