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Partnering with agri-food production leader offers unique opportunity for Hill students

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 30, 2020 12:00 p.m.

Students from Business 415: International Marketing had the opportunity to make strategic recommendations to CanMar Foods Ltd., the Regina-based flax and hemp seed company that distributes to more than 20 countries around the world.
Students from Business 415: International Marketing had the opportunity to make strategic recommendations to CanMar Foods Ltd., the Regina-based flax and hemp seed company that distributes to more than 20 countries around the world. Photos: CanMar Foods Ltd.

A group of business students at the University of Regina’s Paul J. Hill School of Business – located in the heart of Canada’s breadbasket – has been given a unique opportunity to partner with a leader in the province’s agri-food industry.

During the Winter 2020 semester, Dr. Tatiana Levit, Assistant Professor, Hill and Levene Schools of Business, created a group project for students in her BUS 415 International Marketing class. The students were tasked with making strategic recommendations to CanMar Foods Ltd., a leading Saskatchewan agri-food producer. Basing their recommendations on their own extensive market research, they would gain hands-on experience in one of the province’s most important sectors.

Students from the International Marketing class touring the CanMar Foods Ltd. processing plant in Regina.

“We used to run a simulation game as the main group project in this class, but I wanted to try something new,” said Levit. “Agriculture is so important to our way of life, and giving students real-world application is key for their future success.”

Levit worked with Jeff Thackeray BAdmin’05, Senior Director, Market Intelligence at the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership (STEP) to develop an international marketing project for her students to work alongside the agri-foods industry. Thackeray introduced Levit to Myles Hamilton, President, CanMar Foods Ltd., and the project began to take shape.

CanMar Foods Ltd. is a Regina-based flax and hemp seed producer with a 15-year history, operating farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. From small beginnings, the company has grown to be the largest producer of food-grade flax seed in Canada and distributes their in-demand product to more than 20 countries throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The company owns a patented flax roasting process and sells its packaged flax seed products at major retailers across the country including Costco, Co-Op, Loblaws, and Safeway. Hamilton notes that despite the company’s national and international success, they remain locally rooted.

“We have terrific staff, a great culture, and a healthy nutritional product grown right here in Saskatchewan. We may not be the largest food processor in Saskatchewan - but what we do, we do really well,” says Hamilton. “What’s unique about our business is that we are fully integrated from the farming operation right to the consumer. We think of it as ‘from our farm to your spoon’.”

For the project, the class was split into five groups. Each group researched the countries in the region they had been assigned, taking into consideration political systems, demographics, culture, food regulations, and distribution. Students had access to international marketing resources from STEP and a detailed presentation by Hamilton, along with a tour of CanMar Foods Ltd.’s production facility. The student groups used online collaboration tools and recorded videos to present their final recommendations to Hamilton.

Carrie Kotylak, a fourth-year International Business student with a farming background, was excited to take on the project to learn how crops grown in Saskatchewan get to the rest of the world. 

“It was so interesting to see a new side of the agri-food business,” said Kotylak. “We all learned so much from Myles and from STEP. It’s pretty amazing to see what CanMar Foods Ltd. is able to do around the world from right here in Saskatchewan.”

Kotylak’s group was assigned the Middle East as their region and had to explore potential expansion into six different countries. After completing extensive research, the group was able to conclude that CanMar Foods Ltd. should expand its distribution to Israel. Other countries that were recommended by groups included Denmark, Czech Republic, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Hamilton raved about the quality of the student research and noted that some gems from each team’s recommendations have already been shared with CanMar’s manager of marketing. The presentation by Kotylak’s group was so convincing that Hamilton has even been considering moving forward with their recommendation.

“We have travelled to Israel in the past, but it was never on our radar as a country for CanMar Foods Ltd. to export to,” said Hamilton. “Based on the strength of the students’ recommendation, we will be considering Israel as a new market. The students did some very good market analysis with respect to competitors and pricing that will help us to assess market entry.”
 
Kotylak also noted the incredible opportunities presented from working on projects with an industry so tied to the growth of Saskatchewan.

“This project was excellent in terms of providing us with real-world experience in economics and finances that are factors agribusinesses in the province deal with on a regular basis,” said Kotylak. “I am definitely looking forward to more class projects having an agri-food focus.”

One of CanMar Foods Ltd.'s Saskatchewan farms.

In addition to International Marketing, Levit teaches other marketing courses including Consumer Behaviour. When deciding on projects for upcoming semesters, Levit makes an effort to include agribusiness topics within the syllabus. She previously published a co-authored case study on Canadian Western Agribition through Ivey Publishing, as part of the Hill School’s Hill-Ivey partnership agreement, funded by the generosity of Paul J. Hill. As a result of this partnership, to date more than 80,000 copies of cases co-authored by Hill and Ivey faculty and featuring Western Canadian organizations have been distributed in 86 countries.
 
“The students learn where food comes from, how it gets to the table, and all of the processes, regulations, and marketing that most don’t normally think about when they sit down to eat,” said Levit. “In Saskatchewan, with so many businesses boasting national and global distribution, the U of R’s Hill and Levene Schools are uniquely positioned to offer a value-add for our students with access to these interesting and exciting educational opportunities related to agribusiness.”
 
Levit is busy exploring additional possibilities with STEP and their other agri-food clients for future class projects. Based on the success of the first project, Hamilton and CanMar Foods Ltd. are interested in working with the Hill and Levene Schools of Business again.
 
“Having the students as part of the mix has proven to be valuable - I think we will continue to learn a lot from each other,” said Hamilton.  
 
Dr. Gina Grandy, Dean of the Hill and Levene Schools of Business commented, “I am grateful to Dr. Levit, CanMar Foods Ltd. and STEP for providing Hill students with this incredible work-integrated learning opportunity in agribusiness. The Schools’ programming and research activities are tied closely to the economic growth of our province, specifically as it relates to agribusiness.”

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