Bunge invests in plant protein

Global food ingredients giant Bunge has backed Merit Functional Foods by investing money in the plant protein startup being established in Winnipeg.

“Bunge is a strong, strong partner,” said Ryan Bracken, co-chief executive officer of Merit Functional Foods.

“If you could choose any partner, Bunge is a great partner to choose.”

Bunge plans to invest $30 million in Merit, adding its capital to that of founding investors from the private sector, plus heavy investments from the public sector, including the federal government-backed Protein Industries Canada and Export Development Canada.

The investment will help the company complete its new production plant, which is nearing completion on the northwestern edge of Winnipeg. The company expects to begin production in December.

Bracken believes the startup gained support because of pioneering work carried out by its founding partners in plant ingredient extraction technology with crops such as canola and peas. As well, it was a leader in establishing companies in the booming hemp food industry.

“I think they recognize that we have the experience and knowledge and capacity to manage ourselves,” said Bracken.

Plant protein excitement has soared since products like the Beyond Meat burger stormed into the fast food industry and proved that millions of people would buy and eat non-meat proteins. Numerous plant protein-based products have been launched in the past two years.

As well, plant protein ingredients are being incorporated in hundreds of products, a trend that will continue to grow, say plant protein enthusiasts.

The integration of Bunge as a minority shareholder in Merit is more evidence of large-scale, traditional firms easing their way into this revolutionary space.

Tyson Foods, one of the world’s biggest meat companies, has entered the plant-based meat substitute area, establishing its own brands of non-meat burgers and other products.

While some see plant protein replacing animal proteins almost entirely, others see plant proteins as being complementary alternatives, and others look at them as useful for a “flexitarian” diet, in which meat is reduced but not eliminated.

Merit’s products will come from canola and pea protein, for which it has unique processing processes and intellectual property.

The company has received major support from federal government efforts to encourage and support agricultural innovation and value-added processing.

Bracken said early support from sources like PIC has been essential in getting a cutting-edge company like Merit up and running.

“Without the government of Canada, I don’t think we would have (been able to have seen the development and progress) as we do now,” said Bracken.

“Without the support of the government of Canada, this project might have gone to another country. I think this really helps solidify Canada as a leader in plant-based ingredients supply.”

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