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.
“Offering the best of the Canadian prairies to the world as well as bringing the world to the Canadian prairies.” That’s how Dale Kelly, president and CEO of Saskatoon’s POS Bio-Sciences, describes his company’s business mantra.
And for good reason. Since the company opened its doors in 1977, POS has completed more than 5,400 research & development projects in more than 50 countries around the globe. An independent third-party study also revealed that for every dollar of R&D commercialization work, POS has returned $65 in new sales to customers.
“Over the course of 40 years, that translates into $6 billion in new world wealth,” Kelly explains.
Originally a federally-supported research facility with a mandate to create value-added products from grain and oilseed processing, POS was privatized in 2012 with a mission to become a global leader in creating value-added ingredients from various bio-based material like seeds, leaves, algae, marine oil, yeast and bacteria.
While under government direction, the organization was instrumental in developing a protocol for Canola oil that became the North American industry standard. It also developed de-heated mustard flour; now a global food ingredient.
Among the innovative products it has generated since its privatization, POS has developed a commercially viable process for the conversion of lipids into higher value Omega-3 enriched oils.
“Our primary export is the knowledge of our people,” says Kelly. “Because we are a third-party, fee-for-service R&D partner, POS generally exports through the supply chain — our innovations are central to some of the most recognizable products on the market today, across dozens of industries, including agricultural biotechnology, functional foods, cosmetics and toiletries, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and industrial bio-products.”
At any one time, the company is working in five to 10 different countries, with roughly 70 per cent of POS’s revenue derived from clients outside Canada. The United States remains its largest international market, accounting for roughly 80 per cent of overall sales.
Kelly says POS’s competitive advantage in the global market is a result of three attributes: experience, people and facilities.
“We have unsurpassed experience and our global footprint was developed through word-of-mouth advertising — very little marketing actually was undertaken over the years. Our brand was fostered as a result of our reputation for confidentiality, commercialization expertise, innovation, and quality projects,” says Kelly. “Second, we have the best people. With 14 languages spoken on staff, clients travel to Saskatchewan from all over the world to work alongside our industry-leading team of expert scientists, researchers and engineers. And, finally, we have the best facilities and equipment. In fact, we are one-of-a-kind in North America; two facilities and more than 1,000 pieces of equipment that produce data at commercial-scale operation.”
Achieving this level of global success didn’t happen overnight nor without trial and error. Kelly says POS evolved through sweat equity, research and learning from mistakes.
“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,” Kelly says. “We’ve learned and coached our clients to accept failure as part of the commercialization development process. We 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.”
Knowing its customers is also instrumental to the POS value proposition.
“Listen to your customer, anticipate the market direction, and deliver upon the promise of quality. Innovation is not a function — it is a culture,” Kelly adds. “Clients rely on us because we’ve walked a mile in their shoes — we’ve solved technical challenges, scaled bench-top processes, jumped through 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.”
A significant increase in global population – up from roughly 6 billion people to over 7.4 billion people – over the past decade has spurred rapid change in the agri-food. Ten years ago, Saskatchewan produced virtually no pulse crops. Today, it is responsible for half the world’s annual intake.
“That has fundamentally changed the scope of our business, as well as that of the global economy,” suggests Kelly. “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’ success.”
Undoubtedly globally successful, POS admits that it has bit of an identity problem domestically. And while that may be a challenge of today, it’s definitely tomorrow’s opportunity.
“By all accounts, POS is far better known in many international circles than in our own backyard,” Kelly says. “That presents certain challenges, but also unprecedented opportunities — to partner with other Canadian companies to move our exports further up the value chain, from shipments of raw commodities to increasingly high-value products destined for diverse markets. The world wants what Canada produces and it’s our job to help Canadian companies make sure we are getting the most out of what they are growing, to ensure the value is finding its way home.”