Plant protein not competing against beef: processor

Pulses versus meat: it shouldn’t be seen as either-or, says president of AGT Food and Ingredients

SASKATOON — The beef sector shouldn’t look at pulses as competition in the protein market, says the president of AGT Food and Ingredients, one of the largest pulse processors in the world.

Murad Al-Katib told people attending the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference that there is more than enough protein demand to go around.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or,” he said. “We both have more than enough to grab.”

He said Saskatchewan should be the first stop on the protein highway.

“Protein demand is what the world is going to talk about for the next 40 years,” he said, and Asia is really where the opportunity lies.

Middle class consumer spending there totals $32.9 trillion, Al-Katib said, and meat consumption is growing at three percent annually. He said while the large population there presents an obvious market the income growth within that population is a bigger driver.

“What do you do when you make a lot more money? You go out and you buy a really good steak, don’t you? That’s what they do too,” said Al-Katib.

China spends about $300 billion per year on meat and that is rising three to four percent annually. Al-Katib said that is $9 to $12 billion per year for an estimated 50 years.

The beef sector has to figure out how to gain its piece of that increasing market share.

He pointed to an Ontario company that went from zero to $18 million in sales last year by selling vacuum-packed frozen beef steaks online to China.

Online sales are the future, he said, and the industry has to be ready for that.

Al-Katib also said every successful pulse milling industry in the world has co-products and byproducts that are going into animal feed to build successful livestock operations.

In China, millers extract starch from one million tonnes of peas and feed the remaining protein to livestock.

“We’re going to do that here, too,” he said. “We need to do more in domestic milling.”

He also said that he doesn’t believe vegetable protein replaces meat protein or vice versa.

“It’s a protein industry,” he said. “It’s not about replacement.”

AGT is working with the Canadian Feed Research Centre on opportunities to move co-products and byproducts into the beef industry to create a reliable, consistent, cost-effective beef.

Al-Katib said rather than worrying about competing with plant protein, the livestock sector should be worrying about how to feed animals to meet the demand.

He said he doesn’t believe consumers will actually turn to synthetic laboratory-produced meat but there are moves toward insect-based protein and more plant-based protein.

“The consumer resolve isn’t very strong,” he said. “I think the norm is more a flexitarian type of diet.”

Al-Katib, who heads the Protein Innovation Canada supercluster project as well as the national agri-food strategy roundtable, said he sees a future for all proteins.

“I think there’s this weird agricultural adversarial thing going on,” he said. “I think we’ve got to recognize we have a protein sector and there’s an advantage for everybody to look at how we brand Canada as the protein giant.”

While the supercluster application is backed by the plant protein sector, he said there will be opportunities in phase two for the livestock sector to put its money where its mouth is.

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