Canada sets sights on plant-protein potential, notes Natural Products Canada CEO


03 Dec 2018 --- The Canadian market is an ideal space for innovation and NPD along plant-based lines, illustrated by the Canadian Government seeking to place the country as a leader in the plant-based market with a US$153 million investment in the Prairie-based Protein Industries Canada Supercluster. This, combined with the legalization of recreational cannabis which has opened the door to a whole new category of cannabis-infused foods, makes for an exciting time in Canadian food and beverages. As global food supply pressure mount, leading to increasing interest in alternative protein sources, is Canada the next plant-protein superpower?

According to Shelley King, the CEO of Natural Products Canada –  the county’s “center of excellence” for the commercialization and research of natural products – Canada is a plant-based “powerhouse” and an increasingly attractive space to do business for local and foreign companies alike. King gives FoodIngredientsFirst an insight into the strong and diversifying natural product market of Canada, noting a number of government and industry moves reflecting its goodwill for this space.

FoodIngredientsFirst: What makes Canada’s alternative protein scene a stand-out market?
King: Canada has a long history in the development of plant proteins – we’re a leading global producer and exporter of canola – but it’s been highlighted recently through major investments in pea protein processing by Roquette and film director James Cameron. Further, the Canadian government’s investment in the Protein Industries Canada supercluster is a shot in the arm for the development of innovative protein companies, technologies and products. The supercluster concept ensures that industry and academia are aligned in their research pursuits and that the value chain for plant proteins is complete. The Government investment recognizes these strengths and shows that it is serious about making Canada a global plant protein superpower.

Click to EnlargeShelley King, the CEO of Natural Products Canada, sees a bright future for Canada's plant-based market.Another big mover in alternative proteins is insects. When President’s Choice – the beloved house brand of the national grocer, Loblaws – brought insect protein powder to the shelves, the Canadian food industry knew it was something to watch. Smaller companies like Crickstart have incorporated protein powder into an innovative line of crackers and bars. They’re connected to Entomo Farms, the largest insect farm in North America, which is housed in Ontario.

FoodIngredientsFirst: Health is a huge trend in the industry, but what other trends are significant in the Canadian market and how will the legalization of cannabis impact this?
King: The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada will open up a whole new wave of innovation in cannabis-based foods and beverages. Development and positioning are happening now with some of the major beverage companies, such as Molson Coors Canada, taking big stakes in cannabis companies. When edibles become legal – tentatively expected in the fall of 2019 – Canada will be the place to be for anyone looking to participate in this space.

Health-focused trends will remain predominant as consumers look to eliminate certain items from their diets like gluten, dairy and eggs. We see great innovations coming from companies like Eggcitables, which is a plant-based egg replacement. There’s also Chufa, which has dairy-free ice cream and beverage made from the tiger nut, as well as Yofiit, which has a plant-based, high-protein, dairy-replacement beverage.

We also see the medicalization of food such as the Cultured Coconut and their plant-based, kefir probiotic. Specialty diets such as paleo are well served by Nud Fud and their plant-based, high protein offerings. GrainFrac manufactures beta-glucan from barley, which is used in products like baked goods to help control glycemic index and cholesterol. Lastly, Nutracelle has a line of prebiotic protein powders designed for weight management, including bariatric patients.

Healthy indulgences in the “better for you” category are also growing. Bridge Peak has a delicious line of chocolate snacking products designed for diabetics and anyone who is watching their glycemic index and Shockingly Healthy has a range of gluten-free, high-protein baked goods such as brownies and squares made with chickpeas and dates.

FoodIngredientsFirst: How does the investment landscape look regarding natural food and beverage companies?Click to EnlargeHealthy indulgencies in the "better for you" category are growing
King: There have been some major deals in the past year or so, including Otsuka’s acquisition of Daiya Foods, a Canadian dairy alternative, for US$308 million. Before that came WhiteWave Foods acquisition of Vega, a manufacturer of plant-based protein and nutrition shakes for US$550 million.

FoodIngredientsFirst: Is there potential for foreign food and beverage companies to set up shop in Canada?
King: Canada’s extensive research, development and commercialization community is a huge asset to foreign companies. There is also Canada’s highly regarded regulatory system and the abundance of national distribution channels. All of this coupled with the generous innovation support programs make Canada a great place to set up shop, create interesting new products, market test them with Canadian consumers, and then expand into the US market and beyond.

By Laxmi Haigh & Lucy Gunn

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