As the business community looks beyond the pandemic at ways to grow Vancouver Island’s economy and create food security, one new venture has the potential to accelerate technological and culinary advances in the seafood industry.
It’s been several years in the making, but the Seafood Innovation Centre is one step closer to reality with the B.C. Government’s recent announcement of funding for it as part of its commitment to developing new food hubs across the Island.
Located at Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Marine Field Station, the Seafood Innovation Centre “will harness the potential of Deep Bay’s world-class research labs and state-of-the-art experimental commercial kitchen facilities to link together the culinary, business, distribution and research expertise needed to put new ideas into action in the regional seafood industry,” says Carl Butterworth, Manager of the Deep Bay Marine Field Station.
VIU began working with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries in 2018, mounting a feasibility study surveying the B.C. seafood sector (processors, aquaculture, wild fisheries, industry associations, etc.). The study also looked at other models of seafood innovation centres from around North America to see what worked and what didn’t. “Based on this study,” says Butterworth, “VIU felt there was a definite need for a Seafood Innovation Centre and worked with the Ministry to develop a business plan for the Centre.”
The Centre aims to support entrepreneurs, established businesses and First Nations in launching new products and new ventures in the seafood sector. They want to:
- Provide research capacity with a focus on applied problem solving, new technology and process development, genetics, immunology, and other areas, linking research opportunities to researchers and funding sources.
- Leverage an upgraded commercial kitchen space to facilitate new recipes and value- added seafood products for entrepreneurs and established value chain members, as well as linking market entrants to wholesalers and retailers to push their products to market.
- Support accelerated access to food safety data to assist in the development of shelf stable recipes as well as researching and implementing new methods for packing and distributing seafood products and working with regulators to better understand the regulatory landscape and assist businesses to be compliant.
- Offer a wide range of educational training for entrepreneurs, access to a network of mentors and subject matter experts, and a consultancy conducting market research to help inform and launch new products into the marketplace.
Butterworth says many analysts are forecasting an economic boom once the pandemic is brought under control “and we’ll be ready to help existing companies expand and new entrants to navigate the complex marketplace that is seafood. [In five years’ time] we’re hoping for a track record of completed research projects, entrepreneurs who have new products in the marketplace, more businesses started, and many successful new ventures for First Nations.”
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