Plant protein supercluster wins the day

A western Canadian group that hopes to expand opportunities in the plant protein industry will receive $150 million in federal funding under Ottawa’s Innovation Superclusters Program.

Protein Industries Canada (PIC) is an industry-led alliance that consists of more than120 private-sector companies, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders across the West.

PIC was one of five groups to submit a successful application under the federal superclusters program, which will distribute as much as $950 million over the next five years.

PIC will explore opportunities aimed at unlocking the economic potential of plant-based proteins found in common agricultural crops such as canola, pulses, grains, hemp and flax.

“This is a great day for Protein Industries Canada and a great day for Western Canada and the Canadian food industry,” said PIC chair Frank Hart.

“Western Canada produces a lot of protein that’s locked in the crops that are grown here… but a lot of that product is shipped… out as raw product.

“This is a really interesting opportunity to develop a lot of value added… by pulling those proteins out … selling them into the food ingredients business and incubating new food companies in Canada.”

In a Feb. 15 conference call, Hart said global plant protein markets are growing rapidly, driven by rapid population growth in Asia and around the world.

Consumers are increasingly looking to plants as the main source of protein in their diets, he added.

Ottawa’s $150 million contribution will be augmented by another $400 million worth of cash, in-kind contributions and venture capital, already committed by PIC members.

All told, the initiative is expected to create 4,700 jobs over the next decade and $700 million in new commercial activity.

“… I truly believe (this) will be transformative for western Canadian agriculture,” said Ray Bouchard, a Manitoba entrepreneur and PIC board member.

“It’s going to allow us to help feed a hungry world. It’s going to help grow our farm economies and it is going to create jobs and opportunities for people all over Manitoba and across the Prairies.”

Although details of the funding agreement have yet to be ironed out, PIC officials said they have already identified several projects that will receive a share of federal funding.

Other projects are expected to be identified in the coming months.

“We’ll probably have one or more symposia in Western Canada, with industry and academia, to (identify) the big problems that we’re going to solve together,” Hart said.

The PIC proposal also includes a $150 million venture capital fund that will finance “small- to medium-sized enterprises with breakthrough innovations” that are consistent with PIC’s mandate.

Funding that flows through the protein supercluster will be directed into four general areas:

  • seed genetics and plant breeding
  • enhanced farm production using precision agriculture, data and innovative technologies
  • value-added processing
  • branding and market development

“Each of those four buckets will get an allocation of funds and then there’ll be projects within each of those areas,” Hart said.

PIC officials said the protein supercluster will be a prairie-wide initiative, with investments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“We still have some work to do on where the headquarters are going to be located but it is a pan-prairie initiative,” said Bouchard.

“We are going to have offices in all three provinces ….”

Hart said all three prairie provinces have research capacity that will help PIC achieve its objectives.

“Some of these (projects) will be collaborating across provincial boundaries,” he said.

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