Ceapro has big plans for oats

Ceapro uses a hull-less oat variety because it has more avenanthramides, a compound used in anti-itching products.  |  File photo

The common oat continues to find its way into uncommon products, and the Edmonton-based biotechnology company Ceapro said it plans to continue that trend.

Its new $14 million bioprocessing extraction facility, officially opened Sept. 28, is designed to allow Ceapro to expand its oat extraction processes and marketing of oat-based ingredients to nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies.

Ceapro uses Alberta-grown oats and a proprietary extraction process to supply ingredients to personal care and cosmetics industries, including Aveeno, Burt’s Bees and Nutragena.

President Gilles Gagnon said his team has turned the company around in the last five years, with assistance from its German-based commercial partner, Symrise, and from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta.

He said Ceapro realized $10.7 million in revenue in 2015, up from $8.9 million in 2014 and $6.5 million in 2013.

Second quarter 2016 results show a 91 percent increase in sales for the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year. All of its production is exported to the United States, Europe and Asia.

One particular type of oat is at the heart of the operation.

“This is a unique special variety of oat that has been developed at Agriculture Canada and … we have the worldwide rights and we have to sign agreements with farmers,” Gagnon said. “We have already committed that this kind of an oat variety, which is unique, will be grown only in Alberta.”

The hull-less variety allows Ceapro to extract more avenanthramides, the compounds that are active ingredients in anti-itching products. The beta glucans from oats are also known to help reduce cholesterol in people’s diets, which gives Ceapro entry in the functional food and pharmaceutical industries.

Ceapro has 30 employees and now needs another 30 to run its new 30,000 sq. foot plant.

“We are transforming our business and the biotech industry,” said Gagnon.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Ceapro’s expansion is a prime example of economic diversification.

“This is exactly the type of economic diversification we want for our province,” said Notley. “Alberta farmers providing an Alberta product to an Alberta enterprise supported by Alberta research and innovation to process, using innovative methods and technology developed in, you guessed it, Alberta.”

She praised the company’s use of sustainable and renewable ingredients and the environmentally friendly aspects of the new plant.

The province provided research and development support of $1.6 million to Ceapro through Alberta Innovates. The U of A was instrumental in developing a spray drying technique called Pressurized Gas Expanded (PGX) technology so Ceapro can market a dry extract as well as a liquid formulation.

Gabriele Vielhaber, executive vice-president and head of cosmetic ingredients for Symrise, praised the engineering and state-of-the-art technology at Ceapro’s new plant, as well as its product.

“Ceapro products, I would call it oat reinvented,” Vielhaber said.

“Everyone knows oat because we are growing up with oatmeal and oat has a trusted, traditional image. However, oat is modern. It’s trendy, and Ceapro has been the pioneer in this.”

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