Waterloo-based startup P&P Optica (PPO), which uses technology to automate food inspection tasks, is receiving an up to $2.4 million investment from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is a federal government department responsible for the regulation of agriculture. The funding was made through the department’s AgriInnovate Program, and PPO said the financing be allocated towards promoting the company’s hyperspectral technology to the meat processing sector.

Founded in 1995 by researchers Romuald (Romek) Pawluczyk and Pierre Peltier, PPO initially started out as a research and consulting company based in Québec City, focusing on the fiber business and spectroscopy.

Starting in 2012, PPO began exploring opportunities in different industries, such as plastics and oil sands. It has also put one of its spectrometers on the International Space Station. By 2015, PPO pivoted to developing solutions for the food processing industry.

Using colour and moisture analysis, PPO’s imaging technology provides informative data to meat processors to help them understand their products’ contents. The system automates food inspection processes by assessing qualities such as tenderness; protein, water and fat content; and freshness. It can also identify and remove foreign objects such as plastics, bone, and rubber.

According to PPO, processors can use its technology to assess product quality in real-time and reduce food waste by helping predict potential food safety issues and prevent losses from potential contamination or product recalls.

Led by CEO Olga Pawluczyk, PPO’s offering is currently used in over 10 facilities across Canada and the United States, including Hormel Foods, Brakebush Brothers and Fieldale Farms. The startup noted that this recent investment from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will support its expansion plans in the meat processing space across North America, and enter new global markets as well as other parts of the food industry.

Additionally, the capital will be used to build a demonstration room to optimize PPO’s technology for use by meat processing clients.

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Heather Galt, vice president of marketing at PPO, told BetaKit that the company has received over $25 million CAD in funding to date, comprising a Series B round that it closed last year, in which the amount raised was not disclosed. That financing was led by AF Capital Canada with participation from Fulcrum Global Capital, Export Development Canada (EDC), and others.

In 2018, PPO also secured $3.1 million from Fulcrum Global and $1 million from EDC.

PPO announced its investment from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on Monday, following Canadian food giant Maple Leaf Foods’ statement on Sunday that it experienced a systems outage linked to a cybersecurity threat. The news came around the same time that food retailer Empire Company, which owns Sobeys, Lawtons, IGA, Safeway, Farm Boy, Foodland, FreshCo, and other brands, also revealed it was experiencing an IT problem.

Galt said that PPO has worked with Maple Leaf Foods in the past and said the food company was integral in helping PPO to develop and test early versions of its system.

When asked about cybersecurity concerns within its own systems, PPO said that it uses “industry best tools and practices for all of [its] systems and software, and has a team of in-house experts who monitor for threats and vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis.”

Feature image courtesy of P&P Optica.

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