Plant protein boom to include West: sector rep

The head of Protein Industries Canada is convinced the country will become a global leader in filling this demand

Western Canada shouldn’t be left behind by the plant protein revolution, says the head of Protein Industries Canada.

Even if the Prairies’ record with other vaunted opportunities has been disappointing, plant protein is different.

“I think there’s no doubt we will be a global leader in this space,” Bill Greuel, chief executive officer of PIC, said in an interview.

Demand for plant-based protein meat substitutes has exploded with the remarkable success of the Beyond Meat burger, which contains no meat and uses pea and other ingredients instead.

Grocery stores are stocking various non-meat burgers. Rather than the traditional veggie burgers, which have long been available at retailers, but are not head-to-head competitors with beef, the new plant-based burgers seem like beef burgers in taste and texture.

Fast food chains have jumped on the perceived consumer interest in non-meat burgers, with A&W restaurants riding the trend to increased sales and earnings and other chains scrambling to catch up.

That has raised fears with some who worry that there won’t be enough plant protein extracts to meet demand, and that demand could wither.

Others have worried that Western Canada will once more be left behind by a major trend. For decades, advocates of ethanol production prophesied that the fuel would become a major product on the Prairies, only to see most of the development occurring in the United States Midwest during the 2000s.

As well, as the Crow Benefit transportation subsidy was abandoned, many forecast a massive increase in value-added processing in the Canadian West. That did not occur to anywhere near the degree advocates of the chain predicted.

Greuel said the plant protein revolution is a fundamentally different situation.

The ethanol boom in the U.S. was driven by government policy and subsidies; the changes to the Crow were a product of government policy, not commercial evolution.

Plant protein demand has surged without much government participation.

“They’re not driven by government subsidies,” Greuel said about the already-in-progress plant protein extraction plants being developed in Western Canada.

“They are driven by structural changes in population demographics and growing global demand for food, and that’s not changing.”

Today, rather than the fuzzily sketched out plans for ethanol plants common in the 1980s and 1990s, committed investors with real money are backing processing developments.

“A lot of organizations are making significant investments in processing technology,” said Greuel, whose organization was set up as part of a federal government “supercluster” innovation initiative, and is designed to “de-risk” the efforts of private players to commercialize the science and technology of plant protein.

“We’ve got that level of capital investment.”

Greuel said Western Canada has proven it can finance and develop major agricultural processing facilities.

“We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure that the major canola crushers have invested,” said Greuel.

“We’ve got a track record of value-added processing. You cannot discount the success of the canola crushing industry in Western Canada.

So far PIC isn’t finding it hard to entice commercial players to take a closer look at plant protein development.

“We’ve had extremely high interest from the private sector,” said Greuel.

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