Global reach allowed company to learn COVID lessons early

Being a global company meant that Roquette had to deal with COVID-19 almost as soon as it appeared.

With three production plants in China, the pandemic was a reality the company had to quickly adapt to. That turned out to be a good thing.

“Our China team was hit very early,” said Dominique Baumann, France-based Roquette’s project manager for the major pulse protein plant being built in Portage la Prairie, Man.

“This allowed us to anticipate what would happen in Europe when it came to Europe, then finally it came to North America,” said Baumann in a news conference Oct. 28.

“The fact that we had a team in China got us ahead of the game.”

The Roquette plant is a $400 million leap into today’s burgeoning plant protein market. The plant is set to open at the end of 2020 and is busily contracting 2021 yellow peas.

On any given day about 850 workers are on-site, something that has taken careful management during the pandemic, Baumann said.

The company has brought in trailers so workers can be spaced, has spaced-out worker breaks so they have lots of room, and made personal protective equipment free and readily available, Baumann said. Roquette globally acquired a million surgical masks for workers.

At the Portage la Prairie site, workers are tested every day for fevers and quizzed on how they’re feeling. There is an on-site testing facility for anyone with possible symptoms, or who has come in from out of province.

“This is very important because this allows us to keep our workers safe,” said Baumann.

The plant was located in central Manitoba not because of closeness to pea crops, which are centred in Saskatchewan, but because of the city’s position in the middle of a web of logistical connections that go all directions.

“Highways and railroads are very good,” said Baumann.

“Shipping to Asia, shipping to the rest of North America and within Canada, will not be an issue.”

Plant protein markets are rapidly expanding across the developed world, an observation that brought Roquette to Portage la Prairie. Even during the pandemic, when some food product demand fell, plant protein demand stayed firm, Baumann said.

“It has not slowed down significantly.

“This trend is still very, very strong despite the COVID.”

Operating in so many countries and markets brings complexities, but even though the pandemic has brought disruptions, the company has been able to pivot.

“We’ve been able to supply our customers with our teams, moving around production sites to make sure that we get the product to our customers,” said Baumann.

That flexibility has worked with customers. The company conducts customer satisfaction surveys and 2020’s worked out well.

“We have the highest ranking survey we ever had,” said Baumann.

“(With many staff) working from home, we were able to supply our customers.”

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