Richardson to take food innovation downtown

Canadian grain and agrifood firm Richardson International plans to marshal its food research and product development crews in a new downtown Winnipeg space.

The privately-held, Winnipeg-based company announced Wednesday it will put up over $30 million to build what it calls the Richardson Innovation Centre, a four-story, 62,000-square foot facility to go up a block east of its head office on Lombard Avenue.

The centre is envisioned as “a training facility for our employees and customers and an education centre for food science students and the culinary community,” said Chuck Cohen, Richardson’s senior vice-president for technology.

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“As a Winnipeg-based company, we look forward to bringing our customers, suppliers and partners from around the globe to this centre to showcase our products and capabilities and provide them with a rich experience in a very unique setting.”

The new centre is expected to house Richardson’s food development team, product development suites, analytical laboratory and a culinary test and demonstration kitchen.

That includes food and technology researchers now working in “nooks and crannies” at the company’s facilities across the Prairies, Richardson CEO Curt Vossen said during a press conference Wednesday.

Based on the “current scope” of Richardson’s food R+D work, that’s expected to include about 100 people at first, with capacity for double the staff level, he said.

The centre will boast a “cutting-edge” microbiology lab and an “extensive” quality analysis area to support the company’s quality assurance and food safety groups. Its office areas are expected to offer room for expansion to focus on innovations such as robotics and automation in food packaging and processing.

Positioning these departments in the same space “will optimize research, analytical and educational activities and facilitate the efficient development of truly innovative products,” the company said in a release.

R+D work needs a “modern platform for testing solutions, troubleshooting issues and exploring new ideas as they relate to market needs and evolving customer taste profiles,” Vossen said in the release.

To test raw products’ derivatives or to create “entirely new” product streams, the company’s technical capabilities “must be backed by the right technical facilities,” he said.

The company also expects to use the centre for collaborative work with Winnipeg-based institutions such as the University of Manitoba, Red River College and Cigi (the Canadian International Grains Institute), among others, Cohen said.

Having the centre available will allow researchers to discuss ideas, exchange information and examine upcoming food trends face-to-face on a day-to-day basis, Vossen said.

Asked about federal funding recently made available for research into plant-based protein sources through the Protein Industries Canada (PIC) supercluster — in which Richardson is already participating — he said the company’s investment in the new centre will go ahead regardless of participation from “any public entity.”

If, however, there are programs in which the new centre can participate, the company will research those for a possible fit, he said.

Richardson’s food processing operations include four oilseed crushing, processing and packaging plants in Canada and oat mills in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

The company’s farm-level research operations include its Kelburn Farm just south of Winnipeg and its new Bennett Farm near Regina. It also backed the establishment of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals in 2006 at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Construction on the Richardson Innovation Centre site is set to begin this month for completion by the spring of 2020, Richardson said. –– AGCanada.com Network

curt vossen

Richardson CEO Curt Vossen told reporters the company didn’t want to be “casual” about its plans for food research and product development, preferring new downtown architecture over a nondescript suburban “box.” (Dave Bedard photo)

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