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How Canada can meet its plant-based potential

Posted: 27 April 2021 | | No comments yet

Bill Gruel from Protein Industry Canada discusses the exciting opportunities that await Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sectors.

plant-based nuggets

Canada’s plant-based foods sector is growing. With investments being made into new processing technology, new on-farm technology and new crop varieties, members along the value chain are building not only the sector’s strength, but also its ability to meet increasing market demand.

Globally, the demand for alternative meat products is expected to reach up to $140 billion by 2035. With other plant-based food options added to this total, including dairy and seafood alternatives, global demand for plant-based foods could reach up to $200 billion.

Credit to the growth of these markets goes to a variety of sources, and a significant contributor is changing consumer demand for healthy food and lower meat consumption, according to Patrick Morris. Morris serves as CEO of Eat Beyond Global, an investment issuer focused on funding and supporting the food tech and plant-based food sector.

“An increasing number of Canadians are ‘flexitarians,’ meaning that they eat mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation,” Morris said. “I see this being due to several key factors, including the fact that Canada, in general, is a leader in healthy living, with access to an abundance of fresh food. Canada also has put government resources into driving innovation and education in the sector.”

This push toward innovation and education has increased opportunities for the country. Based on this drive and its current rate of investment into plant-protein production, processing and manufacturing, Canada has the potential to corner $20 billion worth of the global market.

We think it’s reasonable that Canada can achieve 10 percent of that overall global market share, or $20 billion in annual sales. Just for context setting, today Canada is about 3.3 percent of the global agrifood market. So we think we can punch well above our weight.”

Much of this potential comes from strengths such as Canada’s diverse crop selection, market access capabilities, food safety reputation, sustainable processing and production practices, and a large pool of researchers and skilled workers.

A diverse crop selection is proving to be particularly appealing to foreign investors and companies looking to partner with the Canadian plant-based foods sector. While soy is currently the top commodity used in alternative protein products, others such as yellow pea, canola and oat, are seeing increased attention.

It looks very promising for the crops that we produce at scale here in Western Canada. Consumers want choice, and these diverse sets of plant-based ingredients that we can create from the crops we produce in Western Canada provide that choice.

While the country has a solid base for achieving its goals related to plant-based protein, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Companies across Canada are investing in innovation in order to provide the plant-based food, feed and ingredients sectors with new ways of developing products that are more sustainable, higher in protein and more appealing to a wider consumer base.

 Patrick Morris, CEO at Eat Beyond Global

However, these companies need increased support to fully bring these products to market. Whether developing new technology, building infrastructure or developing new consumer goods, Canada’s plant-based food sector needs to scale up its operations – a task that could, to make Canada fully competitive, cost tens of billions of dollars. Key to achieving this is receiving external capital from investors in Canada and abroad.

Morris believes companies’ dedication to finding these new solutions will go a long way in helping Canada attract this external capital.

“We believe the key is innovation, and in particular, focusing on how we can grow the alternative protein industry to improve food security, while also achieving positive environmental outcomes,” he said.

For this potential to become reality, however, it is imperative that companies within the sector are working collaboratively.

As one of Canada’s five innovation superclusters, Protein Industries Canada co-invests with its members on projects that advance Canada’s plant-based foods sector, either through research and technology investments or building capacity in seven priority areas. Outside of these projects, Protein Industries Canada and its members also work together to increase ingredient processing and manufacturing in Canada, make the sector more sustainable, modernise related regulations and increase the country’s bank of intellectual property.

An increasing number of companies are seeing the benefits of this collaborative effort, including the Eat Beyond team.

“Eat Beyond is looking to join government-led industry organisations to get involved on a national level with leaders in the plant-based and food tech industries,” Morris said. “Protein Industries Canada has done a great job investing in food space for plant-based businesses. Eat Beyond and Protein Industries Canada can share a platform and vision for how to make Canada a global leader in plant-based products.”

Protein Industries Canada and its members have announced 18 projects as of March 2021. Technology projects touch on every aspect of the plant-based foods value chain, including new on-farm spraying technology, traceability software, new high-protein crop varieties, new ingredient processing technologies and new end products for consumers. In regard to building capacity, an investment has been made into helping Western Canadian youth, particularly those from Indigenous and other under-represented groups, better understand the opportunities available to them in the plant-based foods sector.

More advancements are coming, both under Protein Industries Canada’s umbrella and outside of it. Eat Beyond, specifically, hopes to engage with Canada’s plant-based foods sector more directly.

“I see great potential for knowledge-share around trends, innovations and new companies,” Morris continued. “In addition to the economic potential of the sector, there are also potential opportunities relating to health and environmental initiatives, both of which could be impacted in a positive way by the success of the local plant-based food sector.”

Exciting opportunities await Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sectors. As investments continue, processors and consumers alike can look forward to new opportunities and new products lining their shelves.

About the author

Bill Greuel is Protein Industry Canada’s CEO. His combined passions for agriculture and innovation were the driving forces behind his career. Initially, this led him to private sector jobs at a biotech start-up, in the canola industry and at a large multi-national agriculture company. Bill then transitioned to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, where he worked as a Provincial Oilseed Specialist, Research and Development Manager and Executive Director of Crops and Irrigation Branch, before accepting the role of Assistant Deputy Minister, Regulatory and Innovation.

While growing up on a farm and throughout his career, Bill saw first-hand the opportunity for growth in Canada’s agriculture industry. As CEO of Protein Industry Canada, Bill helps Canada’s plant-protein sector realise this potential by leading the development of Protein Industry Canada’s programs, resources and initiatives. His efforts have also helped make the supercluster an instrumental player in the plant-protein landscape.

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