Annual Report 2021-2022

Scaling Up Through Collaborative Partnerships

Opportunities to scale businesses and product lines through collaborative partnerships

Lucent BioSciences has scaled up their product development through a Protein Industries Canada project. Photo provided by Lucent BioSciences.

The collaborative supercluster model has proven to be beneficial in a variety of ways, both directly for the businesses taking part and indirectly for Canadians who see economic and supply chain returns. For many small businesses and entrepreneurs stepping into the plant-based food and ingredients sector, one of the greatest benefits has been the opportunity to scale up their operations.

“The scale-up process is critical, costs time and money. Many ideas work at a small lab scale, but not at industrial scale,” Lucent BioSciences CEO Michael Riedijk said. “In March 2020—when we received our first Protein Industries Canada [co-investment]—Lucent was only capable of manufacturing 1 kg of product per day in our lab. With the support of Protein Industries Canada and AGT Foods, we have been able to scale up over a very short timeframe of 18 months to industrial-scale manufacturing of 1,000 kg per day. This year we’re making the next step to scale to commercial scale manufacturing of 20,000 kg per day.”

Lucent isn’t the only company to see such success through its Protein Industries Canada project. Most have been able to add new product lines to their offerings, move from bench to pilot to commercial scale, or move into larger facilities to accommodate an increase in demand for their products.

This rise in demand has been common among Canada’s plant-based food and ingredients. Carmen Ly, Communications Director at the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, has seen this expansion first-hand. As part of the Food Centre’s mandate, businesses who sign on to work with it are paired with experts in appropriate fields to help develop new ingredients and food products. The ultimate goal is for these products to reach store shelves across Canada, eventually on a level that allows the business to grow enough to move out of the Food Centre and into a facility of its own. The collaboration between the business and Food Centre employees is key to making this happen.

“Many SMEs don’t have the infrastructure to make that big leap,” Ly said. “They do not have the capital to invest in equipment and facility. Access to centres like us help take out some of the risk in scaling up. The Food Centre’s interim processing facility has the equipment and knowledgeable staff to help SMEs produce a large enough production run to test the market or fulfill a growing market.”

Riedijk agreed that capital can often be a barrier for businesses hoping to expand. This is where a collaboration model can be helpful. Not only does it lower each company’s risk, but it also allows for a melding of expertise, allowing each company to learn from the other and build new skillsets.

“What is so exciting about the Protein Industries Canada program is the opportunity for collaboration between small, innovative start-up companies like Lucent teaming up with globally operating companies like AGT Foods to bring impactful sustainable innovation to a global market, so they can both leverage their expertise for a combined success,” Riedijk said.

While collaboration opportunities like those offered through Protein Industries Canada and the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre have helped numerous companies expand their market footprint, there’s both room and a need for more.

Small businesses that expand into new markets increase our GDP while offering Canadians new jobs and new healthy and sustainable food options, strengthening our economy and domestic food supply chain. In order to make sure these benefits continue, however, there’s a need for increased investment into Canada’s small businesses, along with market assessments.

“Attaining product-market compatibility is very important for start-ups,” Lucent BioSciences CPO Jason McNamee said. “Going after either a good market or tailored product can hinder an SME’s scalability because they won't be able to get the long-term support. Founders should apply a regional/global mentality from the start. Canadian companies need to be more strategic and process oriented, taking the time to clearly identify your competitive advantage, re-envisioning your go-to-market strategy regularly, and constantly asking yourself questions that relate to your business development strategy. There is nothing wrong with pivoting, as long as your market is defined up front.”

Ly agreed, adding that access to new technology can also help small businesses step into new markets or expand their own.

“Consumers are still really learning about the health benefits of plant-based products in order to adopt to their daily lives,” she said. “Access to new technology would mean introduction of plant-based food and beverage products in untapped markets or new product categories.”

Regardless of which route a business takes, there is plenty of opportunity for growth available in Canada’s plant-based food and ingredients sector. And like a collaborative partnership, a scaling up of one business often leads to benefits for others along the value chain—from ingredient through to grocery store shelf.