Pea and canola boost: New funding expands Merit Functional Foods' disruptive plant protein technology

PIC in the News

14 Jan 2020 ---Canada’s Merit Functional Foods, in consortium with seed processor Pitura Seeds and health brand The Winning Combination, has raised new capital to rapidly expand its ability to meet market demand for plant-based proteins and by-products, including trending peas and canola. The co-investment comes from Protein Industries Canada (PIC), an industry-led, non-profit organization that aims to boost Canada’s market viability as a global source of plant protein ingredients. The company anticipates completion of its 94,000-square foot production facility in Winnipeg, Canada, in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“This investment is exciting and empowering for Merit as it grows as a company,” says Ryan Bracken, Co-CEO of Merit. “It is helping us overcome many of the hurdles that new companies typically experience and, instead, unlocking numerous opportunities for us – including job creation, technology expansion and more.”

PIC is one of Canada’s five innovation superclusters, which are government-initiated efforts to significantly boost Canada’s job market, GDP, groundbreaking research and bold innovations. The organization’s funding will be put toward helping bolster throughput, increase efficiency, decrease energy consumption and reduce Merit’s environmental footprint. Merit anticipates adding more than 240 jobs over the coming months and years to support its growth.

“This project is a great example of why the Innovation Superclusters Initiative was created,” says Bill Greuel, CEO of PIC. “The consortium consists of businesses from across the value chain coming together to create new products not currently produced anywhere else in the world. This will increase the demand and value of some of Western Canada’s biggest agricultural commodities – peas and canola – and create new products to sell to customers across the globe.”

Further partnerships will involve the development of best practices related to pea and canola genetics.

Merit utilizes Burcon NutraScience’s patented and “disruptive” protein extraction technology, which has been in development for more than 19 years. The company is currently building its plant-based protein processing facility, where it will produce what is marketed as the “world’s first high-purity, non-GMO canola protein.” With this move, the company hopes to create a new value-added revenue stream for canola grown in Western Canada, which was previously limited to the extraction and sale of canola oil.

Further partnerships will involve Merit Functional Foods and Pitura Seeds of Domain, Manitoba, to develop best practices as it relates to pea and canola genetics, as well as to build standards for seed cleaning specifications necessary to achieve optimal protein. Merit is also collaborating with the Manitoba Food Development Centre to perform functionality and applications work on Merit’s various by-product offerings to understand how they can be utilized.

“Pitura Seeds is proud to partner in this new project, which will bring significant value to Western Canadian farmers,” says Tom Greaves, President and General Manager of Pitura Seeds. The company owns and operates the largest family-owned seed processing facility in Western Canada, which grows and contract produces more than 35,000 acres of cereals, pulses and oilseeds on a yearly basis.

Additionally, a partnership with The Winning Combination of Winnipeg will help Merit assess and confirm pea and canola protein functionality and stability. “We are very excited to be working with two local businesses to produce a Manitoba product that meets the growing global demand in this space,” says Mark Colley, COO of The Winning Combination.

“The support we’ve received from PIC thus far has been outstanding and it is a crucial driver for our continued growth,” Bracken says. “We’re entering the new year grateful and determined and we’re eager to start offering our protein to the market when our facility is completed in the fourth quarter of 2020.”

PIC currently has 22 projects being evaluated for investment. The projects represent potential investment of more than CA$130 million (US$99.4 million) and include projects from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Global appetite for pea and canola proteins
Last year has seen some significant investments for both pea and canola proteins, which have now expanded across global markets. In August, Cargill ramped up its interest in Puris, the largest North American producer of pea protein and a key supplier to Beyond Meat, with an additional US$75 million investment. Moreover, the ingredient was strongly featured at the Fi Europe & Ni 2019 (FiE) trade show held in Paris, France, last December.

“The world is crying out for pea protein because it’s non-allergen and non-GMO. Now we have the modern processes to eliminate any bitter taste or off-taste, which was the main problem with pea protein for years and years,” Frédéric Monachon, Business Manager, Savoury & Beverages EMEA, at Brenntag told FoodIngredientsFirst on the showfloor of FiE.

In big moves for canola, Royal DSM (DSM) joined forces with French agro-industrial group Avril last July to develop a new protein based on non-GMO canola, coined CanolaPRO. Last May, Burcon NutraScience Corporation research and development company entered into a joint venture partnership with an investor group to build a new CA$65 million (US$49.7 million) pea-protein and canola-protein commercial production facility in Western Canada, expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

The Plant-Based Revolution” is pegged by Innova Market Research as the second most significant trend expected to influence NPD this year. Within the vegan meat space, the market researcher’s 2018 consumer survey showed one in five US consumers “have eaten less meat across the past year.” Meat substitutes accounted for 14 percent of global meat launches in the first nine months of 2018, up from 6 percent in 2013.

Published by Food Ingredients 1st

Written by Benjamin Ferrer