More and more people are eating plant-based products than ever before. According to Plant-Based Foods of Canada, recent Nielson data showed meat and dairy alternatives sales have increased as much as eight percent, becoming an industry worth over $3 billion in Canada. It’s clear that this industry is not only here to stay but actively growing and, in the midst of this pandemic, a recent investment might position Canada as a leader within that business segment.

The Prime Minister recently announced that Canada will invest nearly $100 million into plant-based foods. The money will finance the construction of the new Merit Functional Foods plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that will produce plant proteins as ingredients for plant-based food and beverages.(Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Boosting Canada’s reputation as a global leader in plant proteins. June 22, 2020.)

“As people around the world start eating more plant-based products, we have an opportunity to bring together Canadian innovation and Canadian crops,” said the Prime Minister.

A large part of being a leader in any industry is innovation. Merit Functional Food’s new protein extraction technology will produce the world’s highest purity and highest quality pea protein as well as the first ever canola protein safe for human consumption, helping position Canada as one of the world’s leaders in plant-based protein. The pea, canola and blended proteins will be used in meat and egg alternatives, baked goods, nutrition bars, and fortified beverages.

Canola – A new made-in-Canada plant-based ingredient

The new Merit Functional Foods plant, expected to be operational in December 2020, will be the first facility in the world able to produce food-grade canola protein. a new and exciting entrant to the plant-based protein ingredient segment.

According to the Canola Council of Canada, Canada exports over 90 per cent of its canola as seed, oil, or animal feed to over 50 markets around the world. An independent analysis conducted by LMC International, a leading agri-business research firm, released by the Canola Council of Canada in 2017, revealed that Canadian-grown canola generated $26.7 billion a year in value to the Canadian economy. employing 250,000 people.

Statistics Canada’s Outlook for Principal Field Crops reports that the area seeded for canola dropped eight per cent reaching its lowest in three years in the 2019/2020 season. In 2020, domestic processing is expected to remain steady with the industry continuing to operate at near full capacity.

The new Merit Functional Foods facility will source 100 per cent of its inputs from Canadian producers, with a projected forecast to utilize 17,000 metric tonnes of canola seed in its first year. Since canola is an integral part of our agricultural economy, this innovation may enable our canola industry to diversify further, future proofing it by appealing to more markets than ever before.

Pea protein for plant-based foods and beverages

Canola isn’t the only crop to see some innovation. Merit Functional Food’s new food plant is forecasted to use 10,000 metric tonnes of yellow peas to “produce an unprecedented pea protein,” according to Merit Co-CEO Ryan Bracken. The patented extraction process significantly reduces the intensity of the pea flavour; thus, providing manufacturers with an ideal way of adding a neutral tasting, high protein nutritional boost to foods and beverages while staying dairy-free, soy-free, grain-free and gluten-free.

Peas, as well as crops such as dry beans, lentils and chickpeas all fall under the category of pulses. Pulses are an important component of Canadian agriculture. Dry peas alone are estimated to have about 1.754 million hectares of seeded area in Canada according to the Statistics Canada’s Outlook for Principal Field Crops.

With more people around the world eating more plant-based foods, the opening of the Merit Functional Foods plant will help Canada lead the way.