by Leslie Ewing
America’s Northern Neighbour is Leading with Sector Innovation
If sales are any indication, plant-based foods is one of the most exciting categories in the United States. The industry is growing at a tremendous pace while making a dizzying array of product choices available to American consumers. But perhaps you’d be surprised to know that Canada is quietly becoming its own global hub for R&D and advancements in the sector.
As in the United States, Canadian consumers are increasingly looking for plant-based products to add to their dietary mix. That may be for environmental reasons, for nutritional reasons, or simply to add some good-tasting variety into their existing family diet. Research indicates the demand for plant-based foods will continue to increase rapidly over the next several years, too. Recent Nielsen data shows that sales of plant-based foods in Canada grew by 16% for the year ending 2019, becoming an industry worth more than $500 million.
As demand grows, the Canadian industry is seeing tremendous innovation on the supply side, too. Already the top producer of lentils in the world, Canada excels at providing nutritious, plant-based protein options to consumers. New technology is also adding value to our grain commodities and plant-based proteins.
Just last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will invest almost $100 million of financing for plant-based foods in Merit Functional Foods in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The company creates pea, canola and blended proteins, and expects to utilize 10,000 metric tonnes of yellow peas and 17,000 tonnes of canola seed in its first year.
The investment was an affirmation of Canada’s potential for global leadership. Canada’s Minister for small business, the Hon. Mary Ng, praised the company for “leading the way in the … agriculture sector here at home and around the world.” Prime Minister Trudeau echoed her confidence in the industry, saying, “As people around the world start eating more plant-based products, we have an opportunity to bring together Canadian innovation and Canadian crops.”
And that’s just one recent investment. In 2018, the federal government created a new Protein Industries “supercluster” to help Canadian processors become more efficient. The $3 million co-funded supercluster brings together industry, academic institutions, and not-for-profits to spur jobs and innovation. The supercluster is expected to create more than 4,500 jobs, add more than $4.5 billion to Canada’s economy over the next decade, and to grow demand and value for Canadian crops around the world at a time when it is so desperately needed.
Plant-based foods is not so much a sector as a movement in Canada, one with palpable momentum. Recent major federal grants are encouraging, as are Canadian technologies based on Canadian crops. We believe Canada has the potential to be a leader in this new and exciting industry. This is possible as long as we continue to advocate and work towards a supportive regulatory environment, rather than overregulation that could thwart investment and stifle growth. Our challenges are not new, nor are they unique to the Canadian industry. With a robust educational programme and advocacy, Plant Based Foods of Canada is working to help our Canadian industry maintain — and accelerate — its recent momentum. Stay tuned.
Leslie Ewing is Executive Director of Plant-Based Foods of Canada (PBFC), which acts as a collective voice for companies that make and market plant-based food products. PBFC uses its voice to advocate for a modernized Canadian regulatory environment that allows members to market their products effectively, and to make them accessible to all consumers. For more information visit: www.plantbasedfoodscanada.ca
Plant-Based Foods of Canada is a Division of Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC).