Province's plant-based protein industry gets $10-M boost

PIC in the News

A new collaboration with close to $10 million of funding from the federally funded Protein Industries Canada (PIC) supercluster will further bolster the growing plant-based protein industry in Manitoba.

Saskatchewan-based PIC will provide $9.6 million in funding which will be matched by industry, including Roquette and Prairie Fava to study various elements of plant-based protein extraction.

The French company, Roquette, is in the final stages of construction of a $400-million pea protein plant in Portage la Prairie. Prairie Fava, a much smaller family-owned operation in Glenboro, Man. is one of the few fava bean processing operations in the country.

Among other things, the funding will go towards gaining a better understanding of doing plant-based protein extraction in cold weather and investigating the effectiveness of pea-fava protein blends.

The multi-year project will involve new research into breeding, agronomics, finished product testing and human clinical trials. It is expected that the project consortium will include at least 11 Canadian academic and research institutions and two additional smaller companies.

This is the sixth project funded by PIC, which was awarded $153 million in funding from the federal government two years ago as one of Canada’s five innovation superclusters.

Last year, PIC announced a similar-sized project featuring Merit Functional Foods, a company building a pea and canola protein plant in the Centreport area.

The pea portion of the research in this project will include studies evaluating pea varieties in Western Canada and their suitability for Roquette’s new plant and research on processing to improve the functional properties of the pea protein isolates.

The fava portion of the research is largely focused on optimizing the dehulling and processing of fava beans by Prairie Fava, increasing their efficiency and reducing their costs of production. The partnership will also focus on the development of end-products and pea-fava ingredient blends.

The collaboration opportunities between Roquette and Prairie Fava is likely to involve testing the properties and relative functionality of blends of pea and fava bean proteins.

Dominique Baumann, Roquette’s managing director in Canada, said that the market for pea protein has been developed over several years. The demand for pea protein as ingredients in all sorts of foods is only just now gaining momentum, which was the motivation for the company to build the plant in Portage la Prairie, the largest pea protein manufacturing operation in the world. Earlier this year, Roquette signed a long-term supply agreement with Beyond Meat, the food processing company that is doing a lot to increase consumer demand for foods with plant-based protein.

"We see this (fava protein) as an emerging protein," Baumann said. "It’s still in its infancy but pea protein was in its infancy 15 years ago. It takes a lot of time to develop."

Hailey Jefferies, co-founder and CEO of Prairie Fava, said the involvement in this project will allow her company to expand its processing facility that includes splitting fava beans and milling fava flour.

She said since the company started in 2017 there has been increasing demand.

"We are seeing a huge increase in demand from the snack food market for fava flour and in the bakery market," she said. "Fava is very high in protein and has a neutral flavour."

Bill Greuel, the CEO of PIC, said projects like this will help create a stronger, more robust agri-food processing industry in Canada.

"The development of the plant protein ecosystem is a good reflection of how our supercluster is supposed to work including support for academic research to accelerate innovation," he said.

Published by: Winnipeg Free Press

Written by: Martin Cash