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Industry Collaboration the Way Forward for Innovation

Article written by Jenni Tibbs

According to a report by Ivey Business School, over the last eight years, 143 food plants closed across Canada, with close to 24,000 job losses, which no-one involved in the food industry likes to hear. However, despite recent closures of high-profile food manufacturing plants, including Kellogg’s in London and Heinz in Leamington, a professor at Western University confirms that Canada’s food industry is still as viable as ever.

Far from being an industry in decline, it is one in transition, with the vast majority of closures involving multi-plant operations, where reorganisation allows more efficient operations, using new technology, to offer greater productivity and makes sure companies are better able to compete. As a result the food industry did not see any decline in revenue, or the number in employment, in comparison to other manufacturing areas that were badly hit during the recession. In fact, food manufacturing brought in the second largest revenue of all manufacturing industries, and according to The Globe and Mail, Canada's food industry is in a better financial condition than it was in 2006. Openings and expansions aren’t just limited to the high-profile companies though, with investments and collaboration allowing small-scale operations to develop and expand their work.

Funding aids collaboration

In March of this year the Research and Development Corporation for Newfoundland and Labrador announced its investment of $1.9million into 12 business-related research and design projects. This is part of the corporation’s aim to improve economic growth in the region by moving into new markets and responding to changing market demands with the aid of innovation and technology. One of the selected businesses, which have responded to local and global opportunities, is Semintha Neutraceuticals. The company’s aim is to formulate health products that offer benefits above and beyond those products available elsewhere. Their specialist area is novel items that contain bioactive ingredients from birch tree byproducts, which are proven through clinical studies. This funding will allow Semintha Neutraceuticals to use technical help from BioFoodTech, one of FOODTECH Canada’s members, to create a drink that combines birch sap and fruit concentrate.

A novel additive with great potential

While birch sap might seem an unusual choice of additive, anyone who has studied the medicinal properties of plants, with botany one of the areas that Valore Books advises they offer, will know that birch derivatives have long been used for healing purposes. For instance, owing to its essential oils, birch has antimicrobial activity, which was reported in a research paper in International Journal of Food Microbiology. There is also interest in these essential oils, as they contain a component similar to the steroid hormone cortisone, which is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory properties don’t just stop there though, as the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry explains that birch oils also contain methyl salicylate, which is very like the main constituent of aspirin. Other parts of the tree have been used to treat everything from skin conditions to gout, and while further evidence is needed to confirm some other clinical uses, there is certainly promise from anecdotal evidence and existing studies.

Birch sap’s nutritional content is also favourable. According to a Government educational resource on birch sap, the sap contains potassium, calcium and magnesium, and is only 1% sugar; its low sugar content explains why 1 litre of birch syrup, which is used as a sweetener in much the same way as maple syrup, needs around 100 litres of sap for its production. Birch sap is also a source of B vitamins and vitamin C, so as Best Health Magazine explains that vitamin deficiencies are more common than many people realise, using the sap as part of a novel fruit drink may offer an easy way to boost micronutrient intake.

Collaboration benefits

This is just one example of collaborations between a small and a large business in the biotechnology industry, with an article in the magazine Technology Innovation Management Review explaining the benefits of these strategic partnerships in this industry area. By working together, smaller companies are able to take on new research and development projects that would otherwise not be possible, with larger companies offering their technical services, expertise and greater capacity to help with their delivery. However, it isn’t just a one way transfer of help though, as smaller enterprises can also offer assistance in specific areas to larger outfits, and when this is the case, everyone benefits from open innovation. While Info Entrepreneurs advises that there are risks involved with these ventures, typically these risks are lower than if smaller businesses tried attempted work alone.

One stop shop for Canada's food and bio-products industry.