Growth, Innovation and Collaboration

November 6, 2020 Bren de LeeuwFood & Beverage 166 Views

EMC Food & Beverage Sector Network: WEBINAR Event Summary

Whenever you have the chance to bring Food, Beverage, Bio and Ag Sector Processors, Community Partners and a wonderful group of Panelists together representing Manufacturing, Retail, Academia, Services and EMC, there is bound to be some great information shared, insight found, and lessons learned!  Such was the case with a very, very special Forum hosted by EMC in partnership with Niagara College Canada, Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Center on “Growth, Innovation and Collaboration”!

Increasing cases of COVID-19 continues to have a huge impact on all of us regardless of our organizational focus, the products we produce, or the size or location of our company. 

Despite the challenges, one thing that has resonated across our country is the necessity of collaboration to support business growth and market development here in Canada and around the world.  It has also outlined our interconnectedness from a supply chain perspective. 

This special interactive webinar brought together panelists from various industry, service and support organizations regarding the competitiveness of the sector, what innovations are going to help meet the needs of the consumer, the importance of collaboration in a changing market, leading ways on idea generation, adaptation and innovation, and how to help fund it.

Our valued panel included:

Pilling Foods Inc., Sean Aguiar, Operations Manager

Sobey’s, Sheri Evans, Local Development Manager, Sobeys & Foodland Ontario

Northbridge Consultants, Jen Mahon, Vice President, Operations

Niagara College Canada, CFWI Innovation Centre, Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager

EMC – Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium, JP (Jean-Pierre) Giroux, President

Our panelists all eagerly engaged in discussion on the following questions and from time to time, our audience was also invited to participate through poll activity and break-out room opportunities. The following is an overview of key findings, poll results, and discussion outcomes:

  1. What are some of the various impacts and challenges that your representative organizations faced since the onset of COVID-19 …
  • It was agreed by all the Panelists that COVID has had an impact on all business no matter the size or location
  • EMC provided an update on their Industry Pulse Surveys and what Manufacturers are reporting regarding sales, supply chain, distribution channels, and production as it relates to unfilled orders, internal capacity, labour shortages and skills deficits.  They have also looked at advanced technologies and how quickly those are being adapted.
  • Building on the industry pulse findings, we discussed product delays from growers through to retailers and the large rippling effect that has had
  • Ongoing sourcing of alternative suppliers when there are shortages of supply or no supply
  • Balancing between meeting consumer needs, employee safety requirements and necessary essential legal obligations
  • Recognizing the need to be more innovative
  • Importance of continuing the commercialization continuum – what might be done from offsite
  • Managing cash flow and meeting payroll challenges
  • Understanding the impact on mental health, well-being and general morale

We checked in with our Participants to gauge where their biggest challenges have been with COVID – Meeting Customer Demands received the most votes in that regard followed closely by Employee Related Issues and Maintaining Revenue Streams.  All results follow in the chart below:


  1. What are some of the strategies implemented to adapt, to pivot, to innovate, and/or collaborate on that allowed you to continue serving your customers (or new customers)? 
  • Use of social media to engage consumers
  • Vendor collaboration
  • We are now better prepared for the “unknown” – have more ability to change, be flexible and adaptable
  • Importance of establishing good networks and building solid relationships
  • The power of collaboration
  • Building strategic alliances – “coopetition” – working collaboratively to build a solution together
  • Implementation of software, robotics, automation
  • Exploring projects that look at advanced manufacturing, technology, ERP, IOT, and CI initiatives and finding ways to implement those initiatives
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity to explore funding for new equipment, capacity and new hires
  1. When it comes to the future and the theme of Growth, Innovation and Collaboration, what do you perceive is needed for ongoing survival and successful growth of our organizations?  How key is innovation, adaptation and SR&ED in the food industry and in your business?  What is needed in that regard to achieve success – is that team engagement, collaboration from supporting organizations, industry advice, mentorship, funding, materials?
  • There is an awareness now that consumers are much more health conscious
  • Agreement and understanding that Traceability is so very important up and down the supply chain
  • New regulatory demands – which may lead to international Food Safety levels
  • Product innovation will remain important and to be successful a company needs a good culture at all levels to bring ideas forward
  • There is a younger generation that needs to be engaged in the Sector – programs for student’s like EMC’s WIL (Work Integrated Learning) can help in that regard
  • Needs to be a universal agreement drive for constant improvement – we need to be always looking for new opportunities
  • Improving work flow practices – more automation to reduce product handling
  • Becoming recognized as a sustainability supplier of choice – having a backup plan – need to be creative with suppliers if there is inconsistency, quality issues, disruption, etc.
  • Staying abreast of what is happening with food – food waste, circular economy, etc.


  1. It is likely safe to say that there is always a lesson to be learned or extrapolated from any experience that we go through.  From your own perspective, what has this entire pandemic experience taught you not only personally but also in light of our focus on new market development?

  • Learning from the past and adapting to the future
  • Not alone in competition
  • Need to be flexible, adaptable, strong, and agile
  • Importance of fostering an R&D Culture
  • Not to assume anything
  • Need for solid leadership and speed
  • Necessity of Safe Environment for all
  • Communication is imperative at all levels


  1. Final thought, when it comes to growth, innovation and collaboration – what does the food industry need/need to do to be successful in the future?

  • Innovation may not always work – don’t be afraid to fail
  • Take risks – look at trends – stay informed
  • Look at ways to improve
  • Build relationships
  • Source/Supply locally and nationally
  • Build on growth from what you know
  • Plan, pick partners and set goals
  • Focus on quality, connection, uniqueness and broad appeal
  • Make a “wish list” of what could be – how might you fund that?
  • Look at things wholistically, tactically and strategically


We can all appreciate the challenges and impact that COVID-19 has brought to our businesses, but it has also exposed the food industry to some incredible new opportunities that continue to unfold before us.

We have a fabulously supportive community ready to assist in that journey of growth – which includes subject matter experts and industry representatives such as Provincial Ministries across Canada, Sectoral Organizations, Academic Institutions and Innovation Centres and EMC of course!  But most importantly as Pilling Foods and Sobey’s so kindly did for this Special Event, there are other manufacturers and retailers willing to share their insight’s in an effort to help us all be more effective together!

Growth, Innovation and Collaboration – we are all here to support your journey to success!

On behalf of our Partner, Niagara Canada College, Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Center and our fabulous Guest Panelists and Moderators:

  • Pilling Foods Inc., Sean Aguiar, Operations Manager
  • Sobey’s, Sheri Evans, Local Development Manager, Sobeys & Foodland Ontario
  • Northbridge Consultants, Jen Mahon, Vice President, Operations
  • Niagara College Canada, CFWI Innovation Centre, Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager
  • EMC – Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium, JP (Jean-Pierre) Giroux, President
  • OMAFRA – Greg Merlihan, Food & Beverage Investment and Co-Manufacturing Representative
  • EMC – Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium, Craig Mannell, Field Service Advisor – Niagara Region/Hamilton/Burlington/Oakville/Owen Sound
  • EMC – Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium, Ross Cooper, Sr. Value Added Programs Manager and a FSA for the Barrie Region

Very special thanks for joining in on this event!

All the best as always!

Bren de Leeuw

Vice President – Community Partnerships & Stakeholder Relations
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium - - 519-372-6009