Canada can be a leader in plant-based foods if we take a coordinated approach

By Bill Greuel

Bill Greuel is Chief Executive Officer of Protein Industries Canada (PIC).

Over the past number of years, conversations around plant-based diets and plant-based foods have become increasingly common. What was once considered a niche trend is now decidedly mainstream. In fact, it is expected that by 2035 the global alternative meat market will exceed C$160 billion.

Canada is well-positioned to meet this demand. Building on our strengths as a global leader in the production of high-protein crops such as peas, lentils and canola, we have the opportunity to capture more value by creating more plant-based ingredients and food right here in Canada.

We know there is a significant value lift when we move from commodity to ingredient, but there is an even greater lift when we move from ingredient to finished food product. This is where Canada needs to focus our attention.

Our goal must be to add as much value as we can here in Canada — capturing value, creating jobs and supporting our economic recovery. In turn, we will have the ability to supply the world with sustainably grown and produced plant-based food.

There is no question that the opportunity is huge. In fact, it is so large that it will take many countries’ focused efforts to meet the demand. But Canada has an opportunity to claim more than just our share — we can become a leader and the preferred supplier of plant-based foods.

To do so, we need a coordinated effort to increase ingredient processing and food manufacturing in Canada.

At the heart of Canada’s success will be our ability to be on the leading edge of innovation. It will be our ability to develop new ingredients and food products that are better than the competition. To do that we must innovate along the entire value chain.

We must take a coordinated and planned approach to innovation. More importantly, we must make sure that everything we do benefits the customer — and what ends up on a consumer’s plate.

Protein Industries Canada’s members are dedicated to moving this innovation forward. Over the past two and a half years, 49 companies have come together to work on our 17 announced Technology and Capacity Building projects. While these projects are expected to lead to new jobs and a stronger economy for Canada, they’re also leading to the development of more than 200 new products for Canadians, and our customers around the globe, to enjoy.

We must work to create products that allow people to feed themselves, and their families, a dinner plate of food that is tasty and flavourful, and price competitive with traditional protein sources. We must continue to produce and process food in the most environmentally sustainable way possible, and we need to be able to tell that story to the consumer.

Most of all, we need to be able to offer the consumer choice. To fill the consumer plate, we need to create plant-based products from beverages to meat-alternatives, to snacks and more. We also need to recognize the role we play in the animal protein sector and continue to develop new feed sources that can contribute to raising sustainably produced animal protein. And while we may focus our innovation on food, we must also continue to innovate around the co-products, and all the ways that plant-based products have the potential to become a part of our day-to-day lives.

Together, companies like Enhanced Medical Nutrition and Infinit Nutrition Canada are developing new ready-to-mix and modular protein powders that meet the needs of hospitalized and outpatient individuals, as well as highly active athletic consumers. GrainFrac, Tomtene Seed Farm and Ripple Foods are focusing on developing high-protein pulse-based ingredients for dairy-alternative beverages. And other partnerships throughout our membership are focused on building out every step of the value chain, from on-farm technology to new plant-protein ingredients that can be used in everything from flexitarian meat products to baked goods.

So what’s next?

First, we need a coordinated plan. It will take the work of many to realize this full potential. We need support — not just from government, but from the agri-food sector and the larger business community.

We need to ensure a competitive business and regulatory environment that positions Canada as the preferred place for investment and manufacturing.

We need to attract investment and build partnerships — domestically and globally.

We need to continue to innovate and invest in advancing Canada’s innovation agenda. This is necessary to be competitive.

Most of all, we need to be collaborative. By taking our collective strengths, we can propel Canada further and faster.

Bill Greuel is Chief Executive Officer of Protein Industries Canada (PIC). Based in the Prairies, PIC is one of Canada’s five industry-led innovation superclusters supported by federal funding.