Special Programs

    Food Ecosystems Project

    Despite public perception that the food industry is dominated by a handful of large multinational companies, the vast majority of food entrepreneurs in Manitoba are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with 1-10 employees. These SMEs are often operating on tight margins, with increasingly difficult inflationary pressures, supply chain issues, and COVID related labour disruptions. Challenges like these make it harder than ever to survive, let alone scale. While challenges are expected to continue and worsen in the wake of the climate crisis and global conflicts, the demand for local, sustainable food products is rising. The question is, will we have the infrastructure, labour, and capacity to meet that demand? 

    In most provinces, a food development centre provides crucial access to affordable R&D and scale up infrastructure, but with the changed mandate of Manitoba’s FDC, we have a “missing middle,” where services exist for early stage companies and large processors, but  little is geared towards those in the middle. This creates an impasse that has led companies to leave the province in favour of Alberta and Saskatchewan FDCs. While this can be a solution for some, many SMEs are left without a viable alternative. How can we support entrepreneurs along their full life cycle? 

    The Food Ecosystems Project focuses on the exploration and mobilization of Food Incubation and Innovation Hubs that provide flexible, adaptable services to entrepreneurs. We envision a centralized Hub connected to a series of smaller interconnected hubs (spokes) throughout the Province, bringing together entrepreneurs, artisans, growers, fishers and ranchers. The hubs will house services that assist SMEs to navigate the unique product development, commercialization, marketing, regulatory and financing environments characteristic of the food and agriculture sector. The vision is to use hubs to provide shared access to ingredients and packaging, costly equipment, storage facilities and processing capabilities, as well as offering mentorship and business development expertise to enable smart risk taking and innovation within a supportive environment. This model takes a community-driven, partnership centered approach that mobilizes existing assets, avoids duplication and enhances the resiliency and capacity of Manitoba’s food ecosystem. 

    All three partners on this application are accustomed to working with SMEs at various stages, supporting growth and scaling initiatives. Fireweed Food Hub started for small to mid-sized producers to gain economic empowerment through increased knowledge, revenue and access to market opportunities. Community Futures Manitoba operates across rural and Northern Manitoba to strengthen rural economies by enabling entrepreneurship and assisting in community economic development. Food and Beverage Manitoba’s mandate is to promote the development of a thriving food and beverage processing industry in Manitoba and ensure members have the resources and conditions favourable to their success through capacity building, training, and advocacy.

    Drawing on these assets, the Food Ecosystems Project will determine how Manitoba’s food and agriculture industry — from entrepreneurs such as growers and processors, to retailers and end-users — can contribute to a more resilient economy and build capacity to weather future crises. With guidance from industry stakeholders, we will then initiate strategic investments to fill gaps and find solutions that grow this vital sector.

     

    The project is a multi-phased project that began in mid-April and progress to date has included:

    PHASE 1 - ENVIRONMENTAL SCAN & PROJECT DEVELOPMENT 

    1. The organization of asset mapping sessions in Winnipeg, Stonewall, Gimli and Arborg. Asset mapping sessions in northern Manitoba, Brandon /Neepawa area (Westman region), Portage la Prairie area (Heartland region) and Southeast Manitoba (Triple R region) will be underway soon. 
    2. The initiation of a comprehensive Environmental Scan of Manitoba, Canadian and key international Food Development Centres, Food Hubs, Culinary Centres and Community Kitchens, including both public and private infrastructure and capacity. Both primary (interviews and surveys) and secondary (online searches) sources of information will be used to develop the Scan. This report will inform the project as to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats inherent in the Manitoba sector, and hopes to inform future government investments in infrastructure and services. 

    As we undergo extensive community and industry consultations and asset mapping through our Phase 1 Environmental Scan, it is becoming clear that the existing supports and services for food entrepreneurs in Manitoba are not and have not been working for entrepreneurs for a while. With five asset mapping sessions and over 25 interviews and consultations already undertaken, we are seeing clear trends emerge. People want flexible, adaptable services that allow them to take smart risks within environments that allow for failure. They want access to local products and urban markets, but do not always have the capacity to form or maintain their own networks. They want advice from people who truly understand the challenges of entrepreneurship and farming, but who also have access to policy makers and capital. Above all, they want to stay in their communities and invest, with the opportunity to grow in supported and sustainable ways.

    To learn more or attend a session, contact Katie Daman, Project Manager at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.