Developing customized yeast strains for the brewing industry
Canada and Ontario supporting growth of Escarpment Laboratories through Bioenterprise
A young Ontario company with roots in the University of Guelph has built its business on meeting the needs of the Canadian craft brewing industry. Now, Escarpment Laboratories has taken another step forward with a new project to successfully develop customized yeast strains for brewers based on their needs and direct feedback.
“There is a need in the brewing industry for more unique yeast strains that will help brewers both unlock more flavour from their ingredients and save them time and money by turning a beer around faster,” explains Richard Preiss, co-founder and lab director at Escarpment Labs.
With funding from the Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative (OAFRI)* administered by Bioenterprise Canada, the Escarpment team worked with four breweries to learn more about their yeast needs and what they wished the market could offer and then put their expertise in yeast breeding and growing to work.
“We’ve learned that we can take customer feedback and successfully turn that around into new solutions in about 18 months or less,” says Preiss, adding that the company is now testing the new strains with its project partners and additional breweries. “From this project, there are three yeast strains that I think could become top 10. The brewing industry is always looking for something new to keep their customers interested and any size brewery could use these new strains we’ve developed.”
Innovation has always been the focus at Escarpment Laboratories. The company launched in 2015 when its three co-founders realized the Canadian craft brewing sector needed a reliable, domestic source of liquid yeast; at that point, liquid yeasts were only available from the United States.
Since then, the team has continued to grow to meet market needs, including making hand sanitizer in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now helping brewers deal with inflation and rising production costs by introducing new products and services. This includes yeast nutrients that can be added to beer to improve fermentation, and a new dry yeast product launched earlier this year.
“We’ve always been offering 100% fresh liquid yeast, but it is perishable and expensive to ship, so we’ve worked with a partner to make one of our strains available as a dry yeast too,” Preiss says. “Our customers are feeling the pressures of rising costs, so they are really responding to the lower cost and convenience of dry yeast.”
Since its inception, Escarpment Labs has been able to receive grants and support through various programs administered by Bioenterprise, as well access their network of mentors and advisors.
“Grants are incredibly important. As a private business, we couldn’t do as much or as sophisticated research and development or take as much risk on innovation without some of that grant support,” he says. “And as first-time business owners, it’s been useful to have advice from the Bioenterprise network on things like packaging, labeling, and cash flow management. Any help we can get is beneficial.”
Bioenterprise is Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, a national agri-technology focused commercialization accelerator. Bioenterprise uses its 20 years of industry experience and a global network of experts, mentors, funders, researchers, and industry partners to help small and medium-sized agri-food businesses connect, innovate and grow.
Although the majority of Escarpment Labs’ business is in Canada, their future plans include growing their export markets in the United States, Europe and Japan, as well as continuing to develop new liquid yeast strains and expanding the new dry yeast side of their business.
“The OAFRI project has really given us confidence moving forward to keep improving what we do and being able to quickly develop solutions,” Preiss adds. “It’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”
* The Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative is funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3 billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments from 2018-2023, to strengthen the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector, ensuring continued innovation, growth and prosperity. The views expressed are the views of the recipient and do not necessarily reflect those of the governments of Ontario or Canada.