Explore the BC Food Hub Network
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Are you looking to expand your food or beverage business? Do you need to access bigger and better resources to make that happen?
Farm Food Drink is excited to see the evolution of the BC Food Hub Network, with hubs already operating in twelve communities across the province. To support the agriculture, seafood, and food and beverage processing industry, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries launched this initiative to enable businesses to access facilities, equipment, technology, technical services, and various business supports to grow their business.
You’ve heard it before. The pandemic, climate change incidents, recent global events, and rising gas prices are affecting our supply chains. The food hubs are a way to improve food security and grow local businesses and economies, so we have more control over our food systems.
What is a Food Hub?
A Food Hub is a shared-use facility for food processing with cutting-edge equipment. That could include a commercial kitchen, processing equipment, packaging materials, storage, or distribution systems.
Think about someone making cookies in their home who has been selling to farmers’ markets and local specialty stores, and wants to go bigger. Or someone who already has a developed product who needs a place to scale up their production and marketing. The BC Food Hub Network offers support to facilitate those expansions.
Food entrepreneurs face the daunting task of trying to afford the large-scale equipment needed to increase production, like an industrial-size dehydrator, giant soup kettle, or super mixer. These are things you have to pay for before you can process your product. Their specific food hub allows the processor to focus on how to develop their product, reducing the cost of entry.
Though other hubs are operating throughout BC and outside the network such as YVR Prep and Coho Commissary, we have focused here on the BC Food Hub Network. Each Food Hub is unique depending on the members’ region, sector, product, business, and specific needs. Here are a few perspectives from the existing hubs:
- Commissary Connect in Vancouver was the pilot project leading the way for others in the BC Food Hub Network to model. Truly a food business incubator, they offer many supporting services including patent-pending technology that supports all kitchen operations. (opened February 2019)
- The Dock+ in Port Alberni is a food hub specifically managing seafood and seaweed processing and includes an ice plant and cold storage. A true community partnership, the facility is owned by the Port Alberni Port Authority and supported by the City of Port Alberni, and local First Nations. (opened July 2020)
- Plenty & Grace Food Hub and Innovation Centre in Surrey, supports BC-grown plant-based value-added products with an artisanal quality. (opened July 2020)
The Ministry also wants to reach out to rural areas where businesses are focused on primary production (harvesting, milking, animal production). They haven’t had access to support to develop value-added products that need a certain type of processing, or how to market those products.
Many food processors are quite good at creating their products but don’t necessarily have the business background they need to grow. Someone might be good at making wedding cakes but may not have run a business before. The BC Food Hub Network can offer access to resources to:
- Help understand your market opportunities
- Understand business basics like budgets, hiring, taxes, etc.
- Explore packaging options
- Attain certain certification levels for different markets and regulatory and retail compliance
- Access other Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries funding programs
- Determine distribution options
- Collaborate with academic institutions, industry associations, supportive companies
Food Hubs go much deeper than providing access to commercial kitchens or fancy processing equipment. Teaching, mentoring, and collaborating are also key elements of the program to foster a successful food business. Farm Food Drink is proud to have been significantly involved in the feasibility analysis, business planning, and branding/marketing of multiple food hub projects throughout the province, and directly with processors using food hubs as a catalyst in their growth plans.
Creating great value for domestic and international students, the BC Food Hub Network is also engaged with post-secondary entities. Some food hubs will be part of their culinary programs, including a base for proper product testing, and supporting local BC farmers and producers providing ingredients.
When food hubs are established in a community, there is often a sense of pride. Processors are using supplies from other businesses in the community, and are often able to offer employment as well. There are committed local dollars circulating in the local economy.
A woman in the Fraser Valley was using a church kitchen to make chicken pot pies and various soups. But, whenever there was a church wedding or funeral, she was displaced from that kitchen. She found out about the new Abbotsford Food Hub (opening soon in 2022) and is excited to move to a stable environment where she can continue to make products to serve her committed retailers, and increase production.
Some processors prefer to stay in the hub. Others have used the facility to exponentially expand to the point of selling their business, or have moved to their bricks and mortar facility. An example is a company that was making bone broth out of the food hub in Vancouver. They were able to increase production and got such great visibility and recognition, which enabled them to move into bigger retailers like Whole Foods, which essentially led to a large company purchasing their business.
Food Hubs Evolution
The Ministry is continually trying to see how they can budget for more hubs. The awareness of Food Hubs is growing and now communities and processors are contacting the government to see how they can put in a proposal. With twelve hubs open or in the process of becoming operational, there will be two or three more running by the beginning of summer. Minister Popham’s vision and hope are to open two to three hubs each year, around the province.
Still not quite established is the ‘Network’ part of the program. Instead of a centralized headquarters building, the vision is to create an online portal to connect all food hubs, operating truly as a connective network. Hub members could discover:
- Primary product sourcing in each other area
- Shared distribution opportunities
- Available unused equipment
- Different processing techniques
- Product bundling considerations
- Cross marketing opportunities
- and endless possibilities for collaboration
This is an evolving opportunity to further grow the value of the BC Food Hub Network.
The BC Food Industry is a tight community and the BC Food Hub Network is further solidifying that. Farm Food Drink wanted to share this overview of hubs, and look forward to showcasing more specific stories in the future.
Contact us to see if your business is ready to expand into a Food Hub in your area.