By Matt McIntosh for AgInnovation Ontario
Blendtek, an innovative local food ingredient company, is expanding the public palate by making novel and otherwise unique ingredients more accessible– and traceable – for food processors.
With hundreds of ingredients now in their warehouse, Rob Bianchin, vice president of Blendtek, says the goal is to help food manufacturers develop better products using non-traditional ingredients. More specifically, that means using alternative products to adapt to changes in taste, as well as shifting perspectives on nutrition, traceability and environmental sustainability.
“This is really about food innovation and using cutting edge ingredients, technologies and processes to develop more nutritionally dense options and alternatives for consumers,” says Bianchin.
Ingredients range from simple core products like baking soda to more unique alternatives – such as vegan protein blends like a hemp-and-pumpkin protein powder mix that Blendtek formulates onsite. Other ingredients that play a large part in the business include gluten-free flour blends, puffed ancient grain flour blends, high oleic sunflower oil, and brown rice syrup.
Alternatives to common ingredients are investigated for their usefulness and nutritional value by the company’s own food science team, as well as through industry and research analysis. Blendtek’s sales team also helps determine market viability by listening to customer needs, wants, and insights.
With a grant from the Bioenterprise Seed Fund, Bianchin and his business partner Steve Zinger have also obtained food safety and traceability certifications. These include BRC Global Standards, which focus on food quality and consumer safety; Pro-Cert Organic, a North American organic certification; and others related to labour rights, health and safety, the environment, ethical business practices, and more.
“Manufacturers want to know more about the ingredients they are using, as well as potential alternatives, but we do encounter misinformation often. What we want to do is make as much information available [about a product] as we can,” says Bianchin.
By locating the business in Southwestern Ontario, Bianchin and Zinger are able to access both a diverse agricultural market and major sources of food innovation, such as the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College, and the University of Guelph, which runs a food innovation competition in which Bianchin participates as a mentor.
That said, supply issues can still be a reality, even with abundant Canadian crops.
“Pea protein is an interesting product because Canada produces a lot of it, and it’s an excellent alterative ingredient, but it’s all exported before being processed,” says Bianchin. “We need lots of it, but it’s actually hard to find.”
Regardless, he says it’s the diversity in both demand and ingredient availability that continues to drive business. Considering Blendtek has experienced an 85 per cent growth in revenue, and has more than doubled their staff since opening in 2015, the demand for alternative ingredients certainly doesn’t appear to be diminishing.