Although Tim Horton’s Beyond Meat burger didn’t pass muster for Canadian consumers nationally, plant-based proteins are on the rise globally. According to a UBS report from 2019, plant-based proteins are expected to rise from a 2018 market worth of USD $4.6 billion to $85 billion in 2030.
“You have another billion people joining the middle class,” says David Dzisiak, Chief Operating Officer of Botaneco, an Alberta-based multinational agriculture company, “When people take a step up the social ladder and they get a new dollar, they spend 70 percent of that on food.”
And healthier, environmentally-conscious meat alternatives are proving to be a popular choice among millennial and Generation Z consumers. “We are seeing a lot of consumers think about the environmental consciousness of the food products that they are choosing, tying to increase the number of plant-based products in their diet to improve animal welfare, and increase environmental and health-consciousness,” says Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada.
Frank Hart, Chair of Protein Industries Canada echoed the sentiment. “With a changing climate and pressure on water and acreage to grow food, as well as two billion more people on the planet, we are going to have to get more of our protein from plants directly as opposed to routing it through the animal,” he said.
It may come as no surprise—considering the amount of arable land at our disposal—that Canada, and Saskatchewan in particular, is well-equipped to meet the plant protein demand. According to John Lee, President & CEO of Economic Development Regina, Saskatchewan is a “dominating force, particularly in the crop side of agriculture.”
“Saskatchewan is the world’s largest exporter of peas, lentils, durum wheat, canola, flax and oats,” says Alanna Koch, Chair of the Board for the Global Institute for Food Security. Pea protein is expected to lead the alternative-protein market in the short- and medium-term globally, but simply exporting these raw materials is not enough.
“It is a constant challenge for farmers to deal with a changing climate, but in light of increased environmental pressure because of climate change, we need to make sure that we are doing all we can to get more crop per drop [and] that we are innovating,” says Koch. “In this, Canada is a model. We are world-leading sustainable producers.”
Unfortunately, there is a price for sustainability. Canada must compete with other agricultural powerhouses in the developing world that do not consider the same environmental factors.
“In the short- to medium-term, those are competitive disadvantages in terms of the extra money that we spend in managing waste or incorporating new technology into our operations,” says Sarah Fedorchuk, VP Government & Public Affairs at Mosaic Company, “We are hoping that eventually all of this extra attention and money that we are putting into our sustainability targets will actually start to pay us dividends.”
Not only is innovation a necessary—albeit expensive—way forward for Canada’s agriculture sector, but it is something that our farmers are quite good at.
“What we have as an advantage in Canada and Western Canada in particular is a farming community that is very quick to adopt and adapt new technologies,” says Hart. However, innovation is something that Canada needs to invest in more across the board. According to Greuel, Canada must invest twice as much into science and innovation to keep pace with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. Still, this presents a huge opportunity for Canada.
“Innovation into plant-based protein, new technologies, and the digitization of agriculture will become an opportunity here in Canada,” says Murad Al-Katib, President & CEO of AGT Food and Ingredients and Chair of the Government of Canada’s National Agri-Food Strategy Roundtable, “The big opportunity is marrying that global demand for protein and commodities with value-added products, technology and innovation.”
In capitalizing on this opportunity, Canada must have the correct policies and regulations to encourage its agricultural sector to innovate and produce more value per crop. Saskatchewan, according to Koch, is providing a model which the country can follow.
“In Saskatchewan, the government is a great example of setting that regulatory and policy climate,” says Koch. “They are science-based and business-focused, and they have put programs in place to support that whether it is with tax incentives or small government programs to support agriculture and investment, as well as a strong focus on investing in research and innovation.”
If Canada follows Saskatchewan’s example, it would position us as a leader in providing the world with the protein it needs. “We know that the population growth challenge is ahead of us,” she concluded, “We are well-poised to absolutely be able to deliver.”