IP Soy: traceable by nature
Seed certification, field monitoring, segregation at harvest, quality control to specifications: from rigorous start to meticulous finish, the very nature of "identity preserved" soybean production makes it the poster child for food traceability.
Quebec manufacturer and Fonds partner Ceresco exports over 10,000 containers a year, feeding 50 million consumers who care about what’s in their food.
The relatively new IP soy industry, representing about 25% of soy acreage in Quebec and Ontario, got its start in the early 90s to meet growing Japanese demand. While they devour soy in so many forms – as natto or fermented grains, in beverages, as miso, or in multiple varieties of tofu – Japan’s rocky islands simply do not have the expanses of land required to supply their needs.
Ceresco seized the opportunity and began offering a direct conduit between producers and processors, with tight controls over every step from seed to container ship. IP soy from its partner growers is now cultivated on over 100,000 acres, mostly in Quebec and Ontario, and exported to over 40 countries. In Japan, it’s one of the segment’s major players, with over 30% of the traceable soy market.
Identity adds value
"In North America, soy cultivation is dominated by non-traceable grains, including a lot of GMOs not fit for human consumption. But in the identity preserved segment, we cater to demanding customers who are ready to pay more for superior traceability," says Manuel Gendron, Ceresco's General Manager.
Traceability starts right in the field, where the use of specific products is governed by contract. After delivering its certified seeds, Ceresco conducts regular monitoring of the plants, noting the smallest changes. After harvest, the soybeans undergo quality controls and are then warehoused while awaiting shipping. Every contact surface in the process is cleaned beforehand, particularly inside trucks that may have been used to transport other products.
Preserving soy’s identity requires maintaining strict segregation controls between customer lots. Which explains why Ceresco’s Montérégie facilities in Saint Urbain Premier feature no fewer than 100 silos.
"We're just a phone call away from producers and processors, with no distributors or dealers, which lets us guaranty total traceability from field to container. And because we deal exclusively in one plant, we minimize the risk of contamination. At the end of the day, that helps us get a better price for our soy and higher revenues for our growers," Gendron says.
The Japanese in particular are so enamoured with its IP soy that Ceresco regularly invites them on field visits. "We introduce them to the growers, they take pictures, and that strengthens our direct relationships," Gendron adds.
An evolving technology
Traceability has been a priority since the company's beginnings, but it has most definitely evolved over time. Whereas twenty years ago most monitoring tasks were done on paper, today they are fully digital and rely on a battery of tracking sensors. They also moved from bulk to bags to enhance traceability even further. "If ever there's a problem, we can recall a single bag instead of a 20-tonne container," Gendron says.
Their next challenge: optimize warehouse management in an era where supply chains are routinely disrupted. "Our big customers have trouble making precise forecasts. We used to rely on their past volume and frequency to predict their ordering and produce accordingly; but with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, things are more complicated," he says.
"We used to plan activities two months in advance, then we went to weekly, and now things change three times a day! That’s meant our warehouses are fuller than in the past. Maritime freight is the lifeblood of our industry, but at the moment we have to stay flexible. We’re constantly on the lookout for faster and simpler ways of operating."
Persuasion one acre at a time
Despite the higher revenues it brings in, traceability can be perceived as a challenge by producers, and they may need some coaxing to stay onboard, especially with all the American GMO soy that’s readily available and which is easier to grow.
"Our problem is not finding clients; it’s a constant battle to maintain and grow the number of acres under cultivation. The growers are getting offers from all over the place, so it falls to me, the customer, to convince them to stick with us," Gendron says.
"On top of a bigger payout, IP soy comes with the pride of producing not just a simple grain, but an actual ingredient. Yes, farm labour is hard to come by, and growing IP soy comes with certain requirements, but it’s feeding the planet. Which has become all the more true with the cost of living crisis since soy is the plant with the most protein, in a form that’s healthier, easier to store and cheaper for grocers and hence for consumers."
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