The Food Professor

Season Three Premier With Special Guest Tamara Rebanks with the Homegrown Innovation Challenge

Episode Summary

Our season three premier! Well we are back, live on the mic, Sylvain is back in Halifax teaching at Dalhousie University after being a visiting scholar in Florida We have a great season premier episode with our very special guest Tamara Rebanks - chair of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge Taskforce, director at Weston Family Foundation. This episode is dedicated to our friend and colleague Xavier Poncin who sadly passed away this summer while we were on hiatus - a great supporter of food innovation in Canada.

Episode Notes

Our season three premier!  

Well we are back, live on the mic, Sylvain is back in Halifax teaching at Dalhousie University after being a visiting scholar in Florida 

We have a great season premier episode with our very special guest Tamara Rebanks - chair of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge Taskforce, director at Weston Family Foundation

Now before we jump in we wanted to dedicate this episode to our friend and colleague Xavier Poncin who sadly passed away this summer while we were on hiatus - a great supporter of food innovation in Canada.    We were chatting last week with the folks at SIAL, which will be in Toronto May 9th 2023 - again we’ll be the official podcast

Where on earth can we start…well lets start with the important stuff…after much discussion and encouragement…you watched Breaking Bad!  Now, say my name!  


Okay, you have a new book coming out La Révolution des protéines and your last book Poutine Nation was nominated for an award

Well its September, and the price of Dairy has gone up again, the result of a rare twice in a year ask for price increases…over the summer what did you learn about the data behind this latest round of price increases, and where are we at today

What are you thoughts around U.S. firms like Driscolls growing berries in Canada…running out of water in the US…why can’t we just do that?

Government policy and farmland…this has come up twice, once with a fertilizer policy and second this weekend in the Globe & Mail talking about an opportunity …

What research from the lab did we miss, and what is coming up?

Grocers don’t make too much money after all….


Tamara Rebanks - chair of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge Taskforce, director at Weston Family Foundation

About Tamara

Tamara is a skilled funder with over 25 years of experience working with charities. She has worked on both sides of not-for-profits in Canada, the US, and the UK, and understands the challenges of raising funds for worthy initiatives as well as the pleasure of developing strategic philanthropic goals and executing them.

She managed the corporate donations of George Weston Limited and Weston Foods for nearly twenty years and chaired the Weston Family Foundation, one of Canada’s largest private foundations. Tamara is the current chair of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge Taskforce, created and funded by the Weston Family Foundation and sits on the Advisory Board of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC, as well as the boards of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall and Park People.

About Us

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is a Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He is also the Senior Director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab, also located at Dalhousie University. Before joining Dalhousie, he was affiliated with the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute, which he co-founded. Known as “The Food Professor”, his current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety. Google Scholar ranks him as one of the world's most cited scholars in food supply chain management, food value chains and traceability.

He has authored five books on global food systems, his most recent one published in 2017 by Wiley-Blackwell entitled “Food Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking”. He has also published over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles in several academic publications. Furthermore, his research has been featured in several newspapers and media groups, including The Lancet, The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC, NBC, ABC, Fox News, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Dr. Charlebois sits on a few company boards, and supports many organizations as a special advisor, including some publicly traded companies. Charlebois is also a member of the Scientific Council of the Business Scientific Institute, based in Luxemburg. Dr. Charlebois is a member of the Global Food Traceability Centre’s Advisory Board based in Washington DC, and a member of the National Scientific Committee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in Ottawa.

Michael LeBlanc  is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice.   He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience, and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career.  Michael is the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts including Canada’s top retail industry podcast,       The Voice of Retail, plus  Global E-Commerce Tech Talks  ,      The Food Professor  with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois and now in its second season, Conversations with CommerceNext!  You can learn more about Michael   here  or on     LinkedIn. 

Be sure and check out Michael's latest venture for fun and influencer riches - Last Request Barbecue,  his YouTube BBQ cooking channel!


Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:04

Welcome to The Food Professor podcast Season 3, Episode 1. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Sylvain Charlebois  00:09

And I'm the Food Professor, Sylvain Charlebois.

Michael LeBlanc  00:13

Well, Sylvain, we are back live on the microphone, (crossover talk), you are, you are, (crossover talk), back, -  I missed you, too. Now you're back in Halifax teaching, (crossover talk), for being a visiting scholar, visiting scholar in, in Florida. How was your summer? Just if you summed it all up, I mean, a lot of people did things like travel and see friends. Does that kind of summarize your summer? I saw you on television a fair bit, so, I'm not sure how much relaxation is that. 

Sylvain Charlebois  00:33

I missed you, man, - Yeah, it's been busy to be honest. Michael a lot, there was a lot going on this summer. And, and I think a lot of people are still in that COVID mood. They're still working away and so yeah, it was very difficult to, to disconnect. So, I'm looking forward to the holidays to be honest, (crossover talk). Well, how was your summer? I know you've been busy cooking away you know, you barbeque. I've been watching your show. Last Request Barbeque it's just been fantastic to watch.

Michael LeBlanc  01:10

Thank you, thank you. You know what it is, it's been a pile of fun. I had a bit of travel out to, out to Amsterdam, not my first time but the family's first time and then a little bit of Prince Edward County near between Kingston and Toronto, which, -

Sylvain Charlebois  01:21

Yeah, -

Michael LeBlanc  01:22

I, you know, it was beautiful, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  01:23

Beautiful pictures,  -

Michael LeBlanc  01:24

Yeah, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  01:25

Yeah, - 

Michael LeBlanc   1:26

And you would, you would know, well, having gone to school in, in Kingston, you would know that area well. It's changed so much since you, (crossover talk), and I, - 

Sylvain Chalebois   1:30

Well, that was, was 1990. Michael, I mean, things have changed since a lot.

Michael LeBlanc  01:36

And let me tell you, you know, I was in towns like in Wellington and in Picton, and the restaurant and food scene is hoppin, like, it is, you know, really these, these chefs are the Vanguard of, of, you know, having a more affordable lifestyle. They leave from Toronto, maybe they are leaving from Ottawa and Montreal and starting there, and they're finding a nice audience. So, it was really great to see and, and so, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  01:56

The culinary ecosystem in, in Prince Edward County is amazing. I mean, lots of chefs there and there's a lot of thinking, lots of innovation. There has just been fantastic. I haven't been there in a while. But I need to go back at some point.

Michael LeBlanc  02:12

Yeah, you'd barely, I mean, you'd barely recognize it. You know, I was going through towns like Picton, which used to be kind of a drive through town, and it struggled. But now it's, it's so great to see it coming back. And, you know, it's a next, next generation.  So, we have a great season premiere episode. Today, we've got a very special guest, Tamara Rebanks. She's the chair of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge Taskforce and director at the Weston Family Foundation, and we'll get into that interview a bit later. Such interesting work happening, you know, (crossover talk), people are going to love, you know, love to hear what's happening. And then for those in the industry, they're going to just be you know, I think really excited about, about the potential now.  Not everything was great all summer. So, before we jump in, I wanted to dedicate this episode, we wanted to dedicate this episode to our friend, Xavier Paulson, who sadly passed away this while we were on hiatus, a great supporter of Food Innovation in Canada. So, you, you've known Xavier for, for a long time, and we were both pretty shocked, (crossover talk), to hear his sudden passing. Yeah, -

Sylvain Charlebois  03:13

Yeah, I was. I, I got the phone call on a Saturday morning, I remember quite well. Within an hour I sat, I sat down in my, in the kitchen to write an Op-ed in his honor (inaudible), which was picked up by his family, and they thanked me. It was a very sincere piece and honor because Xavier was not a public figure. But SIAL is a very well known conference. And, and I think everyone loves Xavier because he was so open-minded. And he built this, he built SIAL as a very well organized conference.  Before he came along, I was actually involved with SIAL. And there were, there were challenges. And Xavier just really was able to do very well with what they had. It's not an easy show to run, because you have many partners involved. And it's on many continents as well. So, you're part of a network of conferences. But yeah, I'm going to miss Xavier for sure. And yeah, so, so the next, the next SIAL in the spring in Toronto will be a little bit difficult for me emotionally. Yeah.

Michael LeBlanc  04:22

And I'll put a link in the show notes we did you know, we did a live broadcast from SIAL when we were in Montreal and Xavier came in and crashed the podcast, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  04:30

That's right, exactly, (crossover talk), -   video. So, if those of you don't know him, you'll get a sense of, of what a great. What a great person he was. So, I guess a reminder to everyone, SIAL 2023 will be in Toronto on May 9.  

Michael LeBlanc  04:45

Yes, as we wrap up our third season we're going to be, again, the official podcast for SIAL, but this time in Toronto, which is going to be really super interesting. So, we were on the, on the, mic last week, so to speak, with the folks from SIAL and, and they've got they brought in some help to get them there. I think it's going to be a fantastic show. And we get past this, and, you know, they're really working hard, (crossover talk), - Yeah, we got bigger plans. So, stay tuned for that. All right, so where on earth can we start? All right, let's start with the important stuff.

Sylvain Charlebois  05:14

Nothing going on, nothing going on.

Michael LeBlanc  05:16

You know, after much discussion and encouragement between you and I, you finally watched Breaking Bad. Now say my name, say my name, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  05:27

Heisenberg , - 

Michael LeBlanc 

You're goddamn right. Come on, what a okay, (crossover talk), - Last Request Barbecue is the best cooking show I've ever seen.

Michael LeBlanc  05:37

Fantastic. Now, okay, you were a big Sopranos fan. You weren't think-,-

Sylvain Charlebois  05:42

I was, - 

Michael LeBlanc  05:44

So, (crossover talk), still Sopranos in the lead.

Sylvain Charlebois  05:48

Yeah, it's still, it's still there, yeah. But, but I mean, it's very rare. I'm not a, I'm not a TV, but I don't really watch a whole lot of shows. But like, but I thought Breaking Bad was really well done. But I've actually started Better Call Saul. Oh, it's great, - Have you started to watch, (crossover talk), Better Call Saul. I'm

Michael LeBlanc  06:06

Right up, right up-to-date on Better Call Saul. So, I, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  06:10

Season 2 and I got to tell you that, that show is very well done as well. Yeah, like Breaking Bad, (crossover talk), yeah. 

Michael LeBlanc  06:16

It gets better. It starts strong, but it gets better and better. So, I'll say no more, -  So, yeah, you got a new book coming out. And your last book, Poutine, (crossover talk), was nominated for an award. Talk about those two things.

Sylvain Charlebois  06:29

So, Poutine Nation, is nominated for an award, the gala is in November in Toronto. And I think we've got to be able to coordinate a meeting both you and I, and, and record a podcast, face-to-face. So, stay tuned for that, (crossover talk), I think it's early November. So, we're, yeah, so I'm, yeah, I'm up for an award that I actually didn't even know.  So, I was aware of Taste Canada. 

Sylvain Charlebois   06:40

So, Taste Canada is a major or-, if you, if you write recipe books for a living, that's the award you want. But I had no idea they had, they had an award category for narratives in both French and English. So, I'm actually up against (inaudible), who is actually a well known singer in Europe and Quebec. And she actually wrote a, a, a book about food. And so, both her and I were, were nominated in the same category. So, looking forward to that. 

Sylvain Charlebois  07:48

And of course, this is my seventh book is out this week. It's called, The Protein Revolution, but in French, and it's all about the future of proteins. And both you and I and Michael, we've talked about proteins quite a bit. So, this book is talks about, you know, the trifecta of meats, seafood, culture (inaudible), insects, seaweed, tofu, everything, everything. And we, and it's one of those rare books written by a, an assumed omnivore, which is who I am because a lot of protein books are written by vegans or people who are against animal production and or livestock production. And which is not the case for me. I actually support the meat industry very much. But at the same time, there are headwinds. I mean, (crossover talk), -

Michael LeBlanc  08:21

You hold them to task as well, and you hold them to task as well, you've talked we've talked often about, (crossover talk), technology, innovation and price and value, and you know, these things are very familiar. So, that's, that's fantastic. Now, I should mention, that will be an opportunity for you and I to do podcasts, but we will be together at the Coffee Association of Canada's Conference, The Road Ahead coming up on November 14, we're going to be podcasting live from that. We'll put a link in the show notes, so folks can go, we're a media sponsor, we're together with them. And we're going to be at the show in Toronto at The Globe and Mail Center, a fantastic venue. So, if you haven't got your tickets, run, don't walk get your tickets before it's not a big venue. So, it's a beautiful venue, not big, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  09:04

I have never been in that venue actually, you know, -  it's really nice. I mean, its only limitation is it's not huge, right? It's not a big venue. We'll be doing some interviews and, and, and all that stuff with links in the show notes. 

Michael LeBlanc  09:16

All right, so, it's September, and the price of dairy has gone up again, the result of a rare increase twice in a year, asked for a price increase now. I saw some energy over the summer. What did you, what did you learn about the data behind, I mean where we left off in our last season? We were talking about this? I don't even think it might have actually hap-, just happened. So, did you learn anything over the summer about the data that, you know, was put forward for this price increase and, and where are we at today?

Sylvain Charlebois  09:44

Well, so if you remember in the winter, we spoke about the CDCs decision to increase farm gate (inaudible) prices by 8.4%. That was a record, that was a record increase back into winter. That was, that happened on February 1. But during the summer, which is why I had a really busy summer, during the summer, the CDC decided that (inaudible) their commission, which is a Crown Corporation. Its job is to, is to basically ask over 200 dairy farmers what the cost of production actually is, and they come up with a recommendation given to provincial boards. 

Sylvain Charlebois  10:18

This summer, they decided to actually go ahead with another increase of 2.5%.  And for the longest time, you know, this, Michael, I've been challenging the Canadian Dairy Commission in terms of the primary data, which is not available. I mean, where's the data coming from? Why are you suggesting such an increase and if farmers need the money, then that's fine, but just show us the primary data where, where are these (inaudible), coming from? My suspicion was, and this is something a lot of people don't understand with supply management. It's a highly asset intense industry. I mean, you need to own a lot of quarters, you need to own a lot of infrastructure and all that needs to be capitalized. So, interest rates are a big deal. And interest rates have been very low for a very long time, (crossover talk), - 

Michael LeBlanc  11:16

Going up, going up, every, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  11:18

So, this summer, I got a document from the CDC, a leaked document from someone who will remain anonymous, showing me all the numbers coming out of CDC, and suggesting that between 2020 and 2021, the cost to produce milk has actually gone down by 1%, not up, - 

Michael LeBlanc  11:18

Down, down, - 

Sylvain Charlebois   11:19

So, it knows that this year, so this coming year, we should expect a decrease in the price of farm, Farm Gamma prices. And, and so of course, the CDC really kind of was surprised by this leaked document, their response was, their response was, well, in the formula, we now have the CPI if the inflation rate is actually high, we just index the percentage, but that's what we would call greed-flation. If you're using inflation as an excuse to increase prices, then I mean, (crossover talk), -   

Michael LeBlanc    11:39

It's a vicious circle, right?

Sylvain Charlebois  12:23

Exactly, - 

Michael LeBlanc   12:24

It's such an important part of inflation. So, if we use inflation to increase prices, then we could contribute to more inflation. Is that what you're concerned about? Absolutely. Because what I've argued to the CDC is that, well, if you're serving farmers, wouldn't inflation be embedded in the costs of what or embedded in numbers that are being reported to the CDC? So, I've been very, very perplexed by and frankly, a lot of people are just wondering what is going on at the CDC, just there's just no transparency, which is really making dairy farmers look bad. Dairy farmers are doing a good job producing good meals for Canadians. It's just it's the bureaucracy and the governance of the system that is really failing our dairy farmers. Yeah. 

Michael LeBlanc  13:12

And so, when you, your expectation, hope slash understanding is that as we go into 2023, dairy prices will go down, not up. I guess you're already starting to work, by the way, on your, your Canada's Food Price Report, I'm sure. I mean, what is it? We're in September, and that you probably started months and months ago? 

Sylvain Charlebois  13:29

Yeah, (crossover talk), they have until they have until November 1 to announce the increase for 2023. So, we'll know by the time the report is out. Whether or not the CDC will announce another increase. But let's, let's, let's, let's face it, Michael, there are two dairy sectors in Canada. One is east of Toronto, one is west of Toronto.  East of Toronto you have smaller farms, less efficient farms, labor's an issue, the cost of labor is more of an issue. And of course, they want higher prices.  West of Toronto. I mean, you should visit some of those farms, Michael, I mean, it's all automated. Cows are free, they get milk when they want to. There's, there's no farmers around, farmers spend a lot of their time in a computer room. And so, it's a very these produ-, these, these facilities are highly sophisticated. And, and what they want is volume, and they want to make sure that their product is as attractive as possible retail, but right now, when you look at the price of milk versus plant-based alternatives, like almond milk, (crossover talk), - 

Michael LeBlanc  14:38

There starting to even out, right, (inaudible), I you know, I enjoy both milk and oat milk. I'm, you know,  starting to even out right,

Sylvain Charlebois  14:45

We're beyond parody now, and so most of these alternatives are actually cheaper. So, that's the, that's the danger zone. And if that happens, then demand for milk goes down and of course we'll lose more farms. That's, so that's a great concern. I think it should be of great concern for all Canadians. Now, did you see the movie Cow?  I did not, did, did you? 

Michael LeBlanc  15:08

It's almost like a first person profile of a dairy cow on a farm in the UK, and it's very (inaudible). I mean, there's no narrative around it at all. You sometimes hear humans, and you just, you know, you look long into the cow's eyes quite often. And you see them sitting in beautiful meadows. Anyway, for you, I'll put a link in the show notes. But watch it because it's, it's strangely compelling. Let's just put it that way. Like, it's not a documentary in the way that you and I might understand it. That's what I was expecting. 

Let's get to our great interview with Tamara Rebank. So, that you already knew of Tamara. And she reached out and said, hey, I'm doing this challenge and I got some deadlines. So, we invited her on the podcast, but, (crossover talk), -

Sylvain Charlebois  15:52

Yeah, - 

Michael LeBlanc  15:53

Tell me how you met Tamara, what you know about the Weston Foundation, and then we'll get to this great interview. Well, I met her a few years ago, because I was involved with, with, with the Weston-Family Innovation Fund, as an (inaudible), and she's brilliant. I mean, she's a great voice in Food Innovation, in particular, she's one of those people who work in the background. But, but is so influential and when I heard about the, about the Homegrown Challenge, I thought, this is just, this is what we need. I mean, this is just what we need as a country. So, I thought, yeah, let's actually have her on our show to talk more about what's happening.

Michael LeBlanc  16:38

All right, well, let's have a listen to that interview right now. Tamara, welcome to The Food Professor podcast. How are you doing this morning?

Tamara Rebanks  16:45

I'm really good. Michael, thank you so much for fitting me in.

Michael LeBlanc  16:48

Well, it's, it's our pleasure. Now, where are we finding you this morning? Where are you, whereabouts in this wild wide world are you sitting?

Tamara Rebanks  16:56

I am in rainy Toronto, Canada today.

Michael LeBlanc  17:00

And yeah, Sylvain, it's the first rain we've seen in a long time. So, we are actually not, not so bad, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  17:07

It's a sunny day in Halifax today, but I suspect that the rain that you have Tamara today is coming our way in the next couple of days. So, - 

Michael LeBlanc  17:15

Well, we've jumped right in, Tamara, let's start out at the beginning where we always like to start. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and, and what's your journey?

Tamara Rebanks  17:23

Yes, thank you. So, my career to date has been focused on grant making, both in the not for profit as well as for profit sector. And until recently, I worked for nearly 20 years for the food company, George Weston Limited and developed their community engagement programs and grant making. One of the initiatives I started there was a grant program called Seeding Food Innovation. And that's where I met Sylvain, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  17:48

Yeah, absolutely, - 

Tamara Rebanks   17:50

And that aimed to provide grants to help develop solutions to produce food more sustainably. But now I currently sit on five charitable boards. And today I'm here to represent the Weston-Family Foundation where I'm both a director and pass chair. 

Michael LeBlanc  18:05

When you see grant making for those listening who may not be steeped in, in your world, what does that mean grant making? Does that mean offering grants or is that tell us a little bit about that for a second?

Tamara Rebanks  18:16

Well, I think for a lot of people, they think about the word philanthropy, and they think of that as handing out money. But grant making is a very deliberate exercise when you design a grant to solve a specific problem. And to me, that's always been the interesting thing about this area, is starting with a problem. And then thinking how a bit of charitable dollars can help solve it or if not totally solve it, at least bring about a sort of solution.

Michael LeBlanc  18:52

Interesting. So kind of, kind of like a hand up not a handout exactly localism, and tell us all about the Weston Foundation, the orin-, the origin story, goals and objectives and the mandate.

Sylvain Charlebois  19:04

So, the Foundation was established more than 60 years ago by my grandparents, Rita and Garfield Weston, with a donation of shares from their family company. And the foundation's goal is to invest in innovation and learning to deliver measurable impacts for the well-being of Canadians. And we do that by working with forward-thinking partners to advance Canada and create lasting impact. Our current areas of focus are healthy landscapes and healthy people. I mean, an incredible legacy in the last 60 years. Tell us Tamara a little bit about your vision of agu-, Agri-Food Innovation in Canada. You've been involved with, with charities and foundations for a while. How do you see the Canadian food economy right now, our standard of living generally speaking, and, and your contribution to that field in particular.

Tamara Rebanks  19:59

So, Sylvain, I think I mean, you and I know really well that Canada is known around the world as a global powerhouse in agriculture, we export a tremendous amount of food. Despite our harsh climate, we have tremendous potential as, as a world food supplier. But we have a great dependence on food imports, and that dependence is higher than a lot of other countries. We import nearly 80% of our fresh fruits and vegetables. And so this makes our country very vulnerable to macroeconomic, if,- issues like supply chain disruptions that we saw during COVID, currency fluctuations and inflationary pressures, which you've documented so clearly. And, increasingly, on the impacts of climate change. I mean, I don't think anyone needs to be reminded about the heat dome, the droughts we've faced, and the, the tremendous flooding that BC saw last winter. And, and for example, so we import most of our fruits and vegetables and 60% of those imports come from the United States, and mainly from California, which is suffering from one of the worst droughts in a millennium, practically, I mean, (crossover talk), it's truly, -

Sylvain Charlebois  21:24

They are absolutely running out of water. Absolutely.

Tamara Rebanks  21:26

Absolutely, it's frightening and, and I think most Canadians do not realize how highly dependent we are on California and California's water. And I think so this, I think Canada has great potential, but also COVID, has exposed these vulnerabilities and made us all think about what we should be doing to be cau-, become more resilient.

Sylvain Charlebois  21:53

Talk to us about this new initiative you, you have for this fall. I mean, we've been talking about food autonomy on our show for, for two years now. And, and, you just alluded to the fact that we're very dependent, very vulnerable. We import a lot of food coming from, coming from elsewhere, you have a new initiative called Homegrown Innovation Challenge. Tell us more about that.

Tamara Rebanks  22:20

Sure. Well, at the outset of the COVID pandemic, our board at the Weston Family Foundation decided to make a major investment in Canada that would benefit the highest number of Canadians with the highest potential to result in system change. It had to be evind-, evidence-based and expert led and had tangible outcomes. And it became obvious to us that, while food had been on our radar for a long time. And there were concerning projections about water, hunger, and just decline in overall production.  So, as we looked around, for a way to help Canadians in Canada become more resilient, we came on this something called the challenge prize, which some of your listeners may have heard of the XPRIZE in the United States, or the Challenge Prize, but it's a tried and trusted way to incentivize innovation by engaging as broad a community of innovators as possible. And unlike traditional grants that require a big upfront bet, challengers offer rewards based on outcomes. So, they're stage gated competitions that offer a series of incentives along the way, as you're, you're developing your idea, and then the final prize goes to whoever can first or most effectively meet the Define Challenge.

Sylvain Charlebois  23:51

That's interesting. Were we talking about three years, five years? What's the window here? It really depends on what the topic was. But food, as you know, has a defined period in which it can be grown. So, our challenge is going to run over six years. So, it's fairly long, it's, and it's a large challenge, it's worth $33 million in total. And we're really hoping that these funds are going to unleash creativity and ingenuity of some of the brightest minds in this country. So, anybody listening in what are the timelines and key dates related to this new project?

Tamara Rebanks  24:33

So, let me first tell you what the challenge is. It's to invite innovators to create and deliver a market ready system to reliably, sustainably and competitively produce berries out of season and at scale in Canada. So, there's a lot packed into that sentence, and we can break it down if you like. But basically for us berries are really a means to an end, if innovators can address this challenge statement, they're going to have catalyzed a range of solutions relevant to a lot of other crops too. And if they can do it in a cost-effective way, this will bring down the price of healthy and sustainably grown food for all Canadians. But as I said before, the timeline is six years to do it, and the winners will be announced in the spring of 2028. 

Tamara Rebanks 24:47

But currently, we're in the first phase where we're trying to get the word out to as many innovators as possible. And the deadline is December 20, of this year 2022. So, we're hoping that teams will come together before then, to develop the ideas. We already gave out $750,000 to 15 teams in June this year, to help spark their ideas and develop their proposals for the December deadline. But I want to emphasize even if you didn't get in, for that early stage of funding, you can still apply until December and December, then the doors close and no new teams can enter the competition.

Sylvain Charlebois  26:13

Interesting. So, these teams, are you expecting teams from academia from industry a mix of both? What, what are your expectations?

Michael LeBlanc  26:22

Yeah, and it's just a like Dragon's Den kind of thing, they stand in front of you, and they look stressed, and you stare at them and look around on their business models, (crossover talk), -

Sylvain Charlebois  26:32

Very, -

Tamara Rebanks  26:34

Well, hopefully, hopefully, it's not going to be as intimidating as Dragon's Den. We're really it's an, it's an application that's online, right now you can, you can look at it And it's, so first of all, it's a written application, and we will select in March 2023, 10 teams who will each receive $1 million to develop their proof of concept and what we're calling the shepherd phase, and they'll have a year and a half to do this.  It's a very collaborative progra-, process, I want to emphasize though, you know, if you're trying to develop a team, we see these teams being made up of a combination of academics, innovators, growers, technologists, energy specialists, it's really going to need the brightest minds from many different sectors to develop and succeed in this process. But we're, although we're looking for multi-disciplinary teams, they have to be led by qualified donee, and if you're stumped by that term, it's basically a registered charity, such as a university or cause they, they have to be the lead on the project, but then other team members don't need to be a charity. And, and we're thinking that, that really the best teams will have people from a variety of backgrounds. 

Sylvain Charlebois  28:12

Now, do you welcome teams coming from abroad? Or are you just allowing Canadian based teams to register?

Tamara Rebanks  28:21

So, because we're a Canadian Foundation, we are required to give to Canadian organizations. But we, so this lead partner has to be Canadian. But if you have a particular technology that you have seen elsewhere around the world, that you want to bring in a particular expertise that you know, exists in a different country, we're not looking for the whole thing to, to be new, you can, you can definitely bring in outside expertise, but just the majority has to be a Canadian team, because we are interested in Canadian lead solutions. And most importantly, in the, in the final phase, the scaling phase, teams are going to have to demonstrate that there berry can be grown in Canada. And so, it's really impossible for you to develop it outside of Canada and, and not to make sure it's relevant to Canadians.

Sylvain Charlebois  29:28

I see, anything else Tamara that we need to know about the challenge and your deadline in December?

Tamara Rebanks  29:35

Yeah, there, there. So, I've mentioned the first two phases, the one ending December 20. And then year and a half later, in December 2024. We'll have four teams that go to the scaling phase, and they will receive $5 million to develop innovation to the farm scale. And then the final prizes are awarded in 2028, and they are 1 million to the overall winner and 1 million to the technology breakthrough winner. And the same team could win both those prizes, or they could be broken out. So, this is a substantial prize. And if you progress through all stages, the competition, you could win up to $8 million and have a, have a concept that you're ready to take to market and so it's exciting.

Sylvain Charlebois  30:30

Yeah, now, for your foundation, this is likely the most important sum of money dedicated to a project is it not? Like 33 mill-, that's a lot of money.

Tamara Rebanks  30:43

That's a lot of money, we're a pretty large foundation. So, we have made other large donations in the past. But we wanted to get this money out quickly. And, and really, with have a very defined goal at the end of it, that will leave, we hope, Canada in a more resilient space for its food supply than it currently is. So, we have it's a large sum of money, but we have big ambitions. And we know that Canadians really, I, I think it's tremendously exciting because as I said, we've seen these early ideas coming through in our spark phase. And it's tremendously exciting, the thoughtful and innovative ideas that are out there that just need some funding and support to, to scale them.

Sylvain Charlebois  31:38

So, you're clearly an important voice in the food industry and take us into the future once the Homegrown Innovation Challenge is complete, in 2028. What could the future of food look like in Canada, if this challenge is successful in extending the growing season of berries, and potentially other products?

Tamara Rebanks  32:01

So, Sylvain, I think this is why I find this format of a challenge prize so exciting, because although there are one or two winners at the end, there is going to be so much winning along the way. And we've developed this challenge in phases to support teams throughout the process. So, we expect that there'll be a range of solutions developed that are relevant to lots of different crops, for example, plant breeding developments to produce more drought and flood resistant plants. Or we're going to have to develop more cost-effective and sustainable energy systems for growing plants indoors. 

Tamara Rebanks  32:21

And I think I want to emphasize that, that their energy is a really large component of growing food. If you want to extend the growing sys-, system, in, in ways you know, to grow, grow berry-, berries are usually grown in a intensive six-week period, in Canada particularly. And to extend that out to four or six months, we're going to have to either develop plants that need less sunshine, or are capable of growing indoors. And it's also going to be important to find the right levels of temperature and light to maximize production indoors. 

Tamara Rebanks   32:31

So, if I may, I'd just like to give you some highlights of some of the teams and the ideas that we've seen to give you a sense of the exciting developments that we think we could see. So, we have a team from Laurentian University here in Ontario, (inaudible), who's developing the concept of an underground berry farm and she is really looking at the using of underground mines in Canada. And of course, it's, it's not only Canada that has mines that could be used for growing food. This is, this is something that goes on globally. But we have literally 1000s of kilometers of mines underground, where which provide a free and reliable year-round heat source that never changes. And so, it's it, it would be perfect for growing if you can address the light question and make the lighting more cost-effective. So, it's also exciting because a lot of these mines are in more remote locations with where food is already very expensive to transport.  So, imagine growing strawberries in northern Manitoba or Saskatchewan and, and them only having to travel a couple of 100 kilometers to the nearest town instead of 1000s of kilometers. So, that's an exciting one. 

Sylvain Charlebois  34:51


Tamara Rebanks  34:52

The Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada has submitted a really interesting proposal for growing raspberries and strawberries together. So, in a greenhouse, the space is always at a premium. And so, they are thinking about how strawberries can be grown on top of raspberries because raspberries require a cooler growing system than strawberries do, and creating a canopy of LED lighting. So, that there and, and, and controlling the waste heat from the lighting systems to recycle it.  So, you can see, I think, just with those two ideas and there's another one from the University of Fraser Valley, working on blueberries and modifying blueberries, so they can be grown year round, which currently blueberry production is extremely short-time, the blueberries can be grown. So, I just give you those as a taste of the exciting advancements that are, that are happening, and we're seeing. 

Michael LeBlanc  36:01

Our guest is Tamara Rebanks, and it is the Homegrown Innovation Challenge. You've heard lots of information around you've given us lots of information around various deadlines, I think you've given us a URL, so folks can go get in touch and go, we'll put that link in the show notes. But give us that URL again, just so the listeners have that in case they want to learn more. It also will be in the show notes. What was that URL again?

Sylvain Charlebois  36:23

It was If you have any questions, and you are for example, you'd like to be part of a team because you have very specific expertise. You can also reach out our email is

Michael LeBlanc  36:40

Well, fantastic. Well, what a great way to kick off our season was such, (crossover talk), an -

Sylvain Charlebois  36:45

Absolutely, -

Michael LeBlanc  36:46

Inspiring, inspiring challenge, (crossover talk), like it's so well-structured, I thought you're going to talk about vertical farms, and you're talking about mines growing. It's incredible when you unleash and are able to unleash that ingenuity that is here in our vast land. So, Tamara, thanks so much for joining us on, (crossover talk), The Food Professor, -

Sylvain Charlebois  37:03

Thank you so much, Tamara, for joining us. Yeah, -

Michael LeBlanc  37:06

Yeah, it was really great, (crossover talk), - 

Tamara Rebanks  37:06

Thank you, Michael and Sylvain. It certainly was a pleasure for me.

Michael LeBlanc  37:10

And we'll look forward to getting you back on as we kind of progressed, (crossover talk), stage gates because it I think it just gets so exciting. So once again, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  37:18

And maybe perhaps we could actually run the show in Toronto and eat some of those berries.

Tamara Rebanks  37:24

Absolutely, you can be our taste tester, -

Sylvain Charlebois  37:26

Absolutely, - 

Tamara Rebanks  37:27

Tell us what you like, - 

Michael LeBlanc  37:29

Okay, that goes into the granting qualification that The Food Professors, Sylvain and Michael, need to like your food. So, there you go, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  37:35

We will be your tasters. Absolutely.

Michael LeBlanc  37:37

There you go. Well, thanks again for joining us and a have, (crossover talk) a wonderful rest of your day. Sylvain I learned so much from that interview, just about the boldness of the initiative, and the scale and scope of this initiative. I mean, I'm so optim-, I'm very keen, as we talked about to, to keep in  touch and learn more and see how it's going. But it's really a bold initiative. Have you ever heard of such a thing that spans this many years and, and is really focused on Canadian Food Innovation?

Sylvain Charlebois  37:40

Take care Tamara, - 

Tamara Rebanks   37:42

Thank you.

Sylvain Charlebois   37:43

Not, not in Canada, I must say, I mean, Tamara and her team you can, you can, you can tell that they've actually given a lot of thought to this, long term thought, and they really want to move the needle when it comes to our country's food autonomy. And, and the fact that, that the fact that Dominic Barton is involved with initiative, and he's the author of the Barton report, obviously, which I'm a big believer in, I think it just, it just points to how so relevant this initiative is for, for our food autonomy as a country. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing how this will impact food production over 12 months in Canada for, for specific produce. So yeah, great, great interview really enjoyed to Tamara. And I'm, I'm, I hope that there'll be very successful with their initiative.

Michael LeBlanc  39:07

Well, it, it, I'll tell you the structure is fantastic. Already some of the id-, ideas she's hearing, you know, growing berries and mines. Right away I never thought of it then right away, I thought, wait a minute, isn't, isn't the temperature consistent under the earth? Doesn't that solve a problem, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  39:22

That's right, - 

Michael LeBlanc   39:23

Of all the issues. I was thinking when she was talking about that? Indiana Jones or the, not the Indiana Jones we're on a real movie thing but The Fifth Element, I remember with Bruce Will-, Bruce Willis, -  Oh, my God, - 

Michael LeBlanc  39:33

And in one scene like they're digging in Egypt, and they've got mirrors that are mirror-, mirroring in light from up top, maybe they, (crossover talk), -see there, (inaudible), I just solved the challenge in the, in the minds. Shifting gears here, and this is I guess this is also connected to an interview with Tamara who talks about the growing berries in Canada. There was some you had some thoughts and, and big firms, big US firms like Driscol's growing, you know, running out of water in California epic droughts and starting to talk about growing berries, here in Canada. So, what, what baffled me a little bit is well, why do they need to come here and do that? Can't we do that? So, what's going on with this idea? And there was another article in The Globe and Mail this Saturday about government policy and farmland. So, how do we, (crossover talk), these things, tie these things together for the listeners? And, and what are your thoughts on big, you know, big US companies coming up here and, and you know, farming and growing berries, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  39:42

That's right, - 

Michael LeBlanc   39:43

I honestly, I think there's, there's a lot of positive momentum towards food autonomy. And in our interview with Tamara, again, is very consistent with, with that. The Driscoll's announcement earlier this spring was, to me, very interesting. So, you see this, this produce giant, Allah California running out of water, wondering what it's going to, (crossover talk), do for, yeah, how, how to service other markets like Canada. And so they've decided to actually partner with Canadian farmers out of Quebec and, and BC, they're basically licensing farmers to grow their berries.  So, they're giving away all the knowledge, all the, the genetic engineering, the traits, everything, how to grow their berries, and they'll actually be selling Driscoll's berries grown locally, not from California anymore. So, think of the carbon footprint that is being reduced, lessening the burden on the environment and all that. And I thought, wow, so you see farmers in Canada growing, and I think the technology that was actually developed outside of Canada. That's, to me that, that is kind of the future looking at global trades. 

Michael LeBlanc   42:23

It's not just about selling bananas and coffee anymore, it's going to be about selling IP. And that, to me, is a bit of an interesting shift.  And I suspect that with, with the Weston Family Foundation, they'll see more of that empowering comp-, groups to actually look at trades very differently. It's not just about berries, apples, it's about IP. It's about how you grow certain produce in different environments, no matter where you are. So, I thought it was an interesting (inaudible). And of course, on the weekend, I saw this Farmland Inc. Article. And I'm not, I'm not surprised that you saw it as well, but actually posted something on Twitter saying, wow, though, the largest farmland owner in Canada is not a farmer. 

Sylvain Charlebois  42:34

He's not a farmer. And, and frankly, I don't see anything. I don't see a problem with that. But some people, Michael, see a problem with that. Do you?

Michael LeBlanc  42:45

No, I mean, I, I mean, I was intrigued by the article. I'm like at, at first it was kind of a non sequitur for me. What do you mean that the, it's not, he's not a farmer? But, it, it was an in-depth article around, you know, both policy and practical use of farmland. So, -

Sylvain Charlebois  43:01

I've actually met Robert once, he's a great guy. And he knew nothing about farming until about 2010 it's actually written in the article. And but, but honestly, he comes from a different angle, he comes into farming with a totally different perspective. He doesn't have that baggage of paradigms and biases. And, and I don't want to take anything away from farmers out there. Some farmers really understand business. But what he's trying to do is repurpose a lot of the land that is either underutilized or not used properly. And that's he actually looks at land the way, you know, Oakland looks at its, its famous baseball team. If you've, if you’ve actually you've seen the, the movie Moneyball, it's all about analytics. It's all about data, and he doesn't look at grains, he doesn't look at, you know, the type of, he does-, he doesn't look at, you know, the beauty of the place, (crossover talk)-

Michael LeBlanc  44:05

It's how many times you get on base, right? How many times you get on base, -

Sylvain Charlebois  44:08

How many times do you get on base? That's right, and so, David Justice went on base, and that that's kind of what he does. He looks at farmland, he looks at the enel-, analytics, it looks at yield potential, and he buys them. So, it's very different than say, I want to buy that land because the sunset is so beautiful from, from afar. The cows will enjoy it, you know, (crossover talk), which is obviously you know, there's, there's this there's this aspect of farming that is, that is always so attractive, but he doesn't look at that at all. He's a business, he is a business guy's a numbers' person. And it's made him very successful. I mean, his portfolio is worth I think $700 million, now.

Michael LeBlanc  44:55

Maybe we'll have to get him on my podcast as a guest. We've got a great roster of speakers coming up for this fall already booked, so it's going to be a fantastic series of, of interviews. Last question for you, I think you were about from research from the lab, you’ve, you've put out some research this summer, and I think you're just about to put out some research, but you put a pause on it as, as the ceremonies and the process around the passing of the Queen. So, what's coming out, and what's coming out next from the lab? Give us a quick summary and then and then we'll wrap up for, for this great episode.

Sylvain Charlebois  45:26

There's a couple of things. So a few weeks ago, we actually introduced a new report on best before dates. That was a bit of a shocker, because you know, it's one of those weather balloons we sent out. So, let's see how it works. And everyone just got intrigued by our results, because in the UK right now, a lot of grocers like Morrisons, Waitrose, even Tesco a few years ago, they're eliminating best before dates. And so we were wondering, and we were getting calls from different folks saying, can we do that in Canada, can we? Well, yes, but is there any appetite for it in Canada? So, we wanted to know, so we asked Canadians, and the answer is a resounding no. About a quarter of Canadians would, would appreciate eliminating best before dates to reduce food waste, because in the literature, it clearly says if best before dates, will push people to throw away unopened packages more often, (crossover talk, - 

Michael LeBlanc  46:37

And the groceries can't donate the product, once it's you know, it's not seen as being you know, donated, (crossover talk), - 

Sylvain Charlebois  46:43

Starbucks Canada actually cannot basically take unsold products and give it to food banks, while in the US they can. So, the food safety culture and get is pretty, pretty strong, -

Michael LeBlanc  46:57

Pretty rigorous, -

Sylvain Charlebois   46:57

That said, that said, it got us thinking about, you know, a food economy with our best before dates. For example. Is it true, is it true that if you eliminate the best before dates, you will reduce food waste? Do you think that would be the case? I would think so. I mean, I think you know, notwithstanding a lot of efforts to try and educate people that just because it says best before, it doesn't mean terrible after or unedible, (crossover talk), after,- But you know, I think I guess that's why the Eur-, the Europeans are looking at it and, and the British b

Michael LeBlanc  47:29

Because they say listen, it's still fine. And I heard some people say, well, just use your nose to figure out if the product is on or off. (Inaudible), some kind of middle ground there between some kind of judgment versus some kind of date. I mean, that's, that was the question in my mind, right?

Sylvain Charlebois  47:45

Yeah, exactly. And so we're wondering whether or not that's the case. And so we want to unpack that a little bit. And the other thing, of course, are the enjoy the night deals without the best before dates. How, how the hell do you give consumers an opportunity to rescue food? You know, -

Michael LeBlanc  48:01

Interesting, interesting, - 

Sylvain Charlebois  48:02

And the other report that we're looking at right now is, is how consumers are actually coping with higher food prices because, you know, over the summer, Michael prices, food prices (inaudible), have, have continued to go up. The other thing is greed-flation. There's lots going on there. A lot of people think that the industry is out, is out to, to get consumers you know, there's some conspiracy, and frankly, if that's the case, we don't know where acc-, accusers are getting their data, we can't find anything really. But we have suspicions with some products, you know, some products or some prices have behaved somewhat, - so, and what about food rescuing agencies like Second Harvest in Toronto, or food banks? I mean, are they going to be impacted by because they do get a lot of food as a result of best before dates being passed? There's lots, there's a lot to unpack. 

Michael LeBlanc  48:18

Unusually, -

Sylvain Charlebois  48:28

Unusually. Yes, I'd say that.

Michael LeBlanc  49:08

So, I guess, I guess we'll talk about that report, your next report up in our next episode. For now, let's wrap up this episode, our season premiere. Now, if you enjoyed this episode, you're probably already listening on one of the major podcasting platforms. But be sure and subscribe, so the episode will automatically show up and by all means, tell all your friends in the grocery food service and restaurant industry to tune in lots of great guests. Lots of great content coming up. I'm Michael LeBlanc, Growth Consultant Podcaster and a bunch of other things, and you are?

Sylvain Charlebois  49:40

I'm the Food Professor, Sylvain Charlebois. 

Michael LeBlanc  49:43

All right, Sylvain I'll see you again for our next episode, coming up in a couple of weeks. 

Sylvain Charlebois  49:43

Take care.


Canada, food, Tamara, Sylvain, Toronto, growing, teams, Canadians, Michael, develop, berries, innovation, dates, farm, farmers, price, challenge