Partnership targets pulse markets

Two Saskatchewan based companies are combining forces to develop new pulse-based foods for retail and market-ready sectors.

AGT Food and Ingredients of Regina and Ulivit from Saskatoon plan to spend $11.3 million from Protein Innovation Canada to address what they say is a growing consumer need.

PIC chief executive officer Bill Greuel said the demand for plant-based foods is rising.

“They intend to process pea, lentil and fababean protein concentrates into a variety of vegetarian, flexitarian diet products,” he said.

These include tofu, pasta, tempeh, high-moisture meat substitutes, non-dairy alternatives and texturized pulse protein, he said.

“They’re going to develop these products using more sustainable methods than what is commercially available today,” Greuel said.

Pairing a large well-known company like AGT with a smaller start-up like Ulivit is how the protein supercluster can work effectively, said AGT CEO Murad Al-Katib.

The companies plan to develop engineering technology to help commercialize products for retail and restaurants, but not the fast-food type, he said.

They will use all the pulse fractions — protein concentrate, starch and flour concentrate, and fibre — to gain the greatest efficiency from the extraction process, he said.

For example, a Veggipasta Rotini made from 100 percent yellow pea starch flour concentrate could be on store shelves in 2021.

“We’ve been able to develop a flavouring technology that can actually dramatically change the texture of the pasta, the colour of the pasta to make it much more like a wheat. Those are the kind of products that we’re going to be looking at,” said Al-Katib.

There will be snacks, bakery and meat alternatives.

Ulivit, founded by Laura Gustafson, already makes pulse-based snack bars and Gustafson has been working on a pulse-based tofu product.

She said some products could be ready as soon as September.

Gustafson said millennials and Generation Z are leading the explosion of plant-based foods.

“They’re really concerned about health, environment, sustainability, animal welfare,” she said. “People want different options for protein.”

The recent decision by some fast-food chains to introduce and then cancel plant-based burgers is not an indication that the trend is changing, both said.

Retail distribution is a bigger opportunity.

Al-Katib said using protein concentrates is key. They contain between 55 and 65 percent protein compared to a protein isolate that is between 80 and 90, he said. Costs for these products will be lower and more competitive.

“Gone are the days where a gluten-free snack that you’re buying in a bag is $7.99 and a bag of potato chips is $1.99,” he said. “That consumer might buy it once at $7.99 but if we want them to buy it every time they want a snack it has to be $2.99, not $7.99. We might not meet the $1.99 but we can’t be $7.99.”

President’s Choice plans to soon launch a veggie-crumb made from yellow peas that consumers would use as a coating for chicken and fish.

“We’ll be looking at the perfection of TPP (texturized pulse protein) for sausage, burgers, chicken,” said Al-Katib.

The products will be released under different brand names, and AGT will remain an ingredients supplier. Ulivit, as a small, new company, gets the opportunity to gain access to AGT clients.

For growers, the opportunity to sell into different markets should lead to better returns.

Al-Katib said continued reliance on the lowest common denominator price into countries like India isn’t the way forward. He said producers want to sell more pulses but not at lower prices.

“This is an opportunity to take these products into a different market segment that’s delinked from currency, macroeconomic profile and government intervention and truly put it into domestic food use,” he said.

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