Desautels and FAES interdisciplinary research with McGill food startup and Montreal community organization highlighted at the 2018 Montreal Summit on Innovation (MSI)

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Joëlle Rondeau, Research Assistant, McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

As part of C2 Montreal, the 2018 Montreal Summit on Innovation (MSI) showcased the social impacts of 10 collaborative research projects through an interactive circuit on May 23.

The project Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE) was one of two McGill projects that were selected for featuring in the MSI.

Funded through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnerships Grant, the pan-Canadian FLEdGE project, with the Quebec node led by McGill, highlighted interdisciplinary research by the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE) in the Desautels Faculty of Management and the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (FAES).

Under the Summit’s theme “Entrepreneurship + Social Impact”, the team representing the FLEdGE research partnership at McGill provided MSI participants with an interactive experience to address the question: ‘how can food entrepreneurs and community organizations contribute to making healthy food accessible for all, especially economically disadvantaged individuals?’   

The activity organized by the FLEdGE team connected two entrepreneurial initiatives that share the same objective, namely: to change consumer behaviours to transform food systems towards sustainable health, economic and ecological outcomes. It is however from two different angles and organizational structures that these initiatives orient their strategies and actions.  On the one hand, reMIXed, a startup launched by McGill dietetics students (recipients of the 2018 Food and Agribusiness Convergent Innovation Prize of the McGill Dobson Cup), offers consumers a healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional snack bars and trail mixes. On the other hand, the non-profit organization, Share the Warmth is piloting pay-what-you-can fruit and vegetable markets, to test the extent to which wealthier consumers will pay for produce at higher prices to support economically-disadvantaged community members, who may not otherwise have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The FLEdGE collaborative research project, led at McGill by Laurette Dubé and Nii Addy from the MCCHE, examines the differentiated impacts that such initiatives have on consumer behaviours, in order to shed light on viable approaches to transform food systems.

The event was the culmination of research that was initially done separately, but is being integrated through FLEdGE. An aspect of this work is the integration of knowledge from business and community engagement. In exploring how research at McGill contributes to addressing the challenges that entrepreneurs and community organizations face, Praveen Shivashankar and Valentine Touzeau, two students from the Winter 2018 Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management (MDIIM) Student Fellows Program, conducted interviews and observation sessions with food startups and community food organizations. The MDIIM students’ research built on previous student research, including the data dive by McGill Desautels students, which Share the Warmth had participated in. The data dive yielded insights that Share the Warmth has sought to use for making its social initiatives economically sustainable, including its pay-what-you-can fruit and vegetable markets.  To facilitate knowledge exchanges, the MCCHE and its industry partners are providing support in terms of research accompaniment to reMIXed as the 2018 Food and Agribusiness Convergent Innovation Prize Winner of the Dobson Cup.

The 2018 Montreal Summit on Innovation (MSI) thus provided the opportunity to highlight the intermediate outcomes of the ongoing collaborative research, and afforded reMIXed and Share the Warmth the opportunity to gather data interactively with MSI participants. As participants sampled their food products, they respectively asked them to fill out online surveys via mobile phones or a tablet. reMIXed gathered real-time consumer insights on a new product made out of dehydrated pulses and fruits. Showing the prices of their organic food products as compared with average prices, Share the Warmth also gathered data on the willingness of participants to pay to cover the costs of economically disadvantaged individuals in their pay-what-you-can fruit and vegetable markets.

The data gathered will be analyzed for informing McGill researchers who are involved in providing support for the two organizations. This includes food product innovation for reMIXed, as it explores how to change consumer behavior towards healthier food products. For Share the Warmth, the data will inform the development of a data collection and analytics system as it continues to test and develop market begins this summer.

The MSI event was a great opportunity for social innovators to network with collaborative research teams whose interests and projects span the boundaries of research, entrepreneurship, and community engagement for social impact.

For additional information, please contact:

Nii A. Addy, Assistant Professor (Research)
Desautels Faculty of Management
McGill University
nii.addy [at] mcgill.ca