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$17.5M Agri-Food Innovation Centre catapults Sask. produced food to world stage

Agri-Food Innovation Centre opens in Saskatoon
WATCH ABOVE: Brad Wall’s final announcement as premier of Saskatchewan was for the opening of the new Agri-Food Innovation Centre in Saskatoon.

From concept to commercialization – that’s the seed the new Agri-Food Innovation Centre sprouted from. The 43,000 square-foot facility officially opened Thursday morning with more than 100 guests in attendance and a plethora of products produced at the centre on display.

“Our product is made from whole green organic peas that we grow on our farm in southern Saskatchewan,” said Allen Zak, CEO of Zak Organics.

Food Centre at U of S campus assisted Allen Zak in creating pulse snack product, originating from his farm in Southern Saskatchewan.
Food Centre at U of S campus assisted Allen Zak in creating pulse snack product, originating from his farm in Southern Saskatchewan. Dayne Winter / Global News

READ MORE: Saskatoon to be home to new food development centre

The peas were roasted, flavored and packaged at the food centre on the University of Saskatchewan campus. The new facility in Saskatoon’s southwest industrial area is triple the size.

“Now we’ve moved on to building our own factory in Moose Jaw and so we’ve moved all our production there,” said Zak, who employs between six and eight people at the new factory.

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That’s the goal of the new agri-food centre according to the president, Dan Prefontaine. “They graduate and move out,” he explained. Budding entrepreneurs rent the space and use the equipment and knowledge of the centre’s experts to turn concepts into commercial products.

Once they’ve established a large enough retail market and big enough capital, they move on.

“It represents the expansion, the extension and the deepening of Saskatchewan agriculture,” said Regina-Wascana MP Ralph Goodale, who spoke at the grand opening. “We have always been leaders in primary production for more than 100 years but now with this centre… the focus is on diversification.”

READ MORE: Growth expected in Canada’s agriculture sector

The federal and provincial governments contributed $15 million to get the facility up and running; the remainder of the $17.5 million came from industry organizations including SaskPulse and SaskCanola.

The grand opening is a moment Brad Wall is proud to have as his last announcement as premier of Saskatchewan.

“We raise beef. I know that’s a pretty important protein, and pork,” he said. “but we also grow proteins… Some growing parts of the world want plant proteins and man, we’re the leaders but we need to make it into food to create jobs here at home,” Wall said.

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More provincial goods now able to go from farm, to factory, to food – all within Saskatchewan.

“When you are buying your own product from yourself and turning it into a product for a consumer, I know what the demand is,” Zak said.

“I place the orders for my own product. You become your own best customer.”

Saskatchewan’s food processing sector includes 300 companies which export $4 billion in goods annually – employing 5,000 people.

Since first consultation with the Food Centre in late 2015, Zak has developed an idea into a product and marketed it across Canada.

Next stop? “Going into the U.S., Mexico and Europe,” he said, all expected to happen in 2018.