Nova Scotia’s wild blueberry industry gets boost from partnership

Four-year research product to create value-added food ingredients from ‘magic’ fruit




SaltWire Network


BIBLE HILL – A new research project and partnership between Dalhousie University’s agricultural campus in Bible Hill and a Nova Scotia food company is expected to pay huge benefits for the province’s wild blueberry industry. The university’s Bible Hill school and Antigonish-based Clever Fruit Products are researching ways to convert locally grown wild blueberries to high-value food ingredients. “This project has the potential to be very beneficial to the blueberry industry, which is a significant part of the rural economy in Nova Scotia,” Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe told the SaltWire Network. “Right now, you have to have freezers and transportation to get the blueberries to market in a frozen condition. If you have something like a powder form, you have less weight and it’s easier to transport as well as easier to use to make products.” Led by Rupasinghe, professor of functional foods and nutraceuticals in the Department of Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences at Dal-AC, the project is supported by a $320,000 industry alliance grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Its goal is to optimize a novel technology to generate encapsulated food ingredients from wild blueberries. Pollack Communications says fermentation is the hottest food trend of 2021. By combining modern precision fermentation with food nanotechnology, it is possible to create impactful health products. “The new food ingredients will be assessed for their efficacy in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disorders, a rising health problem in Canada and worldwide that can lead to social and economic burdens,” he said. The project funding will also help train a new generation of food scientists. Canada produces about half of the world’s wild blueberries. About 80 per cent of the wild blueberries produced in Canada are exported in individually quick-frozen form. He said product diversification through value-addition is timely. “It’s something that could be used by multiple manufacturers and be used globally,” Rupasinghe said. “We are generating about 100,000 metric tonnes of wild blueberries every year. This is a big industry for Nova Scotia and for Canada.” He said consumers are often looking for antioxidants and immune-boosting products and that the wild blueberry's health benefits are already well documented. Providing the product in a different and more convenient way to consumers could provide additional benefits for the industry. Clever Fruit Products will manufacture the new food ingredient in Nova Scotia and distribute it to the global health food market, said company CEO Sean Sears. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the blueberry,” Sears said. “It’s a very special berry, probably the No. 1 super-fruit in the world. This will show what the fermented blueberry is capable of. That helps the industry.” Lorna Vanderhaeghe, a renowned nutritionist and a director with Clever Fruit Products, said the unique rawmaterial and value-added process will help introduce clean and healthy food ingredients and dietary supplements to the emerging sustainable global foods sector. Dr. Chris Cutler, associate dean of research at Dal AC, said the project is an excellent example of an industry-academia partnership to support value-added agricultural industries in Atlantic Canada. “The use of local agricultural products as value-added ingredients will enhance the growth of our rural-based bio-economy,” Cutler said. In addition to the beneficial properties, the safety of the new food ingredients will also be studied. The outcome of the proposed research will contribute to product diversification of Canadian wild blueberries, health promotion and people's well-being. Peter Burgess, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Producers of Nova Scotia, has high hopes for the research project. Two years ago, Clever Fruit was the successful bidder in an innovation challenge competition administered by the association and funded by the province’s Building Tomorrow Fund. “The bulk of our product is sold in IQF – or individually quick frozen – all over the world as an ingredient,” Burgess said. “Companies buy bulk and value-add to that product in Japan or Europe to make yogurt or glass jar product. The idea here is to do some of the value-adding at home in the powered product.” He said ongoing research is trying to determine and market the health benefits of the powdered product. “If we can keep some of that value-added revenue in Nova Scotia, it will help Nova Scotia companies like Clever Fruit,” Burgess added. “Further diversification of our industry is a good thing. There will always continue to be tremendous opportunities for bulk harvest to be shipped overseas as IQF. This will be positive for the industry.” Burgess said the wild blueberry industry is very strong in Nova Scotia, but it continues to experience a “rollercoaster supply and demand issue.” Demand, he said, has been steady; the issue is securing enough supply – something that’s impacted a lot by weather and growing conditions.