Research Partnerships & Innovation

Where Food and Culture Meet

May 5, 2022

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Western Food Processor magazine.

Where Food and Culture Meet: Prairie Research Kitchen at RRC Polytech

Canada celebrates cultural diversity in a number of ways — especially through food. Manitoba is one of the leading provinces for cultural and food diversity, an apt location for the Prairie Research Kitchen (PRK) at RRC Polytech’s downtown campus at the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute.

From 2018 to 2020, immigration to Manitoba has primarily been made up of people from Africa, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific regions, accounting for between 80‐85 per cent of immigrants each year, according to data from the Province of Manitoba.

“Our diverse population is reflected in the new products and restaurants available here,” says Mavis McRae, director of PRK. “We are lucky to be a resource for bringing those ideas to market.”

Food processing businesses contribute to the diversity of food options available to Manitobans. Often, members of visible minorities seek foods from their own culture for ‘new’ product ideas and many such foods are either not available or only at a price premium.

“Our team works well with new product ideas and ingredients,” says McRae. “We’ve worked with over 70 companies from Manitoba to B.C. and have generated over 120 product ideas. Many of these have roots in global cuisine.”

PRK infuses their myriad of services with a foodservice perspective, serving clients seeking to adapt a recipe for many needs — like reaching a broader population or for larger scale production. One of three Technology Access Centres at RRC Polytech, they are funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

“We work with many new companies who look to their own cultures for food product ideas,” says Jeff Fidyk, business development specialist, Manitoba Agriculture. “PRK’s services offer timely, practical solutions to help these companies bring their products to grocery and foodservice markets.”

Their modern facility offers a bevy of research services from rapid prototyping and ingredient applications to consumer research trials and customized training with flexibility to meet any companies’ innovation needs. They also work with companies to identify research focused funding resources for eligible organizations.

The diversity of companies is not where equity, diversification and inclusion ends for PRK. The college is committed to building strong relationships with various communities in Manitoba and fostering reconciliation between Indigenous and non‐Indigenous Peoples.

“Since inception we have recognized the connection between culture and food,” says McRae. “We have built a diverse team through staff, instructors and students. We are fortunate to be in an environment that recognizes the benefits of providing diversity education. We are committed to our responsibilities toward Truth and Reconciliation actions.”

Staff at PRK have completed the 4 Seasons of Reconciliation course, developed by Reconciliation Education, offered in partnership with RRC Polytech and First Nations University of Canada, as well as several courses related to respectful workplace, anti-racism and gender diversity. The result is a talented group of food specialists backed by a plethora of expertise committed to bringing the best of all cultures to market.