Fostering Canadian food sector innovation and growth

Canadian Food Innovation Network intensifying its offering with appointment of Alex Barlow as VP of Programs

By Sean Tarry

When it comes to stimulating innovation within the Canadian food sector, few can attest to doing it more effectively or bearing more significant impact than the Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN). Connecting the Canadian food ecosystem with game-changing resources, including cutting-edge technologies, compelling perspectives, and unique ideas and approaches, CFIN aims to help enhance business practices, optimize operations, and elevate the entire industry, increasing its innovation capacity. And, as the organization sets its sights on taking its programming to another level, CFIN recently announced the promotion of Alex Barlow to VP of Programs.

Facilitating innovation

Serving as CFIN’s Programs Director since 2021, Barlow brings a depth of experience to her role, in addition to a passion for economic development and expertise concerning government incentives. She also possesses an unmatched enthusiasm for Canadian innovation and has worked to support the efforts of hundreds of homegrown food businesses across the country, helping to secure more than $300 million of federal funding throughout her career. She’s proud, she says, of the work that she’s dedicated toward facilitating growth and the success of the industry, and the innovation that drives it, recognizing the opportunities that have yet to be realized around the confluence of business and innovative technologies.

“The technologies being developed today, and companies developing them, are extremely important with respect to the future health of the food sector in Canada,” she asserts. “These firms have some fantastic innovations that can make our food system more sustainable, resilient, and secure. Unfortunately, many food firms under-invest in technology, so helping to break down barriers to adoption by supporting research and demonstration is critical. Beyond our own industry, there is also a massive opportunity to capitalize on our reputation globally and take these innovations to export markets.”

Intensifying services and offering

The organization has amassed more than 2,800 members and has approved an astounding $10.4 million of funding for 34 different projects across the country since its inception in 2021. These are numbers that are representative of the incredible growth that CFIN has experienced and the extraordinary impact that it’s made on the industry in such a short time. And, although the progress is recognized by Barlow, she admits that in order to continue the same trajectory, it’s become critically important for the organization to further intensify and expand the breadth and scope of services that it offers. 

“We’re on the right path,” she says. “We’ve awarded more than $10 million in funding to 34 foodtech projects and we’re on the lookout for collaborators and partnerships that can help us fund more Canadian food innovators. As we continue to grow, we’re constantly looking for new ways—through our funding, partnerships, Regional Innovation Directors, and YODL—to bring the food community together, facilitate collaborations, and inject much-needed capital into the ecosystem. I encourage anyone in the post-farmgate food industry to join CFIN and get connected. We are constantly looking to connect innovators to those with challenges to solve problems and validate solutions.”

Bringing the industry together

In addition to bridging connections between the developers of innovative technologies and those operating within the country’s food sector, CFIN also serves an incredibly meaningful purpose in ensuring that each piece of the food ecosystem is connected, bringing the entire industry closer together. And, as Barlow points out, it’s all in an effort to help solve for the challenges that many within the industry face and to build momentum and growth through strategic collaborations.

“Our food sector is big, diverse, and segmented—which poses significant challenges to quickly and easily find the right partners for your food business,” she explains. “Through our programming, Regional Innovation Directors, and YODL, we’re breaking down these silos and bringing our national food community together under one digital roof. For Canada to take its place as a global food innovation leader, the key lies in our ability to form strategic partnerships and leverage our collective abilities to bring new products and processes to market. It is not easy; collaboration in practice can be extremely challenging, and so I encourage companies to consider how they can set up their operations and teams to support collaborations.”

Further growth ahead

Aided by the rate of change and evolution that’s currently occurring throughout the Canadian food sector, and driven by the overwhelming need for its services, CFIN continues to grow, adding more manufacturers, processors, retailers, distributors, foodtech companies, researchers, and funders to its membership every day. And, although Barlow admits that the organization is extremely happy with its progress to date and excited about the companies and projects its funded, she promises that any previous accomplishments achieved by CFIN are only the beginning.

“CFIN members can expect a whole lot of ‘more’. This year we have about $6 million to move through all three of our programs, while simultaneously managing our current projects. We’re launching more features and content on YODL on a regular basis; and we’re on the lookout for more partners who we can run new funding programs with. We know how important our funding is to early stage foodtech companies and we’re constantly exploring new ways to inject capital into these promising businesses. And, we’re also always on the hunt for what is emerging or what is next, or how to best solve food innovation challenges for all players in the sector, including under-represented groups and the small enterprises.”  

For more information about the Canadian Food Innovation Network, the services it provides, and how to become a member, visit www.cfin-rcia.ca/home.

Canadian Food Innovation Network programs

Innovation Booster

The Innovation Booster is a program that provides flexible and rapid support on a cost-shared basis to enable small or medium-sized enterprises (defined as a business with 499 or fewer employees and less than $50 million in gross revenue) to advance their food innovation and research outcomes.

Food Innovation Challenge

The Food Innovation Challenge is a unique funding opportunity for Canadian food industry collaborators who want to spearhead transformative improvements that will propel the food sector forward and generate significant economic impact.

FoodTech Next

FoodTech Next is a unique funding opportunity for early-stage Canadian technology firms who seek to be part of—or sell to—the wider food industry. The program allows companies to demonstrate and pilot their innovation in operational environments to prove their solutions and validate the return on investment for the food sector. The overarching goal of FoodTech Next is to accelerate the commercialization of Canadian innovation by generating first demonstration opportunities.

For more information about CFIN’s programs, including participation guidelines and application dates, visit www.cfin-rcia.ca/funding/programs-overview.

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