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Cultivating the Future: Innovation at Savoura

Technological innovation is a core component of modern businesses’ development strategy. Here’s how Savoura has made it a priority.

Savoura has made innovation the driving force behind its greenhouse production business. It has just invested $55 million in its largest project ever, in Sainte-Sophie, where it all began in 1995.

This nine-hectare greenhouse complex, the largest ever undertaken by the group, houses tomato production in state-of-the-art facilities designed to the highest environmental standards. This is just the beginning of its ongoing optimization drive.

We spoke to President and CEO Peggie Clermont about Savoura’s innovation approach.

Staying competitive and profitable

To stay profitable and adapt to market conditions, the business had to look at ways of optimizing its processes, and got all players involved in preparing and implementing a step-by-step action plan.

Peggie Clermont stresses the importance of maintaining a balance between the business’s competitiveness and high quality standards. In her words, “It’s crucial to stay competitive in our industry, but not at the expense of our product quality.”

Her words reflect her commitment to harnessing innovation to improve production processes, reduce costs and increase efficiency without compromising the quality of Savoura’s products.

Identifying priority needs

Innovation isn’t just about technology. It’s a state of mind, a way of approaching things. Peggie Clermont sees innovation as a continuous process, a way of “doing things differently” in all areas of a business, from research and development to sales and production. It’s not static—it’s in perpetual motion.

The organization, like the rest of the industry, is facing numerous challenges and must determine which priorities and solutions are most viable in the short, medium and long run.

Labour shortage

As in all markets, the labour shortage is one of the greatest challenges facing the agri-food industry. Although turning to foreign workers is one solution, it can’t be the only one.

Robotic process automation is one way forward. Savoura used to have a great deal of manual data and systems that didn’t interoperate. Centralizing information and automating administrative processes will enable the business to improve productivity.

What’s more, some tasks can be automated to free up employees for value-added tasks, where their expertise can be put to good use.

International competition

Food self-sufficiency comes at a cost. Savoura faces competition from places like Mexico, Ontario and California.

“Competition, particularly from Mexico, doesn’t play by the same rules or face the same issues we do,” says Peggie Clermont. Differences in environmental standards as well as employee compensation and well-being bring additional challenges.

This observation is a reminder of the need to optimize production to do more and do better with fewer employees and less energy, and thereby improve efficiency.

Energy constraints

Installation, maintenance and energy costs are key factors to consider. For example, because of our colder climate, it’s much more expensive to build a greenhouse here in Québec than in Mexico.

Incentive rates, subsidies and other government assistance programs can help make our businesses more competitive and ensure this industry’s vitality.

Climate change

Faced with climate change, Savoura must constantly adapt to fluctuating weather conditions: violent snowstorms that can damage greenhouses, dim winters, spring frost, summer heatwaves and so on.

Artificial intelligence may prove useful, for example, in more accurately predicting when tomatoes should be harvested.

Resistance to change

As in all industries, businesses in the agri-food industry have to deal with the fear of change.

“As a business leader, you don’t always have all the information on innovation and digital transformation, or on the technology that’s needed, which is normal. By the same token, you may feel destabilized and wonder if, given these changes, you’ll keep the same ability to lead and steer your business.”

You may also be confronted with more resistant employees who fear change. For all these reasons, you need to take the time to fully understand the coming changes, and know how to surround yourself with the right people. You also need to train your employees properly, and remember to involve them in every stage of the process.

Implementing solutions to foster successful innovation

“Innovation means starting with an idea, analyzing it, looking at its feasibility, implementing a project, measuring the results and then making sure to continuously improve what you’ve just implemented,” says Peggie Clermont.

Certain aspects will help you be open to new ideas and implement them successfully.

Management’s commitment

Peggie Clermont emphasizes how important it is for management to be committed to the innovation process. She believes it is crucial to define an action plan and devote financial resources to innovation, despite the costs—because the status quo also has a cost.

Employee involvement

Savoura can also encourage innovation by tapping into its employees’ creativity. The business has created an innovation committee that includes employees of all ages and from all departments. It has also appointed a Special Projects Manager, whose sole responsibility is to drive change for each implemented project (through coordination, documenting and training).

Collaboration and partnership

Peggie Clermont suggests that the business should look outwards to foster innovation. That means collaborating with other businesses or universities.

Community support

Different levels of government can also play a major role in encouraging innovation. “At the societal level, we need assistance programs aimed at supporting innovative businesses through financial assistance, favourable tax measures or, alternatively, by supporting training in fields related to innovation and technology,” she concludes.

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