Growing potential: The protein opportunity worth billions

Canada’s agricultural sector has been feeding the world for over a hundred years, but is still often undervalued as an economic force. More often than not, the commodities produced here are exported for processing and end up back on our grocery shelves. This begs the question—why are we shipping out ingredients for processing instead of doing it ourselves?

While there are many companies in Manitoba (and in Canada) taking our agricultural goods and turning them into products for retail and wholesale, there is still so much room to grow.

Enter Protein Industries Canada and the Road to $25 billion
In November, Protein Industries Canada (PIC) released an updated report on its Road to $25 Billion initiative. The initiative was first announced in 2021, laying out the economic opportunity that protein ingredients, foods and other bio-based products offer the country.

“In a rapidly changing global environment characterized by the new realities of climate change, geopolitical tensions, increased competition, and a rapidly growing global population, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option,” Bill Greuel said with the release of the initiative update on Nov. 7. “We must consider areas of the economy that have the potential to grow and be resilient within this new reality. Canada’s ingredient manufacturing sector is one of those. It can offer prosperity, a strengthened food supply chain and economic resilience to Canada in the face of this evolving landscape.”

PIC investment highlights in Manitoba
• $1.56 million to NRGene, Farmers Business Network (FBN), Manitoba Harvest and Pulse Genetics for developing new pea and hemp varieties for use in plant-based food and ingredient processing.
• $205,000 to Assiniboine Community College for the development  of two new three-year diploma programs to address the challenges in labour for plant-protein processing and other food and beverage manufacturing in Manitoba and across Canada.
• $9.6 million to Roquette and Prairie Fava for the study of plant-based protein extraction.
• $6.1 million to Botaneco, Corteva and Rainfed Foods for the utilization of new canola and hemp to create new oleosome and protein products.

The reality of hunger
The world we live in needs food, and supplying that food is becoming more difficult. According to the PIC report, today’s geopolitical issues, climate change and growing population are challenging our ability to produce enough food. Given Canada’s status as a major agricultural producer, there is a significant opportunity for the country to do more—but we’re lagging behind in innovation and productivity. However, there is plenty of optimism about what Canada can accomplish.

What needs to happen
“Canada can spearhead a transformative wave in the global food system,” according to the report. “Expanding our capabilities in ingredient manufacturing, food processing, biofuel and other innovative sectors promises substantial economic growth, bolstered economic resilience and a surge in support for innovation-driven occupations. Intentional action is required to ensure Canada remains competitive in the changing global economy.”

First, PIC says that we need to increase our domestic manufacturing capacity. This increase in production will then allow farmers to sell crops closer to home and have more options when doing so. PIC sees the need for another 2.5 million tonnes of processing capacity a year—adding approximately 10 to 15 new processing plants in Canada—which also means billions in new construction. The increase in processing will also require labour, creating 17,000 new jobs to support the sector.

Plant-based foods also offer another benefit that is good for the environment and the economy. “Plant-based foods as a part of global diets will help reduce emissions related to agriculture production and provide options for consumers. As well, the export of ingredients uses less energy for transport by shipping ingredients companies need versus the whole seed,” says the report.

Beyond the economic benefits, the additional processing will better secure Canada’s food supply chain, protect the country from geopolitical risks, and position us as a leader in the global food system.

How we get there
According to PIC, we know what needs to be done. Now, how do we accomplish it? First, we need to “focus on innovation and support the commercialization of IP.” It’s a refrain we’re hearing in all sectors, not just agriculture. Canada needs to better utilize existing programs and increase overall funding for commercialization of new technologies and tailor initiatives to the agrifood industry.

Canada also needs to improve its regulatory environment for plant-based food, feed and ingredients. We have to support business growth and a safe food system at the same time by ensuring labelling requirements are consistent with other jurisdictions and creating more efficient timelines for novel food regulations, so that Canadian ingredients can make their way into profitable international markets. The report also notes that our critical infrastructure—transportation, utilities and brownfield development—are limiting opportunities for growth. PIC encourages the growth of “nation building projects by developing a strategic perspective on the highest productivity enhancing infrastructure priorities for the country” and “unlocking a pipeline of investable infrastructure projects by increasing the acceptability of user-pay models”—along with addressing any bottlenecks and coordination among levels of government to attract private sector investment.

As well, the report outlines the need to establish new markets for plant-based ingredients both here and abroad. Plus, PIC sees the need for incentives and capital for food manufacturing. To do so, Canada needs to consider providing federal lending for “long-term patient capital into the ingredient manufacturing space, including consideration of a Developmental Fund to support ingredient manufacturing infrastructure” along with finding ways to de-risk private investment and marketing our value proposition globally.

So far
PIC, from the start of its mandate in 2018, has invested $350 million into innovation in the plant-based food, feed and ingredients space. It was renewed again in 2023, receiving another $150 million in funding.

“The federal government’s $350 million investment into Protein Industries Canada has been invaluable in bringing attention to the sector and Canada’s opportunity,” Greuel said in November. “But we must go further, and with urgency, to build off those investments to ensure Canada remains competitive and captures the value of our commodities to strengthen the Canadian economy.”

The road to $25 billion lies ahead of us. Now we have to decide whether it’s the one we’re going to take.

The Government of Manitoba launched the Manitoba Protein Advantage in 2019 as a strategy between government and industry to grow the protein sector. The Manitoba Protein Consortium was created to implement the strategy entitled Project ASPIRE: Accelerating Sustainable Protein Impact and Results.

Since then, ProteinMB has been launched from Project Aspire. The new organization, based in Winnipeg, has a mission to “support the expansion of Manitoba’s protein industry, collaboratively working with all protein players in our joint pursuit of providing local sustainable protein here at home and around the world.”


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