Merit plant protein project growing Pea, canola processing facility receives $19.1M of investment, industry support

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PIC in the News
During a press conference at Merit Functions Foods on Silver Avenue, Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, announced a new project from the Protein Industries Canada supercluster and Merit Functional Foods that will see the consortium work to commercialize high quality plant-based proteins.

Merit Functional Foods, the company building a pea and canola protein processing facility in CentrePort, has received a $19.1 million injection of cash and industry support.

The cash — $9.5 million — comes from the federal government-funded Protein Industries Canada supercluster. It’s the second project the $153 million Regina-based organization has funded.

The rest of the contributions will come from Merit itself, seed genetics company, Pitura Seeds of Domain, Man., and consumer protein company The Winning Combination Inc.

It was likely only a matter of time before Protein Industries Canada and Merit connected.

'No one is asking those branded food companies where they are going to get the plant-based protein to grow their business. That is where we fit in' - Ryan Bracken, CEO Merit Functional Foods

Bill Greuel, the chief executive officer of PIC said the Merit project is a perfect match for PIC.

"We want Canada to become a global leader in the supply of plant-based protein ingredients and products," Greuel said. "Our plan is to build processing closer to production, adding value to some of our most important commodities like canola and peas and lentils. We are doing just that with Merit."

The investment will effectively be in research and development. Pitura will work with Merit to determine the right varieties of pea and canola that will produce the proteins with the best attributes and The Winning Combination will share its expertise in commercial powdered protein market regarding functionality and stability.

The size of Merit’s production facility has been growing since it was initially announced publicly in July. The construction that’s underway off Route 90 north of Inkster Boulevard is for a 94,000-square-foot plant, almost 50 per cent larger than when it was first announced.

Merit is using Burcon NutraScience’s patented protein extraction technology, which has been in development for more than 19 years. Vancouver-based Burcon is a 40 per cent partner in the venture.

Ryan Bracken, Merit Co-CEO, announces a new project from the Protein Industries Canada supercluster and Merit Functional Foods.

Ryan Bracken, the co-CEO of Merit, said he couldn’t disclose the total capital investment, but it is now more than the originally announced $65 million.

"We appreciate the support in this project," he said.

The plan is to complete construction by the end of the year. The operation will require a staff of about 80 people when it opens with the expectation that the workforce will grow to more than 200 in the next three to five years.

Although it is a greenfield development with absolutely no past business to specifically draw on, Bracken said discussions with the largest branded packaged consumer goods companies have continued to be encouraging. He said the company is planning to make a large announcement in the coming weeks with one of the largest food and beverage companies that Merit is collaborating with right now regarding a specific product that will use Merit’s proteins.

With the growing demand for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives the source of that plant-based protein will become crucial. Investments in plant-based meat alternatives are being made by the major meat packing companies such as Maple Leaf Foods, Tyson, Hormel as well as the alternative meat companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

Some estimates suggest the market is about $1 billion per year right now in North America but could skyrocket to as much as $80 billion in as few as five years.

"No one is asking those branded food companies where they are going to get the plant-based protein to grow their business," Bracken said. "That is where we fit in."

While Merit has been on PIC’s radar screen for some time, its intention was not to invest in the capital costs, but in assisting in the supply chain development.

"We have always said that in order to be successful we have to take a value chain approach," Greuel said regarding the Prairie-wide development of the ecosystem that will bolster both plant-based and meat-based protein production.

"This is a perfect example of what we are trying to do here," he said. "You have (collaboration) on the front end with Pitura, the seed company and on the back end with The Winning Combination, for the ingredient manufacturing."

Published by Winnipeg Free Press

Written by Martin Cash