OSCII Activity E.50

Identifying and overcoming limiting factors to organic food processing in Canada

Activity summary

One of the seven organic principles states that food processors must “prepare organic products, emphasizing careful processing, and handling methods in order to maintain the organic integrity and vital qualities of the products at all stages of production”. Consumers support organic principles as demonstrated by strong growth in sales of processed organic food products. However, the majority of the research in this sector has been directed at overcoming challenges related to primary agriculture. Little work has been done to identify the challenges and issues that the organic food processing sector faces, particularly with respect to the Canadian context. Consumers with busy lifestyles want foods in a processed form that are either ready-to-eat or easy to prepare, and they want the same shelf life and level of food safety and nutrition that conventional foods offer. With a limited “Permitted Substances List” and small range of acceptable processing practices, it can be challenging for food manufacturers to provide consumers with the food choices they want, while meeting the organic standards.

This project will identify and overcome key challenges faced by the organic food processing industry. In Phase 1, a national scan of organic food processors will be undertaken to assess barriers to industry growth. The goal is to produce, for the first time, a detailed analysis of the challenges and needs of Canada’s rapidly expanding organic food processing industry. An in-depth electronic survey targeted to Canadian organic food processors will explore the nature of challenges in the dairy, fruit and vegetable, grains and oilseeds and meat sectors. Shining a light on these challenges will help to identify resources and focus energy towards their solution.

The project has pre-identified some key challenges faced by many organic food processors, such as maintaining shelf-life and microbial quality with a limited number of allowable food additives. The project will work with two industry partners to pilot solutions to some of these shared common challenges.

In Phase 2, following completion of the survey, organic food processors contacted through the survey process will be invited to collaborate with the project team to solve further challenges that emerge through the survey.

Collaboration with industry partners will ensure industry relevance of the research and facilitate commercialization of the resulting technologies and products. Ultimately, the project aspires to remove some of the key barriers to organic food processing, opening the door to new Canadian organic processing businesses and new value-added products, which, in turn, will stimulate organic production in Canada. Canadian food processors prefer to source locally, and new processing demand would be the single largest driver for the transition of land out of conventional into organic production.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Laura Telford, Activity Co-Leader Manitoba Agriculture, Food & Rural Initiatives
Alphonsus Utioh, Activity Co-Leader Manitoba Food Development Centre
Paulyn Appah Manitoba Food Development Centre
Dagmara Head Manitoba Food Development Centre
Alana Henuset Manitoba Food Development Centre
Meeling Nivet Manitoba Food Development Centre
Jiancheng Qi Manitoba Food Development Centre
Nona Schultz Ferris Manitoba Food Development Centre