Protein seen as the future of canola

Protein seen as the future of canola

Soy protein is everywhere.

It’s found in protein bars, infant formula, dairy products, veggie burgers, condiments and bread products, to name a few.

A report from Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, shows that soy protein is 77 percent of the US$5.5 billion plant protein market for human food.

Wheat represents 22 percent and peas comprise two percent.

There’s also the “other’” category, which is less than one percent of the market.

That’s where canola protein fits in.

It’s less than one percent of a $5.5 billion market for plant-based protein, which is growing at a double digit rate.

Other consultancies, such as Research and Markets, say the plant-based protein market is worth $10 billion and will reach $14.5 billion by 2025.

Regardless of how the numbers are counted, the point is the same — plant-based protein is a massive opportunity that cannot be ignored.

“There’s that old saying that demographics are destiny…. If you take a look at where consumers are going, not just North America but all across the first world, they’re really settling into a plant-based diet,” said Dave Dzisiak, chief operating officer with Botaneco, a Calgary company that produces natural ingredients for food, feed and personal care.

Dzisiak and everyone else in the food industry are keeping an eye on young millennials and members of Gen Z, a cohort born after 1996. Multiple studies show these groups are more committed to a plant-based diet.

It doesn’t mean they’re all vegans, but they will probably eat less meat than their parents.

“This group eats differently. We’ve had a generational change in diet pattern,” said Dzisiak, who worked for Dow Agro-Sciences and Corteva for 38 years.

He’s convinced the canola industry must capitalize on the opportunities in the plant protein market, whether it’s protein isolates for snack bars or canola protein for fish farms.

“We’ve seen growth in pea (protein), but there is wide open space here for canola,” Dzisiak said in a presentation at Canola Week, a virtual conference hosted by the Canola Council of Canada.

“It can be as every bit as good as soy.”

The canola industry needs to shift into the protein space because producers and processors are leaving a huge amount of money on the table. Dzisiak said the market segments for canola and plant protein break down this way:

  • whole seed — $200-$500 per tonne
  • protein meals for livestock — $280-$400 per tonne
  • protein concentrates, used in aquaculture and pet food — $800-$2,000 per tonne
  • protein isolates, human nutrition — $4,500-$8,000 per tonne

Right now, canola is sold into the lowest value markets on that list.

“Our system and agriculture on the Prairies has been pretty traditional — growing bigger crops, putting them into bigger grain elevators and loading them into bigger trains … and putting them in bigger ships,” Dzisiak said.

“We need to do much more of this value-added processing, here at home.”

Canola seed is 45 percent oil, 20 percent protein and 30 percent that doesn’t have much value.

Of the 30 percent, a portion is compounds that spoil canola’s flavour. It might be possible to eliminate, or minimize, some of the undesirable compounds through modern plant breeding.

“Tell the seed to make more of this or less of that…. If you can regulate that properly, you can open up a world of opportunity for our crop,” said Dzisiak.

“We can fit into these markets. We just need to make a better protein than what we’re making today.”

Protein Industries Canada wants to make that happen.

Last January it announced a $27 million project, including $13.6 million of its money, to enhance the protein content of canola.

“It’s the first commercial breeding project specifically focused on protein quality improvement. Higher protein canola meal will result in new diversified value markets, creating economic benefits across the value chain,” said Bill Greuel, PIC chief executive officer.

Corteva AgriScience, Bunge and Botaneco are leading the project.

Corteva will handle the plant breeding, but developing a high-protein canola hybrid won’t happen overnight.

Tyler Groeneveld, Corteva’s commercial grains and oils leader for North America, expects commercialization within the next four years, The Western Producer reported last January.

Like Dzisiak, Greuel envisions a future where canola seed is processed into high value components, which will be sold into the human food, aquaculture, pet food and other lucrative markets.

“Ideally what I’d like to see is no seed shipped whole,” he said.

“I truly believe we will get there.”

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