Rural Development Institute sees growth potential from innovation in Manitoba agri-food processing

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BRANDON, Man. ­­– Manitoba’s bulk food ingredient processors get high grades for innovation, opening the door for growth in the industry.

The Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Brandon University (BU) has released the results of a two-year study on Innovation in Agri-food Processing in Manitoba. In the study, which was funded by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, RDI looked at eight diverse bulk ingredient processors, which sell large volumes to manufacturers, distributors or other businesses. The companies examined in the study employed from less than 20 to more than 110 people, and shared a pattern of innovation.

“There is clear evidence across the board that the companies had a long-term commitment to innovation, taking product ideas all the way to high-volume sales” said RDI project lead Gillian Richards. “Whether the companies were located in Winnipeg or in rural communities, they were all involved in several initiatives.”

Innovation can come in a number of manners, from the development of new products and processes to novel marketing and organizational changes. When looking at the companies and their supply chains, researchers found patterns of innovation from 66 different initiatives, such as nimbleness along the supply chain that has made Manitoba’s hemp industry a world leader.

The innovations create the opportunity for growth by expanding sales geographically, entering new export markets, providing new ingredients or turning existing ingredients into food products to meet demand for healthy, natural products. In four cases, the innovations led directly to growth in employment.

“By taking an extensive look at this cross-section of companies in the bulk food industry, the Rural Development Institute has given us excellent insight into their approaches,” said Steven Robinson, BU’s Acting Vice-President (Academic and Provost). “Through the RDI’s work, we can see not only the similarities between these companies, but also examples of forward-thinking that could prove valuable to others in a competitive market.”

The study also found that co-operation was integral to the innovations, all of which featured partnerships in some form.

“All of the initiatives we identified involved at least two partners, with three or more participants involved in more than half of the innovations,” Richards said. “In some cases, the processors teamed up with neighbours along the supply chain, while other partnerships involved outside researchers and experts.”

The full report can be found at

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