Growing Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector to its full potential won’t be achieved only by developing new products. To achieve its full potential, particularly while improving its sustainability efforts, the sector needs to also maintain a focus on developing new processing technologies—and ensuring there’s a steady level of skilled and talented workers trained to support such new technology.
The Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre is committed to a collaborative approach to helping Canada’s food sector meet its technology and labour needs. One of its latest endeavours, in partnership with three other organizations and a co-investment from Protein Industries Canada, focused on further fermentation work.
“Fermentation technology in the food industry has received a renewed interest in recent years due to the realization of its potential for the production of healthy and nutritious food in a sustainable manner,” Food Centre President Dr. Mehmet Tulbek said. “As part of Protein Industries Canada project, the Food Centre was able to map the Canadian Fermentation Ecosystem, positioning key industry stakeholders, CRO, CMO and future needs. The key take home messages were a lack of large-scale infrastructure for fermentation, adequate skills, expertise, knowledge gaps, lack of funding resources and support for startups and SMEs.”
With the increasing demand for sustainable protein options, interest in fermentation technology has grown over the past several years. Access to such technology, however, hasn’t kept pace. Through their Protein Industries Canada project, the Food Centre, in partnership with Ag-West Bio, the Global Agriculture Advancement Partnership and the University of Saskatchewan, built new infrastructure to provide companies access to the technology, while also giving companies the opportunity to learn how to use it.
Set to open in 2024, the Food Centre’s new fermentation facility has been an in-demand resource among Canada’s plant-based sector. Tulbek credits this to the facility’s ability to meet the needs of a variety of clients; housing fermenters with capacities ranging from 10 to 10,000 litres, the facility will work for companies of various sizes and various ingredient formulations. Already companies from across Canada and around the world have expressed interest in utilizing the facility, particularly as they look for ways to scale their operations.
“Industry stakeholders have been supportive of the ecosystem initiatives as the outcomes align with addressing gaps in the fermentation space, such as scale-up fermentation including the corresponding downstream processing equipment to match the large volumes of biomass or fermented products to be processed,” Tulbek said. “Precision fermentation also plays a role in the circular economy, since the engineered microorganisms can also utilize waste feedstocks from manufacturing industries such as distilleries, breweries and grain processing industries. These waste feedstocks having sequestered nutritional components such as proteins, sugars, vitamin and bioactive compounds can be recovered through this fermentation process, thus diverting these feedstocks from the landfills.”
While their Protein Industries Canada project has come to an end, the Food Centre’s work in the area of fermentation technology hasn’t. They intend to continue to work with industry stakeholders to ensure the new facility meets the needs of companies of all sizes across the country, helping build out a new technology option for Canada’s plant-based sector.
Dr. Mehmet Tulbek
Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre