Ontario company makes global pitch at food summit in Germany

North America’s largest quinoa producer is seeking more growers

A southern Ontario start-up was the lone Canadian company selected to participate in an international pitch competition at the 2019 Global Food Summit in Munich, Germany.

Quinta Quinoa was one of seven finalists, alongside participants from Germany, Switzerland, Israel and Russia, with Qunita Superfoods founder and chief executive officer Jamie Draves highlighting the potential of the sought-after crop in his three-minute presentation.

Why it matters: With varieties specific to Canadian growing conditions and global demand rising, quinoa is a promising crop opportunity for Canadian farmers.

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The winner — Redefine Meat, an Israeli company working on a printed “meat” product — received the Global Food Summit People’s Choice Award.

Quinta Quinoa was part of a Canadian delegation that also included Innovation Guelph, City of Guelph and two other local agtech start-ups, Be Seen Be Safe and TRU-ID.

Be Seen Be Safe is an app that creates an automated virtual visitor log for farms to enable fast animal disease tracking and trace-back in case of an outbreak. TRU-ID is a DNA-based food certification program for ingredient authentication.

Although not a grain crop, quinoa is used like a cereal, is ideal for gluten-free diets and is full of healthy nutrients and antioxidants, accounting for its popularity with consumers.

Primarily grown in South America, it’s a crop Draves first came across more than a decade ago when he was experiencing some health problems and had to overhaul his diet.

Challenges with quality and supply led him to wonder whether the crop could be grown locally — and so began an interesting journey of crop and market development that today has made Quinta Quinoa the largest quinoa producer in North America.

The company now has growers in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, with its Quinta-R variety ranking as its most successful so far. Work continues at the University of Guelph on development of other quinoa varieties suitable for various Canadian growing conditions.

“We are still working to develop more varieties that work for the different climates in Canada,” said project and media co-ordinator Sophia Lustgarten. “Quinta-R is still our main variety that has been most successful across all farms.”

Quinoa grows well in cool climates and marginal soils, has high tolerance for both drought and frost, and can take the place of a cereal crop in a typical Canadian rotation. According to Draves, grower returns vary widely depending on farm location, soil type, and other agronomic conditions, but out of the more traditional cash crops, returns from quinoa are most comparable to canola.

Diseases haven’t been quantified, but on the pest side, lygus bugs and chenopodium worm are most likely to cause damage, he added. There are no products registered in Canada to control these in quinoa.

Currently, retail packages of Quinta Quinoa are sold at Longo’s in Guelph, and in a select but expanding number of Metro, Food Basics and Sobeys grocery stores in Ontario, as well as on Amazon.ca.

In addition to continuing to expand its retail footprint, the company is also looking to grow into food service and food ingredient services and is investing into research and development of new quinoa products, such as using quinoa’s high protein content to develop protein isolates.

“We believe there is a good opportunity there for restaurants, for example, to use our products and be more locally conscious,” said Lustgarten.

Export markets are also a future target, but the short-term goal is to ensure Canadian market demand is met. Anyone interested in becoming a Quinta Quinoa grower can contact the company through its website, quinta.ca.

Draves made national headlines in 2015 when he came away from a successful Dragon’s Den pitch with a $200,000 deal with chef, author and restauranteur Vikram Vij. And there have been other awards since then too.

Among them are a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2016, a top 10 finish in the 2017 SIAL Innovation Canada contest, 2017 International Startup of the Year at the Global NutraIngredient Awards, and Best New Product in the 2018 Eat Better, Live Better DUX contest in Quebec.

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