A committee exploring options to assist the Saskatchewan food processing industry in expanding its market opportunities incorporated the Food Centre in October of 1997. As such, the Food Centre has members rather than shareholders; in our case, the members are the Province of Saskatchewan (as represented by Ministry of Agriculture), the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Food & Ingredient Processors Association.
The Agri-Food Innovation Fund Strategic Area Committee for food processing (SAC) conceived the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre. Over a one and a half-year period Industry, University and Government representatives met together to determine what resources were needed to grow the food industry within Saskatchewan. In addition to these efforts, Saskatchewan Agriculture & Food conducted an “Analysis of the Saskatchewan Food Processing Industry” (including a focus group session with the Saskatchewan Food & Ingredient Processors Association Board of Directors) in May of 1998, and Food Centre staff toured and interviewed food centres from British Columbia to Quebec. The conclusion was that the Food Centre should target the following:
- Develop a specialized pool of expertise within the Food Centre, targeting the development of provincial industry strengths.
- To improve skills of processor employees and to increase the pool of qualified potential employees.
- Work with the existing resource providers wherever possible in the provision of services, and to continually identify the gaps in services.
The Food Centre began operation on an initial Agr-Food Innovation Fund (AFIF) endowment funding of $8.5M with additional $1M for renovation of a commercial kitchen and equipment. Industry and Resources provided $2M for construction of the pilot plant in 1998 and opened in 2001.