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Pioneering Sustainable Innovation in the Global Produce Market

In the heart of Windsor-Essex, a region known for its rich agricultural heritage, lies a hidden gem that has shaped the global produce industry for almost three decades. Ag-Tronic Control Systems Inc., a family-run business founded in 1991, has not only established itself as a leader in automation solutions but has also embarked on a mission to revolutionize the way we think about labeling in the agricultural sector.

As proud members of the WETechAlliance community, Ag-Tronic’s journey is a testament to its dedication to innovation and its commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Ag-Tronic Control Systems Inc., along with its branch known as Accu-Label, has been at the forefront of agricultural innovation. With a strong legacy of successful projects, this family-run business is committed to continuously developing cutting-edge fruit labeling technology for the fresh produce industry. Drawing upon a wealth of knowledge and experience, Ag-Tronic and Accu-Label are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of innovation and creation in the agricultural sector.

The team at Ag-Tronic had a goal when creating Accu-Label – to streamline agricultural processes through automation. Derek Sorrell, Quality and Sustainability Manager at Ag-Tronic, explains, “That’s really been our sole focus for about 20 years now. To build the labeling equipment. We developed the equipment from scratch, including all the engineering, software, electrical, mechanical, and CNC machining.”

What sets Ag-Tronic apart is its vertical integration. Not only does the company engineer and manufacture labeling equipment, but it also formulates its own labeling materials. In fact, Ag-Tronic produces a staggering 2-3 billion fresh product labels that are distributed worldwide. Sorrell emphasizes the company’s commitment to providing niche products tailored to different applications, acknowledging that different fruits and vegetables require different adhesives and materials.

In addition to its remarkable labeling equipment, Ag-Tronic holds patents globally for its innovations, ensuring its place as a true pioneer in the industry. However, the company’s journey continued beyond producing high-quality labels and equipment. In recent years, Ag-Tronic has embarked on a new mission: sustainability and compostability.

The global shift towards sustainable and environmentally friendly practices has not gone unnoticed by their team. Sorrell explains, “Moving on to this decade, everything is about sustainability and compostability, and that’s our drive right now.”

In response to increasing demands from governments and consumers, Ag-Tronic has dedicated significant effort to developing Certified Compostable Labels. These labels are designed to break down completely when disposed of in compost, ensuring they don’t contribute to environmental contamination.

However, navigating the complex landscape of sustainability and the agriculture value chain presents challenges. Sorrell highlights the support provided by WETechAlliance, stating, “[It’s been great] getting the help from WEtech on the marketing end of things just to navigate through the value chain. It is pretty complex,” said Derek, “on one end we have the government coming up with demands to create compostable products and on the other end there is the consumer that needs to be educated and in between we have the farmers, the packing houses, the retailers, the marketers. So, if you think about how widespread that value chain is, we need help understanding where we will create demand for that product and value chain. Some of the marketing services that WEtech has been able to hook us up with have helped us navigate that a little bit and have helped us come up with a bit of a strategy for the next year or two”.

WETechAlliance’s support extends beyond advisory services. Ag-Tronic is one of 21 WEtech-supported companies to receive funding as part of Cohort 2 of the award-winning i.d.e.a. Fund™.

Supported by a $10-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the i.d.e.a. Fund is a southern Ontario-focused initiative that was developed to help clean growth firms access the tools they need to succeed by providing financial and business advisory supports to develop or redesign green products, services, processes and technologies that reduce impacts to our environment and create made-in-Canada climate change solutions.

“Through the i.d.e.a. Fund program, WEtech has been able to provide seed funding to 40 companies in Southwestern Ontario for a wide variety of green-tech projects including, as the case with Ag-Tronic, conducting research and development of new sustainable technologies and bringing those technologies to market,” explains Susy Kustra, WEtech’s Manager of Program and Client Engagement. “In addition to the seed funds, these companies have access to an impressive roster of business advisors and mentors that are able to provide invaluable guidance in such areas as marketing, finance, logistics and business strategy.”

Sorrell highlights the impact of the i.d.e.a. Fund on Ag-Tronic, stating that it has enabled the acquisition of new materials, supported trials, covered labor, and research costs, and even facilitated the purchase of essential lab equipment. These resources have allowed Ag-Tronic to develop new material screening tests, ensuring that their products are truly biodegradable and sustainable rather than merely marketed as such.

One aspect that truly distinguishes Ag-Tronic is its family-oriented approach to business. Founders Joe and Samia Sleiman have built a successful enterprise and instilled a strong sense of work-life balance and family values within the company. Sorrell remarks, “The family is highly involved and skilled in engineering and business in general. That environment hasn’t changed at all since inception.”

Ag-Tronic measures success differently in an industry dominated by a single, massive competitor with a majority market share. “We’re working in an environment where our competition is a monopoly, so we may only have a small market share,” Sorrell explains, “If we can gain at least 1% from them, it makes a huge difference on our end.”

Ag-Tronic takes pride in the superior performance of its labeling equipment and materials, consistently surpassing the competition in the field.

A continuous mission of innovation

Looking ahead, Ag-Tronic is set to continue its mission of innovation. Sorrell hints at exciting developments, stating, “What you’re going to see in the future is we’ll continue to develop fruit and vegetable labeling, and we’ll see some key improvements in the labeling come through in the next couple of years.”

With a strong commitment to sustainability, a rich history of innovation, and unwavering support from WETechAlliance, Ag-Tronic Control Systems Inc. remains a shining example of how a family-run business can significantly impact the global produce market while improving our environment.

“We are seeing a groundswell of local businesses developing new innovative products and services as green and sustainable revenue streams,” said Adam Castle, Director of Venture Services at WETechAlliance. “It is truly an honour for our team to work with longstanding local companies, and assist them in futureproofing their business models. The world continues to change rapidly, and we want to help our local economy be more proactive in embracing and leveraging that change, instead of reactive and merely responding to it.”

Ag-Tronic Control Systems Inc. stands as a testament to the power of innovation, dedication to sustainability, and the impact of family values in business. As they continue shaping the future of labeling in the agricultural industry, their story inspires businesses in our backyard and beyond.

WETechAlliance is one of seventeen Regional Innovation Centres, funded by the Province of Ontario, serving the Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent regions. We provide entrepreneurs with business services, training, perks, mentorship and strategic connections to help bring new ideas to market, scale to the next level and build a dynamic culture and a community of innovation. WETechAlliance has served as the catalyst for technology and innovation in the Windsor-Essex + Chatham-Kent regions since 2011.

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