#FEON16 Ontario Food Entrepreneurs Conference

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In early March I had a great trip over to Barrie, Ontario for the Agri-Food Management Institute’s Food Entrepreneurs Conference, hosted in conjunction with Georgian College. I am on AMI’s Food Safety Culture panel, a team of food safety experts, and was delighted to be invited to attend this truly unique conference.

This conference was extremely informative about the current status of the food industry in Ontario; in relation to local emerging entrepreneurs. The conference was also forward-thinking in that many presentations weren’t just describing what is currently happening, but what the food industry has in store! I thought the frequent small-panel discussions were particularly effective at engaging everyone – providing a myriad of options to what panels one could attend which led to vibrant Q&A discussion.

Interactive small group sessions

Although learning about current innovative practices from small companies was, without a doubt, exciting, talking to entrepreneurs and learning about their needs helped me understand even more what role food safety has to play and how I can more effectively serve the food industry as a Consultant.

Ready to offer food safety advice!

Many up-and-coming companies approached our table, informing us of their needs and we were able to identify a few common trends. First, many small businesses are using large shared kitchens and are uncertain of where they exactly fit in food safety standards, especially when they are looking to expand and require certifications.

Second, more companies are looking to strike an important balance between traditional, natural, and organic methods for food production and maintaining a safe, quality product. This included inquiries about natural preservative systems, packaging technologies, and validation of their products’ food safety matrices.

The last trend we identified has to do with the question of where to start when it it comes to establishing a Quality Assurance program. Many entrepreneurs have thought about and created fantastic products that are pushing the boundaries of food and this is great, but lose their momentum or get discouraged when stores require certifications in order to sell their products. This is something not many businesses prepare for, but can quite easily get a head start on without needing to sacrifice time and energy (that can be better spent on developing new products!). In my previous blog post, I spoke about a few easy steps to get businesses on the right track for establishing the records but also the culture necessary for food safety.

Rocklimbing wall at Georgian College's beautiful athletic facility!
Rocklimbing wall at Georgian College’s great athletic facility!

In short, my best advice – start early, do not wait 2, 5, 10-years down the road – having strong working and documented quality programs is not only a competitive advantage by opening doors to more retailers, but the earlier you incorporate QA, the more integrated your food safety culture will be in your company. A present food safety and quality culture means like-minded employees, suppliers, and customers who feel a sense of connection and passion for your company and products.

Other themes in questions were regarding labelling regulations, shelf-life testing, and typical retailer QA-program requirements. I was happy to help provide guidance and build relationships with these small-manufacturers.

The conference ended with the keynote speaker, Mike Lee, of The Future Market (http://thefuturemarket.com) – and what a great finale! The Future Market, is a mock-grocery store set in the year 2065, and with this model comes potential food products and distribution systems.  Mike discussed the vital importance of  thinking out of the box and using the tech industry as a model for innovation. He noted fascinating examples of 3D Food-printing, waste reduction platforms, and embracing seasonality in product lines. You could feel the excitement in the room – fuelling the minds of entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in moving the food industry forward.


Mike Lee on how The Future Market pushes boundaries and why food entrepreneurs should do the same!

If your food company (small or big) needs guidance regarding food safety, QA, product innovation, and project management please reach out to my team at: contact@totalqualitycoach.com . We are here to help you grow!