BC Cranberry Contest Sparks Creative Juices

A dual campaign celebrating a favourite fall BC berry helped brighten a tumultuous 2020, thanks to the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission (BCCMC). Tailored to two distinct audiences, the initiatives sparked both provincial and national promotion of the delicious and nutrient-dense berry.

With support from the BC Government’s Buy BC Program, the BCCMC partnered with Black Press Media to launch the “BC Cranberry Culinary Social Media Contest,” inviting British Columbians to enter or vote for their favorite cranberry recipes.

“Social media is a significant tool for Millennials, Gen X and those seeking new recipes, these are key influencers in household consumption,” says BCCMC General Manager, Coreen Rodger Berrisford. “Recipe contests are also a fun way to demonstrate the diversity of uses and benefits of cooking with cranberries year-round rather than just seasonally…it’s really such a versatile ingredient.”

Image of winning recipes

And with a chance at multiple prizes (paired with lots of Covid downtime), there was no shortage of competitors! More than 400 recipes were submitted and are now available at bccranberries.com. Check out the winning entries including a Cranberry Walnut Cheese Ball, Cranberry Stuffed Pork Roast and more!

Beyond promotions and prizes, the BCCMC ensured the campaign also included a strong educational component.

“We made sure people can learn about how cranberries actually grow and their nutritional value,” explains Coreen. “The audience seemed to like the approach as there was an 82 percent increase in Facebook followers and more than a doubling of impressions on Pinterest – the project really generated some good cranberry buzz!”

That impressive nutritional potential was the focus of a second initiative aimed at one of BCCMC’s key target markets. According to Coreen, registered dieticians represent a significant audience given their influence on institutional markets such as hospitals, as well as individual clients seeking meal planning support. While the Dieticians of Canada Conference has traditionally enabled them to connect with about 700 participants annually, Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding allowed a more robust approach in 2020.

Thanks to an ad campaign placed in the Dieticians of Canada’s e-newsletter, the BCCMC was able to promote their message to over 7,000 dieticians and nutritionists a week for 38 weeks, giving them ten times the exposure for less money and significantly increasing website traffic.  

“The two projects together really increased our social media presence and activity in BC and Canada,” reports Coreen. “People who love to cook are super enthusiastic about the new recipes and everyone is looking for ways to enhance their health during Covid.”

Check out BCCMC’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter for more recipes and to learn more about about one of BC’s favourite fall berries.

Funding for these projects has been provided by the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program and by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (BBC201, MD146)

Dutch Technology Helps BC Growers Pack a Better Pear

While proudly rooted in history and tradition, the sixth-generation Days family farm is looking forward to the future of tree fruit packing in the Okanagan.

After facing increasing requirements by retailers and regulators alike, Days Century Growers decided a “proactive investment” was needed, embarking on a project to expand the technological frontier for the local tree fruit sector.

After working with IAF to obtain funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the Days were able to import and install a state-of-the-art packing line, box conveyor system and traceability program to enhance volume, efficiency and quality control at their Kelowna facility.

According to co-owner Kevin Day, the new packing line from Holland is specifically tailored to pears, offering unprecedented optical sorting technology within Canada.

“This is one of the most exciting projects ever undertaken on our farm…the Van Wamel Perfect Grader includes the first pear-specific high-resolution defect sorting system of its kind in Canada,” he reports, noting the grader not only scans and sorts the pears for all types of external defects but is equally efficient at sorting the many shapes of pear varieties and precisely measures weight, size and colour.

Having successfully completed a full harvest with the help of their new equipment, the Days are thrilled to find the new technology is significantly increasing efficiency and production with existing staff, as well as allowing them to partner with new growers to increase overall volume.

The new automated traceability system is similarly promising, with the ability to track fruit back to between six and eight trees within a block in each grower’s orchard. Thanks to the new database, a thorough profile of all fruit – including harvest date, location, harvester’s name and more – is just a few clicks away.

While the Days have been doing this manually for years, the new database is revolutionizing both efficiency and accuracy, even allowing them to trace forward to the end retail and consumer level using the barcodes on individual fruit.

“Thanks to government funding, we are now able to ensure a higher-quality pear is shipped from the Okanagan Valley throughout North America and potentially the world,” explains Kevin. “As retailers are asking for this type of technology, competitiveness in the marketplace will increase, resulting in an improved grower return for the industry and ultimately expanding the volume of pears grown in BC.”

Funding provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INV097)

Sound Technology Reaches New Pitch For BC Pests

With damage to vineyards and tree fruits estimated at over four million annually, growers in the Okanagan-Similkameen have long sought a solution to the problem of starlings. While many different methods and devices exist to repel these and other agricultural pests, finding a consistently effective tool has remained an elusive goal.

According to Sadashi Domitsu, general manager of FCOM Services, the challenge lies in the natural learning capabilities of birds and other animals which ultimately allows them to become accustomed to each deterrent.

“Birds and animals are sensitive to small sounds with significantly quicker response times to that of humans,” Sadashi explains. “Because currently used sound repelling methods are only felt by animals at a speed equivalent to slow-motion, they can easily adapt.”

A company in Japan, however, has found a way to level the playing field by throwing a few curveballs.

“Fractal impulse is a new system that uses sound shockwaves specific to animals so that they can’t acclimate to the sound or return to the area,” says Sadashi.

Developed by KEYON Company, the fractal impulse method relies on a computer program that produces irregular, high-speed pulses directed towards pests, using a different high-speed pulse each time to maintain a constant state of surprise.   

After researching the results from Japanese farm installations, Sadashi undertook a project with funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program to test if the new technology was similarly effective at repelling BC species.

Using Harper’s Trail Vineyard in Kamloops as a test site, they installed six devices just before bird season and cameras to monitor bird movement. By the end of the season, they were excited to discover that unlike in previous years, starling sightings were minimal and only one vine had been damaged.

According to the vineyard owner, noise complaints from neighbours have also significantly reduced from previous seasons that relied solely on propane cannons.  

While still in the early stages of testing, Sadashi is hopeful the technology will finally provide a reliable solution across multiple sectors.

“We’re eager to provide the BC industry with a less invasive, alternative method to deter agricultural pests,” he says. “Ideally we’d like to also explore whether sound technology can help minimize cattle predation, which we know has been a growing problem for cattle ranchers in BC.”

Funding: $8,756 provided through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program. (INV035 AE SP)

Buy BC Helps Local Company Harness Flour Power

Anita’s Organic Mill is out to inspire and connect British Columbians through the love of baking. And thanks to their recent Buy BC project, the Chilliwack company has not only successfully launched their newest service, Anita’s Bake Club, but has also introduced their new line of gluten-free products into the local market.

An artisan-quality and certified organic and kosher mill, Anita’s produces white, whole grain and sprouted flours, cereals and mixes sourced directly from local farmers in Armstrong and Creston.

With the addition of their new bake club (an online membership-based model designed to educate and connect baking enthusiasts) as well as new marketing materials including recipes, baking guides and videos, Anita’s has seen a sizeable uptake in consumer engagement, awareness and sales.

According to vice-president Jayda Smith, brand recognition has grown steadily month over month, with their social media presence and number of followers similarly expanding.

“Anita’s Bake Club was particularly successful with more than 1,500 new members registered through our website,” she reports. “These signups allow us to engage directly with customers creating meaningful connections, brand loyalty and enhanced revenue.”

By the end of the project Anita’s sales were up 36 percent and their new line of gluten-free products launched in 100 local stores.

The company is now focused on expanding their reach within natural channels across Canada and will be opening a bakery in their new Chilliwack facility this fall.

For Jayda, having support to more actively engage local consumers and promote their products as ‘made in BC’ has offered a measurable competitive advantage against imports.

“These results could not have been achieved without the funding of this project,” she declares. “We now have the tools in place to continue increasing BC consumer preference for our brand, further supporting our local farmers and strengthening the BC food processing industry.”

Funding: $38,663 through the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC036)

Digging Up The Dirt on Cranberry Field Decline

When it comes to climate, soil conditions and production systems, BC’s cranberry beds are unique compared to other growing regions. Unfortunately, this means that many of the challenges producers face are similarly distinct, sometimes posing unprecedented dilemmas that elude existing resources.

So, when several fields across BC were struck by “Cranberry Field Decline” (CFD), where patches of vines can no longer produce crops and eventually die, there were no tools available to identify at-risk fields, recommendations for prevention, or treatment options for affected fields suffering the devastating impacts on productivity.

And while it became clear that incidents of CFD were increasing, the cases still appeared random with no obvious reason or pattern to the outbreaks observed in different beds. 

“There are fields where one exhibits extreme CFD symptoms while adjacent fields show no indication of symptoms whatsoever,” says Jack Brown, chair of the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission. “There was no apparent cause, so we couldn’t formulate a solution.”

With funding from the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Growing Forward 2 Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the Commission undertook a three-year project to find answers that would not only enable them to deal with CFD, but to also gain a deeper understanding of BC’s unique production system.

Researchers began by mapping the distribution of CFD over the past ten years in BC cranberry beds and conducting field trials on six local farms. After extensively analyzing the physiological plant and soil characteristics associated with the symptoms, they were able to identify one possible cause and develop diagnostic tools and potential management strategies to prevent, manage and treat CFD.

According to the findings, the root of the problem may have been the roots themselves.

“It appears the primary culprit behind the disorder may be poor root health or ‘low rooting capacity,’” Jack explains. “As a result, plants became deficient in water and nutrients which reduced photosynthesis and carbohydrate reserves, weakening their structural integrity and causing canopy collapse.”

Initial recommendations to growers include monitoring the cranberry canopy for balanced root and shoot development and implementing management practices like sanding and/or pruning to maintain a desirable canopy architecture and rooting capacity. Researchers also developed the “Pull-Test” which provides growers with a tool to detect reduced rooting capacity and assess mature fields for their risk levels of developing CFD.

The project team also found that utilizing aerial imagery may offer growers another diagnostic tool for early detection of CFD, prior to the symptoms visually manifesting in the field.

In addition to yielding information for managing this formerly mysterious disease, Jack credits the study for contributing to broader, long-term industry benefits.

 “This project represents one of the most comprehensive physiological assessments of cranberries in BC to date,” he asserts. “We now possess valuable information that will not only help address the challenges of CFD, but will also improve cranberry production practices in general.”

Funding: $28,451 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative (INN235); and $7,790 through former federal adaptation funding.

FreeYumm Family Celebrates Record Sales

FreeYumm Foods is enjoying a growing BC fan base, thanks to their recent local marketing initiative. After a successful series of outreach and promotional activities, including more than 80 in-store demonstrations and three consumer trade shows, the Vancouver-based family business witnessed a 50 percent sales spike during the first year of their campaign!

Created in a dedicated bakery and free from the top nine priority allergens, FreeYumm’s gluten-free, allergen- and vegan-friendly snack bars allow diet-sensitive consumers to purchase food with minimal planning, effort or stress.

After an initial local marketing project helped introduce FreeYumm in stores and create the first wave of brand awareness in BC, president Sarah Clarke again turned to buy local funding when it came time to accelerate sales and launch their new line of healthy cookies.

In addition to the ambitious circuit of events, Clarke credits the unique and professional marketing materials they developed with project funding, including in-store displays and shelf-talkers.

“Thanks to funding support we’ve been able to provide a consistent, strong brand image to the consumer, capturing their attention and clearly outlining the benefits of our local BC brand,” explains Clarke.

As a result of the project, she was able to secure a new listing with Thrifty Foods and continues to see growth with all existing retail outlets like Whole Foods Market and Save-On-Foods.

For Clarke, overtaking brands from out-of-province competitors and gaining more market share for BC businesses is almost as satisfying as the sales increase itself.

“We are seeing strong sales at all chains but beyond this FreeYumm has solidified itself as a legitimate brand in the industry, often outselling other leading brands,” she says, noting that she frequently hears from retailers reporting that FreeYumm is now their number one selling granola bar.

Good news not just for the FreeYumm family but for the many partners they rely on to provide locally sourced food, packaging and equipment.

Funding: $19,678 provided by the Government of British Columbia. (BL139, BL253)

Richmond Enterprise Expands Gummy Empire

In its quest to make nutrition both fun and functional, Herbaland Naturals has evolved into Canada’s largest manufacturer of nutritional gummy products – but as any successful entrepreneur knows, staying on top requires continuous creativity, innovation and an ability to adapt to market trends.

With North American consumer demand of gummy supplements forecasted to continue, Herbaland co-founders Musharaf Syed and Aisha Yang needed a way to differentiate their product line against larger corporate competitors in the crowded nutraceutical industry.

“The US market in particular is highly competitive and demanding of innovations in the gummy product sector, including flexible and green packaging options,” explains Aisha. “We received numerous requests from large US companies for these capabilities and were convinced this was the way to expand.”

Luckily for the family business, the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program was there to help meet that demand. Cost-shared project funding allowed them to purchase and calibrate two pieces of equipment that would secure them a coveted advantage.

With their new dual texture gummy production machine, they can now combine two gummy formulas into a single piece, expand their product range, and use ingredients that are sensitive to air, light, crystallization or other factors without a protective coating.

The new equipment also enables them to design different active ingredients and colors for inside and outside layers, allowing them to offer an enhanced variety of nutritional characteristics tailored to specific client requests.

For Aisha, one of the many benefits the new technology affords is an enhanced relationship with their local network.

“Increasing our volume has increased our purchasing power, allowing us to be more discriminating of suppliers and able to more effectively liaise with local agri-suppliers,” she says, noting that they’re currently working with more than ten local producers as a result of the project.

North of 49 Naturals, for instance, supplies Herbaland with organic cranberry and blueberry powder sourced from farms in Richmond, Abbotsford, Delta and Langley. With the new machinery in place, North of 49 president, Andrew Small is excited to see a steady increase in purchasing from Herbaland.

“It’s great to see the support as we all know we need it to get our local products value-added into new markets!” he says.

And with the addition of a flexible green packaging machine, Herbaland has also emerged as a leader in corporate sustainability, offering one of the only form and seal solutions to fully comply with all commercially-available biodegradable film types.

With increased production, enhanced quality and reduced bottling costs, Herbaland expects these new features to generate at least $2.5 million in additional sales over the next five years and has already hired eight more full-time staff to meet the surge in demand.

“We’ve been receiving lots of positive feedback and orders from our local and overseas customers, including large American nutraceutical companies,” Aisha reports. “We have even embarked on several new projects with GNC Global, expected to generate over one million USD annually.”

And thanks to additional funding delivered by IAF for local and international marketing initiatives, Herbaland has also been able to increase domestic sales by over 400 percent and export revenues by 120 percent between 2016 and 2017.

While excited about the immediate increase in returns, Herbaland is focused on their longer-term vision, determined to become a global leader in the nutraceuticals industry.

“There are not many gummy manufacturing companies that create new and innovative products that will shape the future of the supplement industry—this will be Canada’s first dual texture two active-ingredient gummies that will raise the bar in natural health product markets everywhere,” Aisha predicts.

Funding: $146,223 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative for the innovation and export projects (INN285, EX001, EX124, EX253, EX364, EX475); $28,250 committed by the Government of British Columbia for the Buy Local project (BL412).

Local Start-up Changes Breakfast in BC

Anyone ever in line at a café or deli knows the familiar sight that fruit and yogurt cups present—what is less common (at least in BC) is a local, organic version of this popular staple.

Fortunately Chilliwack entrepreneur and passionate locavore Jillian Hull decided to fill the gap by undertaking two IAF projects that would help her develop, commercialize and market Jumpstarter, a unique BC product that now boasts mass appeal.

For Hull, the founder and CEO of JillyV’s Enterprises, the ability to access multiple funding sources for each phase of her venture was critical to achieving market success.

Agri-Innovation funding, for instance, enabled the development of the food technology needed to create the freeze/thaw formulation for Jumpstarter, a yogurt-based breakfast product layered with chia, oatmeal and low-sugar fruit compote that is now expanding the JillyV business.

“Being able to distribute nutrient-dense frozen products to vendors who then thaw and serve means we can distribute far beyond our current geographical capacity,” Hull explains.

So far Jumpstarter is the only dairy product in North America offering this feature, an innovation that has fostered broader opportunities not just for Hull but for her local partners and suppliers.

“We use local sources for our yogurt, including Avalon Dairy and Pacific Coast Fruit Products, as well as local distributors for all other products like oatmeal and chia,” she reports, adding they also use a local box manufacturer, refrigerated trucking and storage, and a co-packer in Chilliwack that employs about ten staff to assemble Jumpstarter.

In 2018 alone, Hull estimates the trickle-down effect on many agriculture and food-related industries will surpass $600,000 in increased revenues.

But moving the product to market was only half the battle.

Creating brand recognition in the increasingly competitive “whole meal replacement” category presented the next challenge in the Jumpstarter saga.

After repeatedly dealing with customers unaware of her company’s locale, Hull decided to undertake a local marketing initiative to highlight Jumpstarter as a truly proud BC brand.

“We consider ourselves ‘triple local’ as our product is grown, raised and made here in BC,” says Hull proudly. “Emphasizing this attribute offers a considerable marketing advantage as being ‘Made in BC’ has become synonymous with quality, cleanliness and trustworthiness.”

And thanks to funding for a comprehensive campaign that included online advertising, in-store demonstrations, and upgrades to their website, social media platforms and promotional materials, their sales have more than doubled and they are now available in most major retailers across BC.

“This year alone we added Thrifty Foods, expanded our reach with Safeway, added two new distributors, entered into food service/hotel catering, and have agreements with dozens of smaller retailers from hockey arenas to arts centers and organic grocers,” says Hull, who foresees steady growth and already has several new products in the pipeline.

As with their original product line, Hull plans to continue sourcing local ingredients and is looking forward to adding more BC agri-businesses to their network.

“Local is more than a buzz word or a marketing ploy,” she insists. “It’s a commitment to your community that creates a genuine bond and benefits all members, whether you’re making, selling or eating BC food.”

For more information about innovation funding visit iafbc.ca/funding-opportunities/innovation/

Funding: $8,263 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative for the innovation project (INN244SP); $24,569 provided by the Government of British Columbia for the Buy Local project (BL293).

Innovation Front & Center at Project Showcase

Leaders from across the industry came together at the 2018 Showcase of BC Projects in Abbotsford to collectively illustrate some of the latest (and greatest!) ideas that offer a bright future for BC agriculture.

The event, held in conjunction with the IAF Annual General Meeting on April 12th, featured exhibits from close to 40 projects funded through IAF that are helping to fuel innovation and market growth in primary production and food processing.

Hedy Dyck, Chief Operating Officer for the BC Landscape and Nursery Association (BCLNA), was among many funding recipients who have witnessed significant impacts unfold for her sector thanks to project support.

“Showcasing BCLNA’s projects is important to the nursery industry as well as other sectors, as we learn from the diversity of projects and how they can enable industry to move forward to face challenges,” says Hedy. “It is a pleasure to work with IAF to find the pathways to address emerging issues and build a strong and vibrant industry.”

Programs like the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program proved particularly instrumental for a variety of sectors. For Dr. Saber Miresmailli, Founder and CEO of Ecoation Innovative Solutions, Innovation funding played a vital role in his efforts to advance crop health technology. With the development and commercialization of Crop Sense™, a wireless crop health monitoring system, growers can now identify where and when treatment is needed based on plant-generated signals before symptoms arise, significantly reducing crop loss, labour and pesticide applications.

Zuun Nutrition received Innovation funding to develop and commercialize an all-natural diabetic meal replacement drink, while Big Mountain Foods (BMF) accessed support through different funding programs to help expand their product line and grow their business. After developing the unique meat-free and allergy-friendly CauliCrumble Veggie Grounds with the help of Innovation funding, the family business turned to the BC Government’s Buy Local Program and the BC Agrifood & Seafood Export Program to revitalize their brand. The resulting increase in listings, sales and online exposure in both local and international markets is creating more lucrative opportunities for both BMF and their value chain partners in BC.

“With the increased demand we have been able to evolve from a small- to a medium-sized food manufacturer that is creating more jobs and sourcing more local ingredients,” BMF vice president, Jasmine Chamberland explains, noting that BMF has since employed several more full-time staff and now purchase truckloads of local ingredients instead of pallets.

Whether funding research into more sustainable pest control, technology to enhance animal welfare, or moving new products to market, we are proud to support BC’s leaders and innovators as they drive our industry forward one project at a time.

Project funding was provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

Funding for the BC Government’s Buy Local Program is provided by the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

BC Buy Local Award of Excellence

Congratulations again to Kirk Homenick, winner of the inaugural BC Buy Local Award of Excellence!

The president of Naturally Homegrown Foods was recognized in 2017 for his Buy Local campaign, ‘A Chip Close to Home,’ for not only continuing to drive local agrifood sales but also for creating several new jobs for British Columbians.

Recognized as Honourable Mentions were Merissa Myles, Co-Founder of Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt, for using Buy Local funding to connect with grocery buyers, celebrity chefs, and consumers about the benefits of buying 100% BC milk dairy; and Robert Pringle, CEO of the United Flower Growers Cooperative Association, who spearheaded the ‘Flowerful BC’ initiative to encourage consumers to ‘pick local’ when buying plants and flowers.

The BC Buy Local Award of Excellence celebrates one outstanding BC producer or processor based on the achievements of the best Buy Local marketing project—the campaign that was the most creative, strategic and effective in increasing sales and consumer engagement. The 2017 winner was announced at the BC Food Processors Association’s FoodProWest Gala in Vancouver.

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