In this episode our special guest is Cher Mereweather, President and CEO from the Provision Coalition, fantastic discussion on sustainability, up cycling, circular economy and the agri-food industry….and for our popular new Trying Stuff segment, we have a nice selection of plant-based product from Zoglo’s
Welcome to the The Food Professor podcast episode 34, I’m Michael LeBlanc, and I’m Sylvain Charlebois!
In this episode our special guest is Cher Mereweather President and CEO from the Provision Coalition, fantastic discussion on sustainability, up cycling, circular economy and the agri-food industry….and for our popular new Trying Stuff segment, we have a nice selection of plant-based product from Zoglo’s
Reminder to everyone about our YouTube channel where you can watch the entire first part of our podcast with bonus content and the whole Trying Stuff segment
Let's talk Turkey - how was your thanksgiving - turkey sales up, down or sideways
Wanted: the Elon Musk of cultured meat...or should I say Leonardo Dicaprio?!?!?
High End restaurant trouble - will they come back without the business clients in the near term...my idea for brining back the business clients
Higher prices...less food waste...is this my toast falling on the kitchen floor landing butter side up?!! "More than 35.5 million tons of perfectly good food are thrown out each year in Canada, enough to fill 319,000 Boeing 787 Dreamliners." Consumers account for 48% of it...
If you liked what you heard you can follow us on Apple iTunes , Spotify or your favourite podcast platform, please rate and review, and be sure and recommend to a friend or colleague in the grocery, foodservice, or restaurant industry.
I’m Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of the all new Conversations with CommerceNext podcast and a bunch of other stuff, and I’m Sylvain Charlebois!
Have a safe week everyone!
Cher Mereweather, Founder & CEO, Provision Coalition Inc.
Cher is one of Canada’s leaders in food and beverage industry sustainability.
She has dedicated her 20-year career to enabling food and beverage companies to embrace sustainability, purpose and circularity in order to create a more resilient food system, one company at a time.
Before founding Provision in 2012, Cher had established and directed the Sustainability Consulting Business Unit at NSF International and held executive positions with the Canadian agri-food think tank, the George Morris Centre. She was awarded the Canadian Grocer Generation Next award for leadership in sustainability and sits on the Board of Directors for the National Zero Waste Council and Birds Canada.
People can write to us: email@example.com, or check out our websites: repurposebyprovision.ca (RePurpose Incubator), upcyclefoodfest.ca (for the festival) or provisioncoalition.com if they want to learn more about who we are and what we do.
Michael LeBlanc 00:04
Welcome to The Food Professor podcast episode 34. I'm Michael LeBlanc.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:09
And I'm the Food Professor, Sylvain Charlebois.
Michael LeBlanc 00:12
Well, in this episode, our very special guest, Cher Mereweather from the Provision Coalition. Fantastic discussion on sustainability, upcycling, circular economy, the agri-food industry. Really, interesting. I learned a lot. I think our listeners are going to learn a lot too, really open my eyes and there's a festival going on. And, and you were on the stage with her Sylvain at the, at the SIAL show, the real, you two were actually physically together.
Sylvain Charlebois 00:36
Michael LeBlanc 00:36
The audience was virtual that, that look, that was a nice solution that looked good. Did that feel a little more natural than doing these things on Zoom?
Sylvain Charlebois 00:45
It's a COVID era compromise. I wouldn't do that again. It's, yeah, I mean, it's always best to be in front of people, I think there were about 1500 people listening in, which was nice, all over the world.
Michael LeBlanc 00:58
Sylvain Charlebois 00:58
So, the carbon footprint of the event was reduced significantly. if you want to put it that way, but you get to meet other, other speakers, but it was a very tight schedule, so we couldn't mingle all that much. But I've always been impressed with, with Cher's dedication to food sustainability in general. And, and she, with her leadership, she basically survived the end of Provision Coalition back in 2019, then repurpose that into a really succe-, a great successful consulting firm.
Michael LeBlanc 01:34
And, of course, we've got our fun, new popular segment coming up, Trying Stuff, and we've got product from our friends at Zoglo's.
Sylvain Charlebois 01:41
Michael LeBlanc 01:42
They sent us plant-based products. In a few minutes, we'll get to trying some of this product. And we'll be talking about a couple of things, plant based, we talk about that a lot. But I'm also interested in, in talking about the whole revival of frozen foods. Which got a whole new second life, so to speak in, in the COVID era, but anyway, on with kind of the news. What's on your mind? Let's talk Turkey. How was your Thanksgiving? I enjoyed a delicious bird on my smoker. It looked like it was going to be a good.
Michael LeBlanc 01:48
Course, second time this year, because you had one for Christmas in July.
Michael LeBlanc 02:16
That's right and, you know, I have to tell you, we then also celebrate American Thanksgiving as yet another excuse to eat turkey. So, we're really kind of, you know, taking every excuse, what do you, what did, you were chatting on, on Twitter a little bit about the turkey industry, prices, kind of, going up, down or sideways. Any sense of how the event was for the turkey farmers of Canada and, you know, it's a big day for them, I'm sure. any sense of movement on that section of the agri-food business?
Sylvain Charlebois 02:44
Well, I mean, first of all, you, we all know that, that the turkey industry is a supply manage industry. So, we're not too concerned about the viability of the sector in Canada, we'll always have the turkey we need for Thanksgiving. However, last year, it really forced the industry to provide smaller turkeys, sales were pretty strong still, even though people weren't hosting, which was interesting. This year, you know, I was actually expecting more smaller birds, which is kind of what we got. I don't know if you saw anything out there that, that suggested bras, that were, that birds are getting bigger again. But, I think that what we ended up, ended up doing is to actually buy two birds, essentially two small birds because we were at, we actually had friends over for dinner this weekend and we hosted them by preparing some great Canadian turkeys. But we had two not one. What about you?
Michael LeBlanc 03:40
Well, anecdotally we get a fresh bird, and we order somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds or, you know, 7or 9 kilos
Sylvain Charlebois 03:47
Michael LeBlanc 03:49
and we got 20, we got a big bird, we got a 20-pound bird, you know 9 kilos.
Michael LeBlanc 03:52
one 20-pound bird. Oh my gosh.
Michael LeBlanc 03:55
Yeah. And if anybody wants to see what that bird looked like at the end of the five-hour cook, you can check out my Instagram and I'll post it.
Sylvain Charlebois 04:01
But the one, this summer, you had, how big was it?
Michael LeBlanc 04:05
That was interesting. That was actually a frozen bird because I couldn't find a turkey. I looked, I had to drive about 45 minutes outside of Toronto. I drove up to Caledon and I phoned all around trying to find a fresh bird, none to be had, maybe opportunity lost because I know the turkey farmers would love people to think of their product more than just something to eat on Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Sylvain Charlebois 04:27
Christmas, on two days. Yeah, and it's such a great meet. it's a lean meat, nutritious meat
Michael LeBlanc 04:32
It's a bit intimidating, right, I mean, there's a bit of an aura around it. I think because it's tied up with family gatherings.
Sylvain Charlebois 04:39
But don't you think that, that larger birds don't provide you with tender meat. I always find that, like, smaller versus the meat is very different. You don't see that difference?
Michael LeBlanc 04:51
No, it was fine. Now, I, I brined it a little bit. I think, you know, what the big problem is, Sylvain, for a lot of people, is their ovens don't cook at the temperature they think they do.
Sylvain Charlebois 04:39
Michael LeBlanc 05:01
This is a hidden secret, is that most ovens have a plus or minus 20% range on the temperature it actually says, so, I've for the past 10 years been cooking out on my professional barbecue which when you set a temperature it, it stays, I think a lot of people overcooked their bird, I think that's where that comes in.
Sylvain Charlebois 05:20
It's very easy to prepare a turkey and it gets too dry, for sure.
Michael LeBlanc 05:26
Sylvain Charlebois 05:27
Yeah, I see that but I must say and I don't like to brag, but my wife really cooks a killer turkey, it's really good. She knows how to cook it and cook it well, yeah.
Michael LeBlanc 05:41
Just, just to be clear, I'm inviting myself to the next, you know, the next Charlebois dinner, there we go. One thing I wanted to jump on and then we'll get into our Trying Stuff segment because our food is almost done, for the, for the audience out there. We're cooking while we're talking
Sylvain Charlebois 05:55
Michael LeBlanc 05:55
So, our food is almost done.
Sylvain Charlebois 05:56
I can smell it actually.
Michael LeBlanc 05:58
I can, a little bit, too. I'm excited, I'm hungry.
Sylvain Charlebois 06:00
I'm hungry too.
Michael LeBlanc 06:02
Elon Musk, Leonardo DiCaprio, what is this got to do with lab grown meat, what do you think in here?
Sylvain Charlebois 06:08
Well, I mean, I don't know about you. But I've been impressed with Elon Musk's influence. The e-car was really just a dream 15 years ago, and now, I mean, that company is worth over $800 billion. It's pumping out millions of cars now, more and more people are thinking that perhaps our economy will only have electric, electric cars by 2035.
Michael LeBlanc 06:32
Sylvain Charlebois 06:32
I mean, that, that's where we, we're going. And that's due to, to one person who's, basically, went up against the oil industry, the car manufacturers sector, the dealerships that are
Michael LeBlanc 06:47
Sylvain Charlebois 06:48
really influential in the market, he went up against that to provide the e-car to us and he built a case, sold the e-car to us, for 15, 20 years and, and it works. So, he, basically, created this pull effect with this new technology and I think when you look at culture need for example, billions and billions of dollars are be are being poured into this new technology there are about right now about 150 different research projects around the world, looking at culture and meat, seafood, beef, chicken, you name it, it's everywhere. And, as you know, Singapore has just legalized the commercialization of lab grown chicken because by 2030 they want 30% of their meat to be grown, in Singapore, with no space, zero space. So, how do you do that, well, you turn labs into farms or basically.
Sylvain Charlebois 06:59
So, when I when I thought about, about the, the money being poured in and most of that money is not, is non-ag these people are venture capitalists looking at food and I just heard that recently, Leonardo DiCaprio just invested his money on two startups, that are looking at culture and meat and 12 years ago, that was, it was the same guy we invest in millions into, this other startup called Beyond meat, which is not worth $16 billion. I mean when you look at the argument related to culture meat, I mean, environmentally. I mean the case is pretty strong.
Michael LeBlanc 07:52
All right, well let's take a pause. I'm gonna hit the pause button. Our food is ready. Let me just hit the pause button.
Sylvain Charlebois 08:39
Michael LeBlanc 08:41
We're back on our fun new segment, Trying Stuff, which is really popular and, Sylvain, I've got to thank you, it was your idea. It's a lot of fun, we're meeting all kinds of new companies.
Sylvain Charlebois 08:49
Not all my idea, and frankly, we always record around lunchtime so seriously, it was a selfish idea.
Michael LeBlanc 08:57
So, our food today is thanks to Zoglo's which is plant based and they sent us, here, we got, today we got some meatballs. Meatballs. Zoglo's Incredible. We got pub style tenders.
Michael LeBlanc 09:11
Michael LeBlanc 09:11
And we got cutlets, now they also sent us a very generous, they also sent us burgers which I had on the weekend. We can talk about that.
Sylvain Charlebois 09:19
Michael LeBlanc 09:19
A couple of types of burgers. They got hotdogs, they got shawarma, they got just a great amount of stuff, and we should tell, remind the folks that were not paid for this, it's just provided, we're not, there's nothing in here that we're under any responsibility or any, anything other than people send us stuff we try it and we'll see if we like it, so.
Michael LeBlanc 09:39
Michael LeBlanc 09:39
It's all for you, the people, right. Right on, Sylvain, so I got mine, just came out of the oven. Here we are.
Sylvain Charlebois 09:44
Yes, mine too, right here.
Michael LeBlanc 09:39
Sylvain Charlebois 09:47
So, what do you have on your plate right there, Michael?
Michael LeBlanc 09:50
So, on my plate. I've got the meatballs here, and I've got the chicken tenders, or pub tenders here,
Sylvain Charlebois 09:56
Michael LeBlanc 09:56
And I've got the chicken cutlets here.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:00
Michael LeBlanc 10:01
You know, visually they look fantastic.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:03
Michael LeBlanc 10:03
I mean. if you have this plate in front of me, I wouldn't know, just visually, that, that they were not, they were not meat based.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:09
You can't tell, no, no.
Michael LeBlanc 10:10
The packaging. No, you can tell the smell is there to, like, the smell smells like, again
Sylvain Charlebois 10:15
As I was opening up the oven door, I kid you not, I thought like I was having some sort of Beef de Canada. I mean, it was,
Michael LeBlanc 10:23
Michael LeBlanc 10:23
Sylvain Charlebois 10:23
it was, it's, it smelled like the real thing, for sure.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:26
Michael LeBlanc 10:27
The packaging is top drawer. I mean, there's nothing, you know, this is fantastic packaging. It's appetizing.
Sylvain Charlebois 10:33
Very clear, and they're very clear in terms of what's not in them, for sure. Lactose free, non-GMO, no cholesterol, no trans fats. It's pretty clear. And, yeah, the package is pretty appealing and the instructions to cook are also very clear.
Michael LeBlanc 10:48
Simple. Yeah, yeah. Now, now, I had a burger. I cooked a burger over; my wife and I had a cheeseburger Saturday night and I liked it. I liked the burger a lot. I haven't tried this stuff yet. We'll try it together.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:01
Michael LeBlanc 11:03
You know, let's, let's, let's tuck in and try a piece.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:05
Let's dig in. I'm trying the, I'm trying the, the meatballs first.
Michael LeBlanc 11:10
You try the, I'll try the meatballs with you then. So, there we go. There's the meatball. A little dipping sauce. I got a plump sauce and a spicy Thai sauce.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:19
I'm going naked. No sauce, naked.
Michael LeBlanc 11:22
These meatballs are really good.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:24
Yeah, they're, they're really tasty. I'm going to try the schnitzel now.
Michael LeBlanc 11:27
All right, I'm gonna try that too.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:29
And, you're talking to a guy who spent a year in Austria.
Michael LeBlanc 11:32
Sylvain Charlebois 11:33
Michael LeBlanc 11:34
You know your schnitzel.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:35
So, I'm trying the schnitzel right here.
Michael LeBlanc 11:38
Nice crisp. I can hear it. Nice and crispy.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:40
Michael LeBlanc 11:42
Wow. Right, really good.
Sylvain Charlebois 11:44
The only thing about the schnitzel is, I would, I would want to make them a little bit thicker, you know, they seem a little bit thin, but other than that, I mean, it tastes very good.
Michael LeBlanc 11:55
Now let me try the, I'm gonna try the pub tenders. I got some spicy Thai sauce just to mix it up
Sylvain Charlebois 12:01
Michael LeBlanc 12:01
A little bit.
Sylvain Charlebois 12:02
What do you think?
Michael LeBlanc 12:03
It's doing really, really good. Now, that one on the chicken tenders, I can tell it's not chicken, that's the first time,
Sylvain Charlebois 12:09
Michael LeBlanc 12:10
I can tell it's not chicken, but it's good, but I can tell it's not chicken, but the texture, smell, flavor, all ring true, for me. And the burger that I had on the weekend. I had their plant-based burger, Incredible. Their Zoglo, Zolgo's, Zoglo's, I think I'm pronouncing that right, Zoglo's.
Sylvain Charlebois 12:27
Michael LeBlanc 12:29
It was moist, tender. I mean, if there was any knock that we had on it, they, I think the color is not quite right the colors a little too red and when I looked at it there’s
Sylvain Charlebois 12:39
There was the mushroom based one and the other one as well. The mushroom was a bit dark and, but I must say how many plant-based products have you tried, so far, in the last five years?
Michael LeBlanc 12:51
Okay, here's the way I've been thinking about it, if I was explaining to someone, it feels to me like there's been three generations of plant-based products. I mean, I've been eating plant-based products for 20 years, first generation - dried dust, no flavor, just not good. The second generation, kind of, over
Sylvain Charlebois 13:07
Kind of, disgusting really.
Michael LeBlanc 13:08
Yeah, the second
Sylvain Charlebois 13:09
That was the pre, beyond meat era.
Michael LeBlanc 13:11
And, then it went the other side of the curb. There were plant-based products that had so much oil in them, to make them moist, that they were just, the ingredient deck was just like, you might as well, it was not good, right, like they were moist,
Sylvain Charlebois 13:23
It was a smorgasbord of everything.
Michael LeBlanc 13:25
Yeah, yeah, it was, it was not good.
Sylvain Charlebois 13:27
The infactu, they were, companies were infatuated to replic-, like to replicate or to, actually, do the same thing. So, it tastes the same thing.
Michael LeBlanc 13:27
Sylvain Charlebois 13:35
What's, what's unique about Zoglo's, I think, is that it's, kind of, a mixture. Yes, they want to get close to what we know as consumers, but they also want to offer a distinctive taste as well, that's, kind of, what I'm getting here because I've tried, this is probably my 20th plant base product, or my 20th taste of a product coming from a different company. I went to IFT in Chicago, a few years ago, and they were tons of plant-based products out there and I've tried, I think I tried 15 of them that same day. And, there was maybe a couple that really impressed me, but I would actually put Zoglo's in that category. Of course, it's two years later now, but Zoglo's, I think is, is one of the top plant based products I've ever tasted.
Michael LeBlanc 14:28
You know, what I want to talk about, you know, we talk about plant based and what I found interesting, is this and I was watching this movie this old movie, Bullet, from 1969, Steve McQueen. If you remember the movie, Bullet, got to see that movie.
Sylvain Charlebois 14:38
I don't think I've ever seen it actually
Michael LeBlanc 14:40
Best car chase, by the way, in movie history. 10-minute car chase, you've got to watch Bullet, I'll send you the link to it.
Sylvain Charlebois 14:45
Michael LeBlanc 14:46
It's not just the car chase, but the whole movie, it's just a, it's a fascinating look back at 1969 you know, Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn.
Sylvain Charlebois 14:54
I wasn't born in 1969, by the way, Michael, just so you know.
Michael LeBlanc 14:57
Well, yeah, yeah, I was born, but I was I was not driving a Ford Mustang. Anyway, where am I going with this, in one scene, Steve McQueen, the hipster guy, right. He goes into the grocery store and he picks up like 20 Hungry Man dinners, frozen dinners. And, you know, when I was growing up frozen dinners were a thing, right, you get a TV table, you get a frozen dinner and for decades, they, kind of, went completely out of favor. Fro-, the frozen aisle was, was, you know, a great place to be alone with your thoughts, basically, in a lot of grocery stores. But it feels,
Sylvain Charlebois 15:28
And, frankly, just for a while you didn't want to be caught in public. Looking at freezers, I mean, it was, kind of, a last resort sort of thing. It was seen like that, for sure.
Michael LeBlanc 15:41
But is it my imagination or did COVID, kind of, reintroduce everyone, I think it feels like two things happened at the same time? The quality has gone way up, in my mind, in the sector, but also people kind of reintroduce themselves to the frozen sector. What have you learned or what are your thoughts about the frozen aisle in the grocery store?
Sylvain Charlebois 16:00
I think the frozen aisle has been going through a renaissance in the last five years. I think it was happening even before COVID, maybe it became more obvious during COVID. But I can tell you whenever you went to SIAL, whenever you went to different places, we were talking about the freezer aisle for many years, before COVID. A lot of investors were looking into frozen foods and, and frankly, that aisle is pretty appealing because prices don't fluctuate as much. So, you can, actually, build trust, you can, actually, build loyalty
Michael LeBlanc 16:33
Sylvain Charlebois 16:34
much more easily with frozen foods because once you get a price, it's set for a while, it doesn't, you don't spook people like at the meat counter or other places in the grocery store. And, for investors they love that they can actually build a brand and, like, for example, Zoglo's has just entered the market. I think a lot of companies are looking at that freezer as a friendly place to, to park food and get consumers intrigued.
Michael LeBlanc 17:00
Anyway, so congratulations to our friends at Zoglo's. It's great product and I think we'll put a link into their site, and you can go figure out where to go buy it yourself. That was, that was our fun, new segment, Trying Stuff.
Michael LeBlanc 17:12
Well, let's bring on our very special guest Cher Merriweather. She's the CEO, Provision Coalition. I met her, so to speak, virtually, when you two were on the stage at, at SIAL. We were fortunate enough, she joined us for a great conversation around sustainability and upcyc-, upcycling, recycling, not upcycle. And I loved her idea.
Sylvain Charlebois 17:32
Michael LeBlanc 17:34
Upcycle Festival and there's no such thing as food waste.
Sylvain Charlebois 17:37
Michael LeBlanc 17:38
So, Let's hear. Let's hear that because that's an interesting part of the interview. Anyway, great interview. Have a listen. All right.
Sylvain Charlebois 17:43
Well, we have a special guest, from, from Provision Coalition, which is an outfit, very well known, across the country, for its knowledge on sustainability. So, we have with us, the CEO of Provision Coalition. Cher, welcome to our program.
Cher Mereweather 18:01
Thank you, Sylvain.
Sylvain Charlebois 18:02
First of all, we saw, we saw each other a couple of weeks ago in Montreal, when we recorded the CL event and that's when I thought, geez, I've got to, I've got to get you on our podcast as soon as possible because you have so many interesting stories, you have lots of experience you've been in this business for, for a very long time. So, I want you to perhaps tell us a little bit more about yourself, what's your background, and how long you've been involved with Provision Coalition and tell us more about Provision Coalition in general.
Cher Mereweather 18:36
Absolutely, and thank you for inviting me it was, it was really fun to sit on that panel and,
Sylvain Charlebois 18:42
It was, yeah.
Cher Mereweather 18:42
and then to create this new opportunity, a little bit about me, passionate about the outdoors, health and food. And I think I'm one of those unique people that actually went to school to do what I do and have been doing it for the last 20 years. So, I went to the University of Guelph, in the '90s, for environmental science and environmental economics. I did my masters environmental economics, we were one of the first cohorts to graduate with an environmental science degree, which is crazy to say out loud, just makes me feel old, but as I said, I've spent my entire career in food.
Cher Mereweather 19:19
And the first decade of my career really focused on primary agriculture, and trying to help farmers recognize the benefit of environmental practices on the farm. And, then the back half of my career really shifted into more of a holistic supply chain perspective. So how do we support not only primary agriculture, but also the food companies, food service retail, in thinking about shifting their mindset to a more sustainable, purpose driven and circular business.
Cher Mereweather 19:52
So, a little bit about Provision in terms of our history. So, in 2013, we incorporated as a nation national nonprofit. And we were really about supporting a coalition of 17 food industry associations with helping the members, so the food companies themselves, with embedding sustainability into their business. And we did that for the better part of six years. And we were heavily funded by governments.
Cher Mereweather 20:18
And, so, in 2019, when there were a lot of shifts in budgeting, our funding dried up, not because of anything that we did, just a reality. And, I had the opportunity to purchase the assets and build, what I like to think of is now a boutique consultancy, and focus solely on purpose, sustainability and the circularity of the food system. So, we've been doing that since 2019. We work across the food system, as I said, and our niche is that we only work in food.
Cher Mereweather 20:51
In terms of our scope, and scale, we work across North America, and our team is what we like to call small but mighty, we have a core team of nine staff, but we have a vast network that we pull in to work on the really impactful projects and programs that need to happen in the food system.
Sylvain Charlebois 21:12
Did you work with other consulting groups, or do you work with universities or who are your partners?
Cher Mereweather 21:17
Absolutely, all of the above. So, depending on what it is that we need to get done, then we find the right partners to deliver it. And so, that's actually been probably the greatest asset coming out of the nonprofit space is that we built this really large network. And so we can draw on those key players based on what our clients need, and the impact that we're trying to create from that work.
Sylvain Charlebois 21:42
From the outside, I actually don't think that most people would have noticed the difference between pre 2019 and post 2019. Is that the impression you're getting dealing with people from the outside looking in?
Cher Mereweather 21:59
You know, it's a great question, I haven't looked at it from that perspective, obviously being on the inside. I think that there are probably
Sylvain Charlebois 22:05
I certainly haven't noticed a difference. So, that's why I'm asking,
Cher Mereweather 22:09
You know, we operate as a social enterprise and so, for us, we are driven by our own purpose.
Sylvain Charlebois 22:14
Cher Mereweather 22:14
Which is about making food sustainably and so that never changed. And now we have the freedom to focus on the entire food system. So, the biggest change has been as a nonprofit, we can only work in food processing and manufacturing and now as an organization that's dedicated to the food system, we can work with everyone, so.
Sylvain Charlebois 22:38
From farm to fork.
Cher Mereweather 22:39
From farm to fork, there's no limit in terms of who we can work with and this shift of impact that we have as a result of our work is, I would say, bigger and more meaningful.
Sylvain Charlebois 22:51
In terms of, I mean, I've, I've done, I've been doing some research for over 20 years and, in the food space, and, but I have to tell you, Cher, whenever I think about food sustainability, you're the first name that comes up in my mind.
Cher Mereweather 23:06
Sylvain Charlebois 23:06
So in, in my view, you are the food sustainability guru in the country. So, I have to ask you, what does sustainability, sustainability mean to you?
Cher Mereweather 23:19
To me, it.
Sylvain Charlebois 23:20
Cher Mereweather 23:20
It's multifaceted. It's about at a business level. It's about balancing the economic, the environmental and social aspects of our business decision making, but it's also about this concept of one health, right. So, if people are healthy, the planet is healthy than the economy will also be healthy and that's really where we need to get to for the human race to thrive.
Cher Mereweather 23:45
And, where I'm pointed at, sort of, the next frontier of sustainability for me and for Provision is around the circular economy. And this is about being inspired by the planet's natural cycles. This is about a circular food economy that reimagines and regenerates the systems that feed us, rather than that take, make, dispose model that we currently have, so that we can eliminate all of the waste, we can share in economic prosperity, and we can nourish the communities and the people that operate in them. That's, for me, that's the place we need to get to.
Sylvain Charlebois 24:21
When you look at the entire food system, I guess, from both ends of the food continuum, what, what, what is your greatest concerns, as a, as a food sustainability expert, as a leader in, in food sustainability, what are the main concerns that you're looking at right now?
Cher Mereweather 24:41
You know what, the scary part is, it's fast, right. We have major issues with climate. We have issues with biodiversity. We have issues with water, maybe not necessarily in, in Canada because we have access to a lot of water, but around the world, water is a big deal, and waste. We waste so much of our food and then the waste generated through our packaging. These are all really big issues.
Cher Mereweather 25:07
There were some interesting data that was actually released by the World Benchmarking Alliance. And they talk about the fact that the global food sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest cause of biodiversity loss, and the biggest user of water on the planet and yet, we are the food system that is the most vulnerable to all of that, because we're so reliant on climate, to grow our food, the biodiversity that we need, and the water to grow our food. So, it's mind boggling to me that as a food system, we are lagging behind other industries to really get on board with addressing these issues, when we are actually the most vulnerable from it. So that’s what can
Michael LeBlanc 25:56
Cher Mereweather 25:56
Go ahead, yeah.
Michael LeBlanc 25:57
Yeah, that, it's, it's such an interesting point, because your remit, so to speak, is so broad, and you know, the paradox of the environment, being impacted by the agri-food section, but at the same time being, you know, being a necessary input to the whole agri-food ecosystem, I want to step back a couple of clicks, actually. Before you went to Guelph and I'm, kind of, going backwards in time, a little bit, in the interview. But something I'm really interested in and I want to jump in. When you, before you went to Guelph, what got you interested in this line of work, like, were you, you know, in elementary school in the sandbox, just talking about sustainability and how we need to do this, the sand needs to come back together, were you talking about food, was it an interest in food, was it an interest in the planet, what sparked this origination of your passion for what you do?
Cher Mereweather 26:47
What a wonderful question. Thank you for asking me. You know what, for me, I grew up in Northern Ontario, and a family that was, you know, always in nature, we were, you know, back country campers, canoeists. So, I had a deep appreciation for the outdoors and the environment. And, I also lived in Sudbury, so, or, outside of Sudbury, and so I could see the impacts of industry. And, I had this notion in high school where it was like, I'm going to go to university, I'm going to save the world, I literally said that to myself, like the the natural environment is in trouble, I need to go and figure this out.
Cher Mereweather 27:24
And, so, I picked the University of Guelph because of their, their strong tendency to focus on the natural system. I also had a father who was deeply passionate about growing his own food in the backyard. So, I learned how to garden from the time I was four, like, my dad could be anywhere in, in the community and he'd literally call me, and I would come running because it was time to plant the garden, so we did.
Michael LeBlanc 27:49
It's so interesting, because in Sudbury, I thought, you know, as you're telling me your origin story, I thought, okay, mining and natural resources would have been a natural pass, so that's the connection to food. Okay, I get it now.
Cher Mereweather 28:00
Yeah, absolutely. And, and then, of course, going to Guelph, I had no idea, the strong food presence at the university, I was just inspired by, you know, the environmental program.
Michael LeBlanc 28:11
Cher Mereweather 28:11
And so, of course, the two come together and the rest is history, as they say.
Michael LeBlanc 28:16
Well, let's get back to regularly scheduled programs, so to speak. That was great. Thank you for sharing that I'm always, so, keen on how people who, kind of, had that, that clear eyed determination or that clear eyed vision about what they wanted to do. So, thanks for sharing that.
Michael LeBlanc 28:30
You know, as we pick up the kind of, narrative about the agri-food sector, is it going in the right direction? I mean, I think my feeling is we hit a bit of a pause button during the COVID era on a bunch of issues. Regarding sustainability. Maybe that's just my impression, because there's other things I, you know, simply stated, for example, plastic bags came back, getting the food to the shelves was the bigger priority than the origination of the food and the food system. Now, we're kind of seeing the end of the COVID era, thankfully. Is the agri-food sector going in the right direction, is there momentum there that you're seeing coming back, is it going to come back stronger because now we're thinking even more about the environment and our, and the interconnectivity, globally, of everything, what are you thinking about that?
Cher Mereweather 29:18
You know, when I would agree with you for the first, sort of, three months, where COVID hit and we were in full on lockdown, I would say there was a pause on sustainability because we just didn't know what we were up against. And, you know, all things are focused on how do we get the product safely at the door.
Michael LeBlanc 28:35
Cher Mereweather 29:35
And how do we make sure that COVID doesn't spread.
Cher Mereweather 29:36
How do we get fed, yeah.
Cher Mereweather 29:38
How do we get fed and how do we make sure we're not transferring COVID on the packaging, and so, yes, there were a lot of, of wonderful sustainability initiatives, initiatives that were undermined because of COVID.
Cher Mereweather 29:50
However, I think the reality is that I'm not thankful for COVID, but I'm thankful for what COVID has done. As a massive wakeup call about the vulnerability of our food system.
Michael LeBlanc 30:04
Cher Mereweather 30:04
Access to product, supply chain transparency, all of these issues that we as sustainability professionals have been talking about for years and, and almost sort of telling the world, hey, we have real vulnerability in our food system, you know, if climate disruptions happen, this is what's going to happen and what COVID did for us was say, that is a reality.
Michael LeBlanc 30:27
The long, the long-term problem became a short term crisis. In other words, right. You know, you said, listen, if these if the interconnected world starts to kind of fray around the edges, there could be trouble on your plate, in your house, in your grocery store and we saw that very vividly, right?
Cher Mereweather 30:45
Very vividly. And, I think it opened, not only the consumer, but industries eyes to the fact that we need to get things under control, particularly around climate, or else these types of global pandemics will be the new norm. And I think that that's what is the fear behind every, the fear behind that for everyone. And I know myself, and Provision, and many of my sustainability colleagues have never been busier, as a result.
Michael LeBlanc 31:14
What do you think the big the big issues are, I mean, the big global issue of sustainability, you mentioned water? You know, that's not as much an issue in most parts of Canada, but it's still globally, a huge issue. And, you know, we think of, you've mentioned waste, you've mentioned, there's all kinds of things I'm sure you could talk about in terms of that circular economy, what are the, you know, are the biggest, if we, kind of, boil it down, narrow that lens a little bit for the people listening, what are those things you're most thinking about and most helping your clients with today, and thinking, first and foremost, we need to address these in some kind of rank order. If you must think about how, I've got to start somewhere, where do you start?
Cher Mereweather 31:58
You know, what, where I start is, we have 99 months, until 2030, which is, we are in this divisive decade around carbon, if we were to stay within that 1.5-degree warning that everybody's talking about. We need to take action now. Like, when you talk about 2030, it still feels far away, when you saying 99 months, wow, it is not that far away. And, within that, so getting a handle on, you know, what can we do within our own business around climate change, how do we manage our own energy consumption, how do we manage what is happening within our supply chain, where are those carbon impacts, then we need to be thinking about biodiversity. And, for me, this is about valuing natural capital, as a sector. As an industry, we have not even begun to explore what does that even mean valuing natural capital?
Michael LeBlanc 32:56
Yeah, I was going to ask you the same question. What does that mean? Tell me about that.
Cher Mereweather 33:01
So, what it means is that we are deeply dependent on the ecosystem services that the natural environment provides us. And we don't put $1 value on, on our balance sheet, we just take it, right, we take for granted this health in soil, we take for granted that the bees common pollinate everything and if we put a valuation against that natural capital that is in our business, then suddenly it has a value and we will take care of it.
Michael LeBlanc 33:31
Are you talking about what, and is it similar to what economists would call economic rents, basically, the cost that is unseen in the product, you know, the you, you might be able to get very cheap, affordable, good salmon, but you destroy the coastline in the process, kind of, thing? Is that, is that, what, is that another way to look at that?
Cher Mereweather 33:51
Yes, I think this is about being clear on, you know, what are the what are the impacts that our system has, and having a value on that, but more importantly, acknowledging the contribution that the natural system has in our business. And so, by, by having a value in our balance sheet, we actually have an opportunity to say we need to take care of this, because our business is critical to it.
Sylvain Charlebois 34:17
Right, because it, that, all businesses will rely on nature or the environment in some way. I mean, in agri-food, you have no choice.
Cher Mereweather 34:26
Sylvain Charlebois 34:26
Yeah, absolutely. I just, I, when we met a few weeks ago in Montreal, you said something, I didn't say anything to you during the panel, but you did say something that caught my attention, which actually inspired my lettuce op-ed on food waste, and food waste is certainly one, one thing you know very well. And you did mention during the panel that we shouldn't, necessarily, use the term food waste, we should, because, I mean, it implies, I, I think, I think this is what you said I, certainl-, I want to know more about, about your thoughts on this. You, kind of, you, kind of, you, kind of, said, if we say food waste, it implies that food will actually be worthless at some point, it's always worth something.
Sylvain Charlebois 35:16
Did I understand your comment correctly, or what's your thought on, on the whole, this whole notion of food waste, because prices, food prices are going up, people are noticing that, that it's more expensive to, to purchase food and now what I'm feeling is that food waste or managing or rescuing food is becoming more and more of a priority for a greater number of households.
Cher Mereweather 35:42
Absolutely. And so yeah, the notion of, if we walk away from the term food waste, and we really talk about it as a resource, so, it doesn't matter where it is in the system, we can, we can use it somewhere else. So, that we don't let resources leak out of the system. That is the notion of a circular economy, right, so if it's finished, and it's no longer, let's use a farm as an example. So, we grow something and there's gonna be the first grade, which is perfect for the fresh market and retail. And then there's seconds, well, what can we do with those seconds, well, they're not food ways, just because we aren't going to eat them in our fresh market. Now, we can upcycle them into something else, or we can put them into the ugly fruit, fruit and vegetable vein or whatever the case is.
Cher Mereweather 36:31
It's just that shift in mindset that allows us to say this isn't waste because nobody wants to eat waste. But, if we allow ourselves to say, okay, where does the resource belong in the food system, then we can shift our thinking about it. Oh, actually, that product is no longer a fit for the retail market. Great. What else can we do with it.
Sylvain Charlebois 36:52
How can we repurpose it, yeah?
Cher Mereweather 36:54
Repurpose it. Exactly. So, it isn't waste because who wants to eat food waste, no one. But, if you talk about it, it's true. But, if we talk about it as this is upcycled, or we've taken this, and we've repurposed it, and now it's this beautiful dish, right, then it's something that people can stand behind, get excited about. I mean, that's the whole notion of our Upcycle Food Festival, is to point a light at all of these products were deemed waste and look at this beautiful food that we have created.
Sylvain Charlebois 37:26
Talk to us about this festival, what is about, when is it?
Cher Mereweather 37:31
So, the Upcycle Food Festival will officially launch on Food Waste day, which is October, 22nd.
Sylvain Charlebois 37:37
Cher Mereweather 37:37
And we will do our official launch on the 27th of October, in partnership with Compass Group,
Sylvain Charlebois 37:42
It’s coming up, yeah.
Cher Mereweather 37:42
and Artisan. It is coming up and we will have a live kitchen, using all of these Upcycled ingredients and we'll have chefs preparing the food and teaching people how to use Upcycled products. And, then we will sell our Upcycle Meal Kit, which is a creation that came out of Sunrise Soya, the largest tofu manufacturer, they have, okara and soybean whey as part of their natural manufacturing process. But, again, that byproduct isn't a waste, it is full of nutrients. So, we took the okara we created okara flower, which we then worked with Abokichi and they created a ramen noodle, they also created an upcycled miso, then we work with Nature Knows, and they took the seconds from the vegetables. We put all of those ingredients together and created a meal kit, which we are going to sell direct-to-consumer, we're hoping to have some retail partners, we're going to have it in a number of different restaurants. So, you can buy the meal kit in the restaurants, or you can buy the meal kit direct-to-consumer. It's going to be super exciting.
Sylvain Charlebois 38:51
That's interesting. So, what are the price points for these meal kits?
Cher Mereweather 38:55
The meal kits are $17.99
Sylvain Charlebois 38:57
Okay, that's great. Wow, that's, that's awesome. So, can, anybody across Canada buy these meal kits, or is it exclusive in some parts of the country?
Cher Mereweather 39:09
Anybody can, anybody can purchase the meal kit.
Sylvain Charlebois 39:12
That's awesome. Wow. So, did you have this idea or is it, did it come, how many years have you done this?
Cher Mereweather 39:20
So, the first, sort of, circular meal that we created was last fall and we worked as part of the, our food future initiative, we worked with the neighborhood group, wellington brewery had spent grain, so, we first prevented the beer that was going down the drain. Made sure they weren't wasting any, then we said, okay, well what else can we do with the spent grain. We then turn the spent grain into sourdough bread with spent yeast from escarpment labs. We took some of the spent greens sent it to a soldier, a black soldier fly farm and then they took this black soldier flies fed it to rainbow trout at azumi agriculture, and then we took all of those ingredients, oh, first we took them, the fish poop, and we put that on a potato farm. And then we took the ingredients of potatoes, the fish and the sourdough bread. And we offered three different meals at the neighborhood group restaurants. And so, that was sort of our first foray into this whole notion of upcycling and creating beautiful food from what was once deemed waste. And that inspired us
Sylvain Charlebois 40:29
So, it's truly a cycle.
Cher Mereweather 40:29
Sylvain Charlebois 40:29
Like, you're using everything yeah.
Cher Mereweather 40:34
Sylvain Charlebois 40:34
That's great. Wow,
Cher Mereweather 40:36
And, then that inspired us to create the repurpose incubator which is supporting companies with actually identifying byproduct and taking it to market and that inspired the Upcycle Food Festival.
Sylvain Charlebois 40:46
So, how can we learn more about the Upcycle Food Festival and how can we learn more about Provision Coalition?
Cher Mereweather 40:55
You know what, you can write to me, directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out our websites, we've got provisioncoalition.com, we've got repurposedbyprovision.ca and upcyclefoodfest.ca.
Sylvain Charlebois 41:09
Cher Mereweather, thank you so much for joining us. On behalf of Michael and myself, it was just awesome to hear your thoughts about food sustainability and yeah, and I wish you all the best with the festival and, and the rest of the fall.
Cher Mereweather 41:26
Thank you it's been really fun.
Michael LeBlanc 41:28
All right, that was a great interview with, with Cher, and I wanted to just follow up on one last thing, just before we go, you put out some stats around food waste and how, you know, the ugly fruit is now making it more into the main aisles of grocery store and you threw out some, some stats and I'm going to read them here. 35 million, 35.5 million tons of perfectly good food are wasted 48% of that is by consumers, you could fill 319,000 Boeing 787 Dreamliners or, I guess,
Sylvain Charlebois 41:58
Michael LeBlanc 41:58
1.3 billion Cessnas, what ever that number is, so, what did you think of her idea about, about the naming convention itself being a problem, food waste?
Sylvain Charlebois 42:10
Well, I mean, she's the one that got me thinking about food rescuing, really. I mean, Second Harvest with Lori Nikkel.
Michael LeBlanc 42:17
Yeah, great guest, yeah.
Sylvain Charlebois 42:17
Who we introduced many moons ago, can't remember? I mean, she's the food rescuer of Canada, I mean, she's number one and, and she, I mean Second Harvest started back in 1987 or something like that. It's been a while they've been at this for a long time. I've always felt, well, food rescue and that's a cute way, you know, to sell food waste or to, you know, get people engaged with, with, with the, with the management of food waste. Cher's comments got me thinking about, you know, what's, what's food waste 2.0, like, how is it going to, look, how do we get people to care about food waste and and I think the lexicon the language we use is probably part of the problem. I mean, people I mean food waste is unsexy. I mean, people, who wants to eat food waste, who wants to use food waste. Well when we think about
Michael LeBlanc 43:09
Well, I was, right, who, who wants to eat food waste, right,
Sylvain Charlebois 43:10
Michael LeBlanc 43:12
Right a way, the naming.
Sylvain Charlebois 43:14
But, but if you're talking about food rescuing or food repurposing, then it just changes the allure, I think, of, of that resource because it is, I agree with Cher, is a resource and a very valuable resource and a lot of, a lot, a lot of resources have been put into manufacturing whatever we eat, whether it's products by Zoglo's or, or anything else, I mean, there's a lot of investment being done and that needs to be recognized in the language we use, I guess, what are you, what are your thoughts on that?
Michael LeBlanc 43:46
Well, I thought it was so innovative. I mean, it changes the narrative it changes the discussion, that, you know, there's food that is good and there's food that is waste, and, you know, it reminds me of the kind of, best before date thing that we talked about even on last episode, right. Best before doesn't mean terrible after bad deed after, you know. Anyway, she's got a big, big remit, so to speak, but, boy, it sounds like she's both passionate. Super, super smart. Got a great team behind her.
Sylvain Charlebois 44:12
Passionate, oh, yeah.
Michael LeBlanc 44:13
Sylvain Charlebois 44:14
She, she could sell it on eBay. I mean, it's really
Michael LeBlanc 44:18
Sylvain Charlebois 44:19
She is one of, she's, I mean, she's obviously very passionate, but she's so knowledgeable, about, about, and, and, you know, 10, 15 years ago, sustainability was a space occupied by a bunch of
Michael LeBlanc 44:32
Sylvain Charlebois 44:33
It was niche. We needed to talk about it because we need to click a box or something but now, I mean, it's very much, it's recognized by many companies as a way to make more money in the future.
Michael LeBlanc 44:48
You know, and there's nothing wrong with that, right, we, you know, if we wrap up this episode, capitalism works, right, it improves people's lifestyle, pay more for your food. People need to make money and make a good living and a good return when they open a restaurant. Sustainability doesn't need, sustainability and making money don't need to be two different things, right, which is
Sylvain Charlebois 45:06
Michael LeBlanc 45:06
Sylvain Charlebois 45:07
Exactly, and she, and she marries both worlds very well, in her work, yeah.
Michael LeBlanc 45:13
Yeah, well, all right. Well, listen great interview, great episode. Enjoy it, I'm going to, I'm going to stop the episode now because I'm gonna eat the rest of this great food.
Sylvain Charlebois 45:24
Me too, actually.
Michael LeBlanc 45:24
Now, I’m like, let's get over this podcast.
Sylvain Charlebois 45:24
I can’t have, can’t get enough of it.
Michael LeBlanc 45:24
All right, well, if you like what you're heard you can follow us on Apple iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, please rate review and share recommend to a friend or colleague in grocery food service restaurant industry. Be sure and look for us on our YouTube channel, where we have, both the whole bonus copy because we snip a bit of this out for length. So, go to YouTube, look up The Food Professor podcast.
Michael LeBlanc 45:50
I'm Michael LeBlanc, Producer and Host of the new, all new Conversations with CommerceNext, and you are?
Sylvain Charlebois 45:57
I'm The Food Professor, Sylvain Charlebois.
Michael LeBlanc 45:59
Have a safe week, Sylvain and we'll see you next time everyone. Bye, bye.
Sylvain Charlebois 46:04
Take care. Bye, bye.
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