Plant protein players

Photo provided by Prairie Fava

As market forces have experts forecasting Canada-wide economic stagnation into 2024, some Manitoba companies are finding ways to stimulate growth despite the lukewarm outlook.

One in particular really has its finger on the pulse, and that is Glenboro-based Prairie Fava.

The company, established by Hailey and Cale Jefferies in 2015, is capitalizing on the rapidly expanding markets for plant-based protein, with a focus on fava beans. The strategy is simple: purchase the pulse crop yield from prairie-wide producers and then find or develop new markets by leveraging their own value-added processing.

“[We] clean it, [and] sort it, but [our] principal processing is a proprietary dehulling technology,” explains Kelley Fitzpatrick, Prairie Fava’s technical advisor.

“The beans are really hard, they have a really hard shell and the dehulling basically knocks that hull off and improves the ability to utilize the fava in various ingredients,” she says.

Fitzpatrick says the company’s core products are whole fava beans, dehulled split fava beans and fava flour—all ingredients packed with high density protein and rich nutrients that are increasingly used in the foods we consume.

By all accounts the company’s long-term vision is paying off. Statistics Canada says the market for alternative proteins, including plant-based proteins, is expected to grow 14 per cent annually by 2024. The nation’s statistical office also notes that nearly half of the population is actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets.

Prairie Fava says it’s now on course for about 40 per cent annual growth per year for the foreseeable future and is expecting to process more than 9,000 metric tonnes in 2024, up from 5,000 metric tonnes in 2023.

Growth opportunities through public or private collaboration
Proud of reaching these growth targets, Fitzpatrick says Prairie Fava’s momentum is supported by their ability to take advantage of government funding made readily available to local businesses.

In 2021, the federal government invested just over $1 million to help the company scale-up its production capabilities. They’ve also recently tapped into the Manitoba government’s Innovation Growth Program designed to assist small and medium-sized local enterprises in the commercialization of innovative products and to accelerate growth.

Fitzpatrick says a willingness to work with others in their sector, or vertically along the supply chain itself, has been another important growth strategy. Among these collaborators is the international agri-food giant, Roquette, which built the largest pea protein plant in the world in Manitoba in 2021.

“I will tell you this support is awesome. For the proprietary dehulling, including some of the capital, we were funded through Protein Industries Canada in a partnership with Roquette. So that was so invaluable because Roquette taught us a lot and really helped to support the dehulling optimization,” she says of the 2021 funding and partnership initiative.

Building out a circular economy
Roquette’s decision to set up its world-class plant on the outskirts of Portage la Prairie was driven by several key factors.

The company says chief among them were the access to clean electricity, strong immigration policies that support the availability of skilled labour, transportation links to markets and proximity to local growers who ultimately provide the raw materials they need.

“We have already created 130 full time jobs, ranging from agronomists to engineers to microbiologists,” says Dominique Baumann, managing director for Roquette Canada.

“We are also a major purchaser of goods and services from Manitoba-based businesses such as professional services, skilled trade contractors, freight transportation, and warehousing. Our local partners in the agri-food sector and business community have been key to the success of our project,” he says.

Roquette says it’s highly focused on sustainability and local investments in the province. For example, they produce what is known as “Pea Cream”, a liquid livestock feed using the by-products of their pea processing operations.

“We ensure that all parts of the yellow pea are utilized, and no part is wasted. With the support of local livestock producers, we’ve been able to take the concept of a circular economy from words on paper to reality,” says Baumann.

Thinking globally, acting locally
Roquette says producers and processors in Manitoba and other pulse crop producing provinces have the potential to become top contributors in meeting the global demand for sustainable, plant-based protein sources.

Looking outside of provincial borders as a source of economic growth for local businesses is precisely what the World Trade Centre Winnipeg has its eyes set on.

“I do think what’s interesting about the Manitoba market is that if you’re launching a business and you want to grow your business, you’ll probably want to think very early on about growth outside of the province because the market is limited,” says André Brin, chief executive officer for the organization.

Winnipeg’s World Trade Centre office is one, among a network of 319 others, across 92 countries. Brin says his team of trade advisors help local businesses identify growth opportunities and overcome obstacles by connecting them with local domestic resources and tapping into their international trade networks. They also assist Manitoba businesses with crucial market research.

Prairie Fava is just one of the many local businesses that have been tapping into the World Trade Centre Winnipeg’s services.

Brin says there are many emerging markets on the horizon, notably countries on the African continent that could potentially become a big source of business for Manitoba companies. He says with many business owners looking to transition into retirement over the next decade, now is the time to future-proof their investments and ensure the continuity of their life’s work.


Highlights from Manitoba business

Stay informed on breaking news, announcements and more right here.