This story is part of the agri-food sector series.
To learn more about export opportunities for companies in this sector, please also read Growing global population brings huge export opportunities for Canada.
Dale Kelly is the CEO of POS Bio-Sciences – a Saskatoon-based research and development company specializing in bio-based materials.
What was your first export sale? How did it arise?
This can be separated into our first export sales at the origin of POS and export sales soon after privatization of the company.
At the origin of POS:
There are two significant examples from our history:
- De-heated mustard flour: A key mandate for the creation of POS was to increase the utilization and enable commercialization of new ingredients from Canadian crops.
One notable success for the development of an ingredient for the global marketplace was our production of de-heated mustard flour for widespread food applications. Prior to the development of the de-heated ingredient, mustard flour was limited in its application to the food industry due to its ‘hot’ flavour components that developed during the processing of mustard seed. POS was able to develop a mustard seed process that resulted in a de-heated mustard flour product. This highly successful Canadian ingredient was widely adopted by the food industry on a global scale.
The development of the de-heated mustard flour arose from a concept by a Canadian entrepreneur, Mr. Percy Gittleman, who owned a Canadian-based company, Universal Foods Limited (UFL). Mr. Gittleman developed the product concept and came to POS to develop and validate the processing regimen on scalable pilot plant equipment.
- Canola oil: POS participated in the development and validation of commercial processing of canola oil.
When canola seed was developed by the local seed breeders (Dr. Keith Downey is recognized as the ‘Father of Canola’) the oilseed industry in both Canada and the U.S. needed to develop economically viable commercial processing protocol and understand the attributes of the processed oil. A variety of companies were clients of POS as they developed commercial canola oil processing plants.
Since privatizing, one of our first export sales was the development of a commercially viable process for the fractionation of lipids into higher value Omega-3 enriched oils. The platform processing protocol was applied to various oils from marine sources such as fish and microalgal oils, as well as oilseeds such as hemp and flaxseed. In addition to Canadian clients who exported the oil fractions developed at POS, the first major export client was a leading edge microalgae company in the United States that developed the oil fractions for formulation into high-value cosmetics.
Following the laboratory scale development of the oil fractions, the processing technology was successfully scaled to the pilot plant level at POS. These oil fractions are now sold globally by the U.S. company.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Exporting is not about having all the answers; it’s about doing your homework, gathering the right information, and making the best decisions possible at that given time. We’ve learned that it’s okay to fail so long as we hedge our risk, learn from our mistakes, and keep building on that internal knowledge base that has become a large part of our value proposition over the past three-and-a-half decades.
Clients rely on us because we’ve walked a mile in their shoes — we’ve solved technical challenges, scaled bench top processes, jumped through the regulatory hurdles, , and have sourced the materials and equipment they’ll need to be globally successful. The world is changing rapidly. Don’t get caught up in what you didn’t know in the past — obsess about what you’ll need to know in the future.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
A lot has happened in markets since 1973. Gas is no longer 65 cents per gallon; Apple is now an incorporated business; and we’re feeding a few more people than the 4.2 billion that inhabited the earth only a few dozen years ago.
Driven by the global population swell, one of the biggest shifts actually has come in the past 10 years, with the mainstream production and consumption of pulse crops. A decade ago, Saskatchewan produced virtually none. Today, we grow more than half of the world’s annual intake. That has fundamentally changed the scope of our business, as well as that of the global economy. The UN’s decision to declare 2016 the International Year of Pulses reflects the importance of that industry — one that has been and will continue to be central to POS’s success.
What is the number-one thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Lean on those who know more than you do. It’s truly amazing the number and calibre of peers willing to lend you their advice and years of experience. Leverage those individuals who have been there and accomplished what it is you’re setting out to do. Organizations like Export Development Canada, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, and — provincially — the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership can also be a wonderful source of information to guide you along every step of the journey.