Plant-based burger overwhelms pulse supply

Canada’s new plant protein supercluster will fund innovative plant breeding and novel processing technology projects that will make it more attractive to build fractionation plants in Western Canada and increase food companies’ access to crops such as peas.  |  File photo

A&W forced to stop selling its Beyond Meat Burger because of a lack of processing capacity for peas and beans

One month after A&W launched its Beyond Meat Burger in Canada it was no longer available for purchase.

The company couldn’t keep up with demand due to a shortage of the plant-based protein used to make the burgers.

Peas and beans are the two primary ingredients in Beyond Meat Burgers but due to a lack of processing capacity there wasn’t enough supply to meet the demand coming from A&W.

Frank Hart, chair of Protein Industries Canada, said many food companies are clamouring for plant-based protein.

“The consumer demand is clearly there and companies want to produce these new products but they need the raw material to produce them,” he said.

“That is actually holding back food companies from moving forward on developing innovative products.”

Protein Industries Canada is attempting to address that supply/demand gap through a $153 million grant from the federal government’s Innovation Superclusters Program.

The money will be used to fund innovative plant breeding and novel processing technology projects that will make it more attractive to build fractionation plants in Western Canada.

Hart said the federal government is almost done conducting its due diligence of the plant protein supercluster. He expects Ottawa to sign the contribution agreement in a matter of weeks and then the money will start flowing.

The initial tranche of capital will be used to provide equipment and staff for Protein Industries Canada. Government money will provide 75 cents out of every dollar used to run the non-profit supercluster with industry accounting for the remainder.

Hart said the first round of project funding could happen as soon as this fiscal year but the bulk will occur in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

An example of the type of project that may receive funding is a breeding project aimed at increasing the protein content in pulses, which is currently around 18 to 20 percent.

That would greatly improve the margins of processing pulses into food ingredients because protein pays about $1,800 per tonne while starch and fibre are worth very little by comparison.

Other possibilities include developing ways to make protein extraction more efficient and figuring out how to add value to the starch and fibre byproducts.

“That’s some of the stuff that we need to do to convince processors that this is a really good place to invest,” said Hart.

Protein Industries Canada is going to be accompanying the federal government on trade missions to Europe and Asia in the coming months to make foreign processors aware of the work that will be happening in Canada.

“One of the things we hope to achieve for the benefit of producers is more local processing,” said Hart.

And then maybe A&W won’t have to pull its Beyond Meat Burger off the grill again.

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