The first-ever Agri-Food Innovation Expo was deemed a big hit with attendees, says show manager David Fiddler.
The three-day conference was held at Westerner Park, and featured more than 30 guest speakers and one-on-one mentoring opportunities, where the 200 or so attendees could meet with industry experts.
“The most often heard comments I heard (throughout the conference) were, ‘This is long overdue,’ and ‘This is brilliant,’” Fiddler said.
“For the most part, food events in Canada happen in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. There aren’t many events focused on the agri-food sector – we looked at that from beginning to end. I think that set us apart.”
Speakers throughout the conference “were amazing,” Fiddler added. The four keynote speakers were Red Deer Polytechnic president Stuart Cullum, AGvisorPRO chief executive officer Robert Saik, senior director at Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab Sylvain Charlebois, and SKUFood partner Peter Chapman.
“Thirty-five per cent of the expo’s attendees were in food production, whether that’s food processing, someone who was distributing food products or manufacturing,” said Fiddler.
“Thirty-three per cent of attendees were from companies that service the industry. Overall, about 70 per cent of the attendees were in the industry. Another 12 per cent were farmers, whether that be crop or livestock producers.
“Surprisingly there were a number of government representatives from different counties throughout Alberta – I thought that was very impressive. The counties were there to see how they could attract businesses to their areas and to support the businesses already within their jurisdictions. There was also federal and provincial government support at the expo as well.”
Westerner Park and the Lethbridge and District Exhibition partnered together to create the Agri-Food Innovation Expo. The two organizations will split hosting duties every other year, so next year’s conference will be in Lethbridge and 2025’s will return to Red Deer.
Fiddler said one attendee told him he expects big things from the Agri-Food Innovation Expo.
“There was a chef from Edmonton attending. He said, ‘This thing’s going to be huge.’ That was quite an endorsement,” he said.
Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation Deputy Minister Jason Hale said this is “an exciting time” for the agri-food industry.
“We’re thrilled to have this new Agri-food Innovation Expo take root in our province,” said Hale.
“Alberta’s government constantly works to amplify the province’s first-class reputation for high-quality agri-food products, and to increase industry’s capacity to meet the growing demand for food at home and abroad.”