Food processing is one of the main economic drivers of London, employing more than 8,000 people in this mid-sized city in southwestern Ontario. Over 70 companies produce meats, frozen foods, beverages and ready-made meals, among other products.
While the agri-food sector is the fastest-growing in the region, it is not without challenges. Chief among them is the need to develop and implement new packaging technologies. Most food processing companies in London are small (under 50 employees) and are increasingly affected by rising consumer demand for sustainable products, legislative pressure to reduce single-use plastics, and longstanding labour shortages.
With new funding through the CFI’s College Fund, London’s Fanshawe College will launch the Packaging Advancement Centre, which will be equipped with two cutting-edge food packaging lines to develop more efficient processes. Colin Yates, chair of Fanshawe’s Centre for Research and Innovation, says the idea stems from a common complaint among small- and medium-sized enterprises, which make up 99 percent of all Canadian food processors: most have difficulty finding facilities to help them develop packaging for new products on a small scale.
The main goal of the Packaging Advancement Centre is to “shorten that commercialization gap for food processing companies,” says Yates. “It’s great for us to be able to help them come up with a new product, or improve an existing one, but if you can’t package it afterwards, what was the point? Getting companies to the critical stage where they can actually sell their product is game changer for most of them.”
The Centre will also undertake research on sustainable packaging, led by Sahar Samimi, a professor of Food Science, Innovation and Processing at Fanshawe. She will explore biodegradable solutions to the pervasive use of plastic packaging in the food sector. Other major research themes will include safe packaging and the automation of packaging processes.