Canada’s New Plant-Based Food Innovators Are Doing Big Things

By: D.F. McCourt
Sponsored by: Protein Industries Canada

Looking for benefits for everything from the environment to their own health, consumers want a variety of choices at the grocery store, and the Canadian plant-based food sector is finding new ways to provide them.

The fundamentals for plant-based foods in Canada are incredibly strong. We have a populace that’s health-conscious, environmentally motivated, and plugged in to issues of animal welfare. We have a broad and diverse agricultural base that can support robust ingredient production and processing. And we have the economic sophistication for an end-to-end supply chain entirely within our own borders. 

Still, although things like climate change, economic growth, and public health are strong motivators, the biggest drivers of Canadians’ food choices remain taste, price, and convenience. These are exactly the areas where Protein Industries Canada CEO Bill Greuel sees innovation poised to make the largest gains.

The power of collaboration

“There’s a lot of room for innovation in terms of processing and scaling of ingredient manufacturing while continuing to produce products that consumers want,” says Greuel. “We’re using a collaborative innovation project as the gateway to improving supply chain resiliency and domestication of the supply chain in Canada. When collaboration like this happens, all of the value of these foods stays in Canada and gets magnified along the value chain, creating accessibility for consumers based on price and volume.”

"We’re using a collaborative innovation project as the gateway to improving supply chain resiliency and domestication of the supply chain in Canada."

As the not-for-profit tasked with administering the plant-based protein innovation cluster, Protein Industries Canada plays a vital role in facilitating the growth of this market segment, both helping new companies get off the ground and providing support and resources to the entities that have been thriving in the space for decades.

No newcomer to plant-based foods

In Vancouver, all the way back in the 1980s, Kimberly Chamberland was wowing customers at Kimberly’s Kafe with the first veggie burger in the Pacific Northwest. Today, her daughter Jasmine Byrne is President of Big Mountain Foods, one of Canada’s leading suppliers of retail plant-based alternative foods. 

“Big Mountain Foods, while remaining true to its mission and principles, has continued to innovate continuously over the years,” says Byrne. “We’ve always been known to create culinary experiences through the many diverse plant-based ingredients we use, and research plays a huge role in that.”

Even for established players like Big Mountain Foods, the advent of the plant-based protein innovation cluster represented a significant boon. A growing industry like this one is not somewhere you want to go it alone. “Protein Industries Canada introduced us to Prairie Fava, a woman-owned ingredient company and farm in Manitoba that is now our main supplier of fava beans,” says Byrne. “We feel a sense of pride in the community and we attribute a lot of our success to the partnerships and relationships we’ve made with other organizations who share the same goals and mission as we do.”

Harnessing generational agricultural wisdom

Prairie Fava can trace its origins back through five generations of farmers in Manitoba, but the company itself is also part of the newer cohort of innovation-focused Canadian enterprises born from renewed interest in the environmental, health, and economic benefits of plant-based foods. Founded in 2015, Prairie Fava is now the Canadian industry expert in growing, processing, and packaging the highest-quality fava products for the plant-based market. 

“The world is seeking new plant protein-based foods to feed a growing population, address growing climate challenges, and meet consumer demands for highly nutritious products,” says Prairie Fava co-founder Hailey Jefferies. “Research has underpinned our success, from producing newer, better beans for farmers to manufacturing new ingredients for the food industry to developing new technologies for consumer products.”

For younger companies like Prairie Fava especially, access to funding and collaborative partnerships is essential to growing their operations to their full potential. “Being innovative is expensive and developing products and applications for a new ingredient presents challenges,” says Jefferies. “Being a member of Protein Industries Canada has provided us with strong support from other industry partners, research organizations, associations, government, and funding agencies.”

Impressive growth and widespread benefits

When plant-based food companies flourish, whether they’re newly founded or long-established, Canada wins. Greuel currently estimates that the plant-based food and ingredient sector in Canada has the potential to grow to a $25-billion opportunity by 2035. Avenues for economic growth on this scale are hard to come by, and it’s especially rare for these opportunities to be paired with such inarguable social and environmental benefits for the country and the world. 

Undoubtedly, some of the most profound innovations in the plant-based foods space will come from companies that have not yet made their debut. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that Protein Industries Canada, and collaborators like Big Mountain Foods and Prairie Fava, will be ready to welcome these innovators with open arms. This is a market with a lot of room for new players.

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