CEO, Protein Industries Canada
CEO, Lupin Platform Inc.
Plant-based foods aren’t just having “a moment” — they’re permanently reshaping the landscape of human sustainability. It’s a huge economic opportunity for Canadian farmers and innovators.
We are what we eat, and what we eat is changing. The rise of plant-based foods has been meteoric, and what was once a small and specialized segment of the food market in Canada is now closing in on $3 billion in annual value. For those working and investing in the plant-based food and ingredient sector, the future looks ripe for innovation and continued growth.
The fundamental drivers behind the plant-based dietary revolution are not new, though they’re becoming more pronounced. What is new, however, is that innovation is finally catching up with expectation.
“It’s always been a race,” says Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada. “Consumer expectations are continuing to evolve, and that evolution is driven by a lot of things. It’s driven by a desire for healthy, nutritious, and convenient food. It’s driven by consumer concern about the environment and animal welfare. It’s driven by price. And it’s driven by a desire for great taste. Fortunately, the science in this sector is moving at a phenomenal rate and we have so many food companies that are able and willing to innovate in order to keep up with those changing consumer expectations.”
Protein Industries Canada is an industry-led not-for-profit organization established in 2018 alongside the Government of Canada’s identification of plant protein as one of the nation’s five Innovation Superclusters. Over the last four years, Protein Industries Canada has worked to drive research, fund innovation, and foster growth in this thriving economic sector — and it’s making excellent progress.
The new crops that feed the future
The innovation that Protein Industries Canada is encouraging happens across a wide swath of products and technologies at every point up and down the supply chain. Sometimes, they’re highly visible, as when new plant-based products like meat or dairy alternatives appear on grocery store shelves, offering affordable quality, nutrition, and flavour. Other innovations are less front and centre, though no less important, as when significant advances are made in the cultivation of the ingredients that make those foods possible.
Consumer expectations are continuing to evolve, and that evolution is driven by a lot of things. It’s driven by a desire for healthy, nutritious, and convenient food. It’s driven by consumer concern about the environment and animal welfare. It’s driven by price. And it’s driven by a desire for great taste.
Among the large-scale science and innovation projects in Protein Industry Canada’s roster, one of the more exciting collaborations is around the development of an entirely new protein-rich plant crop for the Canadian market: sweet lupin.
“Lupin is an ancient crop with very high protein, very low starch, and high dietary fibre,” explains Tristan Choi, CEO of Lupin Platform Inc. “It’s naturally resistant to the root-rotting disease commonly found in peas and lentils, providing farmers an alternative choice in terms of cultivation. It’s also a naturally nitrogen-fixing rotating crop, so it actually rejuvenates the soil.”
Though sweet lupin has been around forever, it hasn’t traditionally been grown in North America for commercial purposes. But, as lupin is a perfect ingredient for the new generation of plant-based foods, it’s time to start planting.
“Lupin is gluten-free, it’s non-GMO, and it has over 35 percent protein,” says Choi. “It’s got high emulsification and gelling property, so it binds together really well for pasta applications and baking applications. The interest from manufacturers, consumers, and farmers has been astronomical.”
Sowing innovation, reaping prosperity
The goal with projects like these is to build a complete field-to-table supply chain, where Canadian agricultural potential is matched with Canadian manufacturing and Canadian distribution to create a food economy that can not only have a global impact on the international export marketplace but also contribute to Canadian food sovereignty right here in our own kitchens and restaurants. It’s about as ambitious as a target can get. But Greuel and Choi are both adamant that we can get there if we continue to invest in home-grown innovation and also, crucially, in training and reskilling a new cohort of specialized workers to fill the 17,000 additional jobs this sector is expected to create.
If we can do that, the economic outlook of Canada’s plant-based food sector is as bright as the Albertan sun beaming down on a golden field of sweet lupin.
“We can create jobs and we can create wealth,” says Greuel. “We truly believe that Canada’s plant-based food sector will be a $25 billion industry by 2035.”