By Cheryl Saito
With most Canadians not getting enough fibre in their diets and nearly half having high blood cholesterol, Alberta-based food manufacturer Sunny Boy Foods, a Canadian company dating back to 1926, recently teamed up with University of Alberta researcher Thava Vasanthan to bring a concentrated source of healthy dietary fibre to market.
Found within the cell walls of fungi, yeasts, bacteria and plants such as barley and oat, beta-glucan fibre is increasingly recognized for its health benefits in fighting an array of health problems, like high cholesterol, immune deficiencies, eczema and dermatitis.
To extract the potent fibre from grains such as barley and oats, Vasanthan developed an innovative process that does not use chemicals, and created a unique concentrated source of the fibre.
“It took a while for us to introduce this product into the market,” said Vasanthan, who works in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science. “It was not well known to consumers, so we had to educate the industry to show them the benefits, how they can formulate their food products and put health claims on labels.”
Last year, Sunny Boy Foods decided to incorporate the new technology for producing the concentrated fibre as part of their plan to evolve the company.
By implementing Vasanthan’s beta-glucan extraction process – called air currents assisted particle separation (ACAPS), they are now selling the concentrate online and in some grocery stores under the product names of Nutrastat and Cerabeta, derived from oats and barley, respectively.
“Sunny Boy has been providing Canadians with nutritional breakfasts for over 90 years,” says Brad Shapka, president of the company. “With this new technology we can continue this tradition by providing Canadians with very-high fibre options based on the new scientifically proven benefits of beta-glucan.”
Driven by changing consumer demand for healthier options and a strategy to continue building globally competitive systems and technologies at Sunny Boy Foods, Shapka explains that including the new technology reflects the company’s “desire to maximize the value chain on Canadian-grown crops and our commitment to providing Canadians with natural, healthy products.”
Providing consumers with nutritious products comes at a cost for Sunny Boy Foods. The overall investments made by the company and its affiliates in various technologies is well over one million dollars. Much of that investment will also support new product development in coming years.
“Like many other industries in Alberta, Sunny Boy Foods is undergoing a global transformation,” explains Shapka, “and we believe that we can best optimize on the current opportunities through innovation.” Although their investment is large for a small Alberta company, they believe that by leveraging technology effectively, they can best respond to evolving consumer demand and maintain global competitiveness even if their market is mostly local.
With the beta-glucan market expected to grow significantly from 2021 to 2027, the trend for consumers to continue being mindful of healthy living is projected to grow along with it. Sunny Boy Foods aims to get a foothold ahead of that curve, helping Canadians get more fibre in their diets by providing the most effective, natural and beneficial fibre supplement on the market.
Shapka explains, “We are committed to seeking solutions that are responsive to evolving demand for healthier foods and nutraceutical options that are better for both our customers and the planet. And we believe this approach will enable us to build our sales both here in Canada and in global markets.”