Opportunities for plant proteins await

Plant proteins have a big role to play as Canada positions itself for the future of agri-food

Opportunities for plant proteins await

There’s a market out there for the taking for Prairie producers.

That was the message Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada shared with the Farm Forum Event earlier this winter.

He told the virtual event that agriculture in Western Canada has a lot going for it — innovative producers, a supportive research and development sector, great trade relations with other countries, and a reputation as reliable suppliers of quality food products around the globe.

“You don’t have to go too far to know that people really value the Canadian brand and export markets,” said Greuel. It’s a reputation as old as the first shipment of high-quality milling wheat from the region just after European settlement. That reputation persists and the fundamental elements of the industry remain solid but the world is changing.

Just this year, there have been geopolitical challenges with exporting pulses to India and canola to China. And of course, supply chain disruption became an issue with COVID-19.

“We need an agriculture economy that’s much more resilient to trade disruption,” said Greuel.

“You don’t have to go too far to know that people really value the Canadian brand and export markets.” Bill Greuel, Protein Industries Canada. photo: Supplied

As a CEO of an agri-food-tech incubator, it’s not surprising Greuel dedicated a significant portion of his presentation to innovation. He points out that, despite all of our strengths, we lag in terms of investments in innovation on the international stage.

“We’re about half of the OECD average in terms of investment in science and innovation.” That means, just to keep pace with the OECD average, we would have to double our investments in science and innovation across all sectors.

“And that gets us nowhere near some of the most innovative economies that will be looking at transforming their agriculture sectors in the future.”

Despite the lag in innovation funding, Greuel is optimistic. He points to a Barton Report that came out a couple of years ago saying Canada’s agri-food sector could grow from being the 11th largest agri-food sector in the world, to the fifth. According to Greuel, that goal is realistically attainable but not without a significant contribution from value-added processing.

Citing work Protein Industry Canada recently did with Stuart Smyth, a professor in bioresource economy at the University of Saskatchewan, Greuel notes that if value-added processing was increased by 10 per cent across the board in Western Canada (which he acknowledges as a tall order), it would represent about a $6-billion annual incremental value for Canada.

“I really think the opportunity is there,” he said.

When it comes specifically to plant protein, Greuel says there are some significant opportunities for growth.

“We know that there is growing demand in Europe, in North America, in Asia… and that the plant protein market compound annual growth rate year over year is quite large,” he said.

Studies by JPMorgan Chase Barclays Research pegged the global plant protein market at $100 billion to $150 billion by 2035. But Greuel points out that it’s only seven per cent of what the global meat industry is projected to be by then and doesn’t include the growing global demand in the meat replacement market, which will likely be over $100 billion by 2035.

“The opportunity is quite staggering,” he said.

However, accessing those opportunities requires capital and lots of it. Some of the large-scale science and innovation projects Protein Industries Canada leads run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. So, one crucial aspect of the equation is making sure capital is available for future projects.

“We really need to engage the capital community,” said Greuel. “We need to make sure that they really understand the opportunity that plant and value-added processing presents, so we’re doing a lot of work with educating both the capital community and trying to help small- and medium-size enterprises get better and get ready at making that pitch to the capital community.”

Similarly, it’s important to engage the entrepreneur community.

“We’ve got a lot of great multinationals, we’ve got a lot of great small- and medium-size enterprises, but we really need to breed and foster an entrepreneurial community, not only the plant protein sector but also across agriculture in agri-food space.”

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