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Orange you glad you can get mandarins year-round?

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It wasn’t so long ago that oranges were an exotic luxury food for people in Canada. Since oranges were seasonal — available mainly in winter — they became a symbol of Christmas, tucked in stockings for kids.

In the late 19th century, the orange market in Canada took the first step to becoming more diverse when a Vancouver-based company, The Oppenheimer Group, began importing a relatively unknown orange variant: the mandarin. It was smaller, sweeter and extremely easy to peel.

Mandarin oranges have since become such a staple in the citrus industry, they’re eclipsing traditional varieties and a fruit that once was a seasonal luxury is grown year-round.

The Oppenheimer Group is still around today and still imports Japanese mandarins to Canada.

Number of countries growing mandarins has exploded

Until recently, a mandarin variety called the clementine dominated the market. But thanks to fruit breeding and more imports from around the world, Canadians have a lot more choice.

At any supermarket, there could be more than half a dozen mandarin varieties, including the usual clementines, a green-skinned variety from Taiwan, a large, glossy variety from Pakistan called a kinno mandarin, a variety from China with deep rosy flesh and North African tangerines.

Then there are branded and trademarked varieties from the U.S., like Cuties and Pixies, which are grown by licenced producers.

“I think what’s happened is that the world has become a smaller place,” said Walt Breeden who manages the mandarin imports for The Oppenheimer Group.

Mandarin oranges are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune during Chinese New Year. In Canada and the U.S., they are a Christmas tradition given in stockings. (Shiral Tobin/CBC)

“Peru has Japanese mandarin trees, and they harvest them in April and May, so basically you’re getting Japanese mandarins in April and May in Canada. You can look at other countries now — Peru, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Japan, China, Korea, Spain, Morocco — they’re all sending easy peelers, as well as California.”

Even though mandarin production has risen in many regions around the world, China remains the biggest producer by far.

Last year, China harvested more than 20 million tonnes of mandarins. The European Union was a distant second with only three million tonnes.

Mandarins outselling other fruits

Walk into your local supermarket today, and the space devoted to mandarins is likely a lot bigger than the navel orange display.

The growth in easy-to-peel mandarin varieties has taken a bite out of the demand for other fruit. Navel oranges aren’t selling as well as they used to, Breeden says.

Walt Breeden is the vice president of Canadian sales for The Oppenheimer Group, which markets and distributes over 100 varieties of produce from more than 25 countries. (The Oppenheimer Group)

As a result, in California, new navel and Valencia orange plantings have dropped in recent years. Mandarins, meanwhile, are up.

“I think the navel market has taken a hit because people are consuming more easy-peelers,” said Breeden. “It’s our fastest growing category right now. It’s even affected apple sales. Easy-peelers are outselling apples in some retail stores.”

While the mandarin orange in your Christmas stocking might be a charming bit of tradition, the fruit’s year-round popularity makes it less of a treat. After all, there’s probably a whole box of them in the kitchen any time you want one.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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