Unlocking Canada’s vast plant-based protein potential

FEATURED SPEAKER Fi Conference 2019
Canada’s reputation as an agricultural commodity-exporting behemoth is moving towards new innovative ideas about supply chain cooperation and delivering value-added ingredients. Kelley Fitzpatrick, who will discuss plant-based protein opportunities at the Fi Conference 2019, has been a key player in this evolution.

Kelley Fitzpatrick

Consumers are increasingly choosing plant-based foods as a sustainable and healthy option, which in turn means that demand for plant-based ingredients is growing. Some estimates put the global plant protein market at over $40.6 billion by 2025[1]‎ while plant protein could represent one-third of overall protein by 2054[2].

This presents a challenge for ingredient suppliers in their search for new sources, but also an opportunity for traditional agricultural exporters to move up the value chain. One country that has taken action to tap these changing market dynamics is Canada.

Land of untapped opportunity
“Canadian agriculture is so vast that much of it has been commoditised,” says Kelley Fitzpatrick, President of Canadian consultancy NutriScience Solutions. “We have a number of oilseeds, pulses and speciality crops that are actually good sources of protein, but historically, as one example in oilseeds, the protein left behind after oil extraction has been sold for animal feed. Canada is notoriously good at producing and harvesting high quality crops, but then shipping them out for processing elsewhere.”

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Fitzpatrick is part of a new wave of thinking about Canadian agriculture. “This is about changing our commodity-based mentality,” she says. “We grow it, we ship it, we bring it back processed. How do we get around that?”

One way, she believes, is to bring together farmers, small processors, ingredient suppliers and retailers. This ensures that the supply chain is properly connected, and that the demands of the market reach the farmer directly. It also means that the agricultural sector has both the market knowledge and access to facilities they need to extract maximum value from their crop.

Cluster of expertise
Fitzpatrick was one of the lead writers for Protein Industries Canada (PIC), a supercluster set up by the Canadian government to achieve exactly this. “This initiative is about stimulating cluster building,” she says. “I see it as forming conglomerates of SMEs and multi-nationals, who are all working towards the same goal. This is not just about applying for funding, which is something that can be hard to get across. It is about building market-driven relationships, with support through funding.”

Fitzpatrick provides the example of a fava bean grower to show how this works in practice. “Fava beans are a great crop with many positive food and nutrition attributes,” she says. “And for farmers, they offer high nitrogen fixation, which means that they keep nitrogen in ground for the next crop in rotation. They can also be harvested late and are relatively drought resistant.”

What though can farmers do with their fava crop? Selling into the feed market represents little return on their investment. “What we have done is hook up with investors and ingredients suppliers to develop fava into a high value food source, in this instance a flour,” says Fitzpatrick. “The farmer has access to facilities to clean, process and de-hull the beans, while bringing the farmer into the process means ensuring consistency of supply.”

Bringing the message to Europe
Fitzpatrick will discuss plant-based protein opportunities in more detail at Food Ingredients Europe, and one message she is keen to get across is that Canada has the crops and the technology to feed the world. The PIC supercluster is about connecting raw material suppliers with innovative processing know-how she says, and providing the right conditions for these collaborations to grow.

“I’m proud of Canada for pushing these initiatives, and I think that protein is where we can really shine. I’ve seen a definite shift of focus away from commodity prices towards innovation, research and scientific support. Consumers are also increasingly willing to pay a premium for products that speak to them and have a role in their life.”

Fitzpatrick is also looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances at the event. “I’ve been many times to Fi Europe and I think this is a fantastic place to see innovation in action,” she says. “I always tell Canadian companies that they should attend, but I also say: make sure you have the science to back up your products!’”

Kelley Fitzpatrick, President of NutriScience Solutions, will present ‘Plant-Based Protein Opportunities for Canadian Crops’ at the Fi Conference on 4 December at 12:00.

[1] https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/plant-based-protein-market-14715651.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_5rtBRDxARIsAJfxvYAMvWbLLIGcUbdXlU8dSIzQeC5W_x6cj15B8jBfAEeGV67qtFYRFVIaAlqfEALw_wcB

[2] http://members.luxresearchinc.com/research/report/16091