Bringing stakeholders together to expand Canada's plant-based ecosystem


Protein Industries Canada joined forces with both long-standing and new organizations throughout their Fund l journey to grow a more innovative and profitable plant-based ecosystem. Protein Industries Canada project partners are located across Canada, and comprise nearly every link in the value chain, allowing for a wide range of benefits that reach companies and Canadians alike while intersecting each of the organization’s program streams.

Skills and talent development is one of the most common of these benefits. The Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI) has made significant progress in advancing the use of digital tools–particularly machine learning and artificial intelligence–across Canada’s agriculture and agrifood sector, helping prepare future workers to meet exciting new job demands. To do so, the organization strategically partnered on such initiatives as the Explore Project with Actua and Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC), and the EMILI Data Initiative with Alberta Innovates (ADI).

The Explore Project delivered programming to youth from Kindergarten through Grade 12, with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Since the launch of the Explore Project, youth engagement has reached 58,000 students, including more than 11,000 Indigenous youth.

“By partnering with organizations that work along different parts of the value chain, we are able to build on one another’s strengths, and share resources and knowledge to strengthen and maintain Canada’s reputation as a leader in digital agriculture,” said Jacqueline Keena, Managing Director of EMILI. “And we’re able to reach far more youth than we would be able to reach if we were working independently.”

The EMILI Data Initiative focused on building capacity in Canada’s agrifood value chain through the use of intelligent technologies like AI and machine learning, providing an opportunity for optimization and greater productivity in industries across the ecosystem. Work is ongoing as far as meeting the growing need for enhanced technological skills in agriculture and recognizing that Canada must continue skill building from the ground up, and work to attract top talent globally.

EMILI’s efforts have also created opportunities for prairie-based universities and colleges to incorporate digital agriculture into their existing STEM programs by building critical skills and connecting youth, including those with diverse perspectives, to relevant career opportunities.

“Through programs like this, we are able to introduce the innovators of the future to career opportunities they may not otherwise know about,” Keena continued. “The youth we are reaching come from diverse backgrounds, with unique perspectives and goals. Engaging them now while they are early in their educational journey is an important way of ensuring the agrifood industries ongoing sustainability and success.”

This focus on the sector’s ongoing sustainability and success was common among project partners—enough so that Pulse Canada, Protein Industries Canada and Plant-Based Foods of Canada collaborated to host a large-scale event focused on promoting the Canadian plant-based sector’s strengths in those very areas. Plant Forward, a national conference held in Toronto, Ont., in November 2022, attracted national and international interest in the Canadian plant-based ecosystem, and strengthened ties between partners that collectively serve the entire value chain, from farm to fork.

“One of our unique advantages,” said Julianne Curran, Vice President of Market Innovation at Pulse Canada, “is that we do have the entire value chain here to connect with. To make those links–whether it be with producers, processors or manufacturing so they can operate partnerships with all the stakeholders–presented an opportunity for us. Folks could come and learn about areas of the value chain that perhaps they didn’t have as much knowledge or experience with.”

This approach ties in well with Protein Industries Canada’s efforts to co-invest with private sector companies to create new products, technologies and services to support growth and help build capacity in the sector, and ultimately, strengthen the ecosystem in key priority areas.

The event built on Pulse Canada’s additional efforts during Fund l programming. The first was a project focused on modernizing regulations to support changes to Canada’s regulatory framework and develop The Regulatory Centre of Excellence to help companies in the sector compete more effectively in the global market. Goals included gaining clarity around existing regulations and moving forward with the innovation needed to align the industry with consumer protein labeling and nutrition information.

The second project was a pet food collaboration where partners Pulse Canada, AGT Food and Ingredients, BSM Partners and other research entities studied the relationship between canine DCM (a thinning and stretching of the heart chambers) and pulse ingredients in dog foods. Depending on the results of the research, the project could help to strengthen the Canadian pulse sector’s footprint in the U.S. dog food market.

“It is partnerships and projects such as these that impact value chain stakeholders as a larger group, and with no competitive advantage to any one entity, where having partners come together to focus on the shared pre-competitive phase is beneficial,” summed up Julianne Curran.

With the Canadian government’s recent recapitalization of Protein Industries Canada, the value gained from building on the last four years and continuing to foster effective and unique collaborations across the value chain is more important than ever in growing Canada’s plant-based sector – both nationally and globally.

“The goal to provide 10 per cent of the world’s plant-based ingredients by 2035 and in turn contribute $25 billion annually to Canada’s economy supported by 17,000 jobs ties in directly with Fund ll goals and involves building on the strengths of our members,” said Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada. “We learned in Fund l that the most successful projects have deep meaningful collaboration along the value chain. I’m looking forward to the collaborative innovation we can drive for our linkage along the value chain in Fund ll.”