The plant-protein industry has come a long way in the 15 years Julianne Curran has worked to develop pulse markets.
“When I first started out the food industry had no idea what pulses were, they never heard of them. They didn’t know you could get ingredients made from peas or lentils,” said Curran, vice-president of market innovation at Pulse Canada.
“There were only two pea protein fractionators in the world at that time.”
Pulses have since proven to be profitable crops for many prairie producers, and recent public interest into pulse ingredients has growers hopeful demand will increase even further.
But the recent interest in pulse ingredients has not yet been translated into Canadian producers seeing increased sales into these new markets, Curran said during her presentation at CropSphere in Saskatoon.
Because of this lacklustre growth into prospective markets, Pulse Canada’s board set a volume target in 2018 for market diversification of the Canadian pulse industry.
“We want to see 25 percent of Canadian pulse production going to new uses in new markets by the year 2025. We’re translating that number to be roughly two million tonnes of pulses,” Curran said.
“The biggest tonnage target we have is for peas, and we want to see diversification of 1.1 million tonnes.”
Murad Al-Katib, president of AGT Food and Ingredients, said most pulse demand has been from population growth in traditional markets. However, this will not always be the case because future high-value growth is expected to come from middle class consumers.
“We need to recognize the opportunity and not just chase the lowest common denominator protein and commodity markets, but really capitalizing on $33 trillion in middle class spending in Asia, for instance, by 2030,” Al-Katib said during his keynote address at CropSphere.
He said in 10 years, the agriculture industry in Canada will serve a different consumer than the consumer it serves today.
“I think that should be the goal of our industry. If we want to get ourselves out of what I would call the commodity ghetto, we need to up the value of the product we’re producing,” Al-Katib said.
When it comes to increasing demand for food ingredients derived from Canadian peas, Murad said the biggest hurdle is finding a market for pea starch.
He said out of every 100 tonnes of fractionated peas, there will be about 23 tonnes of protein concentrate, 67 tonnes of starch, fibre and some moisture losses.
“When I market today, I need to market starch, I don’t need to market protein,” Al-Katib said.
He said the biggest opportunity for the pulse industry is what he called a fusion consumer, who wants to eat foods that have some pulse ingredients included, instead of eating pulse-based items as replacements for traditional foods.
“Pulses enhance everyday foods. I think this is the future. It’s not in replacement, it’s actually in ingredient inclusion,” he said.
“In pasta that we include 25 percent lentils, we lower the carbon footprint by 25 percent, 100 percent increase in fibre and a 25 percent increase in protein,” Al-Katib said.
He said one of the biggest advantages of pulses is that cereal amino acids and pulse amino acids are opposite, and when they are combined, the digestibility and availability of the protein increases dramatically.
“Pasta with durum wheat the protein digestibility score is about 26. If you blend 50 percent durum and 50 percent pulses, your protein digestibility goes to about 77. It’s much more available for the body to digest,” he said.
Over the past few years, AGT signed a 20-year terminal services agreement with Fibreco Export Inc. at the Port of Vancouver, and it also teamed up with Fairfax Financial Holdings and indigenous groups to form the Arctic Gateway Group to purchase the port of Churchill and rail line from OmniTRAX.
AGT already owns two short-line railways in central and west-central Saskatchewan, including Last Mountain Railway and Big Sky Rail, which connects to the company’s Delisle handling facility.
Plus it owns a handful of producer-car loading facilities that it acquired with the purchase of West Central Road and Rail.
“Our new Delisle facility will actually be able to do rail car by rail car traceability right onto an ocean vessel now, because we never dump it into storage. All of our grain is in rail cars that go directly into vessel holds. So we’ll be able to provide a miller in Tunisia, to say this 5,000 tonnes came from these 140 producers,” Al-Katib said.
He said he understands grower frustration when they are asked to keep track and make available their production information, because they aren’t being paid for it today.
However, he said traceability will be key to reaching middle class consumers who tie environmental considerations to their purchasing decisions.
“As we move up into the higher value chain to a consumer that matters to us and where the price point premium will be in the future, I believe data collection and digital agriculture will be a big part of that,” Al-Katib said.
To help food company’s complete life cycle analysis (LCA) of their products Pulse Canada is collecting information that demonstrates the environmental footprint of Canadian pulses.
“Just as we’ve seen tremendous growth in health claims about 20 years ago, we’re now seeing the same thing happen with sustainability claims on food products. These are claims like carbon neutral, environmentally friendly and sustainable,” Curran said.
LCAs enable food companies to quickly demonstrate to prospective customers how their products affect the environment.
For instance, the company Beyond Meat makes environmental claims about water usage, land usage, greenhouse gases and energy as part of its marketing story for its burger.
Curran said the LCA published by this company largely reflects the environmental impact of the ingredients it sourced.
For the pea protein component in the burger the company used information from the manufacturer, but the data for canola and coconut oil components was obtained from the food industry’s LCA database.
“They actually have linked it to Canadian production in the case of canola oil. So they specify the production region,” Curran said.
“This is a real opportunity for the Canadian industry, to ensure we have data in these databases that reflects the environmental impact of Canadian production so we can get properly recognized for the advances that we’re making.”
The Pulse Canada producer survey examines growers’ production information, which the producer group will add to databases used by food manufacturers.
Al-Katib said for Canada to become an ingredient and food producer instead of just a global commodity player, it has to stop underselling its sustainability advantages.
He said a typical three-year crop rotation on the Prairies that includes a pulse, canola and wheat is a formidable production system when it comes to sustainability.
Canada has an “established cropping system that is one of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in modern cropping in the world,” he said.
“Sustainability and environmental gains cost billions of dollars to achieve. We don’t have to create it, we have to value it and capitalize on it.”