CEO, Protein Industries Canada
Co-CEO, Merit Functional Foods
The next generation of plant-based food innovation is about making sustainable food products
that Canadians will eat not because they should, but because they want to. Investment in this sector is set to revolutionize diets across the nation.
Arguments that a plant-based diet is better for our health, that it’s better for the environment, and that it’s better for society are easy to come by. People have been making those arguments in one form or another since the dawn of agriculture. And yet there has always been a limit to the traction that ideological proclamations about diet can gain. Today, in Canada, a new crop of innovators is approaching this old dilemma instead as a technology solution. In the eyes of Merit Functional Foods and Protein Industries Canada, it’s not so much a question of how we can convince Canadians that they should be eating a more plant-based diet. Instead, it’s a question of how we can deliver plant-based foods that people want to eat more of.
Better Every Day: The Mind-Bending Pace of Plant-Based Protein Innovation
As the not-for-profit administering the federal government’s $173 million investment in the plant-based Protein Industries Cluster, Protein Industries Canada plays a central role as a facilitator in the collaboration and funding that innovates the future of the Canadian diet. “When we think about innovation in the food sector, we really have to think about it in terms of a value chain,” says Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada. “Innovation starts with advanced crop breeding technologies and genomic research, and it continues all the way to the product that ends up on a consumer’s plate. There’s really interesting innovation happening right now in converting plant-based ingredients into new food products. A lot of work is happening on things like using new technologies to recreate whole-muscle cuts of meat or fish. The next generation of food products from this sector will be far beyond what you’ve traditionally seen at the grocery store.”
In Winnipeg, Merit Functional Foods is a rising star in the plant-based ingredients space, with a keen focus on the sensory and experiential quality of healthy and sustainable foods. “A lot of people today are interested in the idea of eating less meat and having a healthier lifestyle,” says Ryan Bracken, Co-CEO of Merit. “Unfortunately, what the plant-based food and beverage industry has maybe missed in their rapid launches to meet this perceived demand is the importance of the sensory profile. That’s really where Merit’s mission comes in. What we’re trying to offer food formulators is the next generation of plant-based proteins that enables them to formulate food and beverage products with the unique taste, texture, nutritional, and ultimately sensory equivalence to the meat and dairy they’re trying to replace.”
What we’re trying to offer food formulators is the next generation of plant-based proteins that enables them to formulate food and beverage products with the unique taste, texture, nutritional, and ultimately sensory equivalence to the meat and dairy they’re trying to replace.
Sustainable foods that make you say ‘yum’
In evaluating their pea and canola proteins, Bracken’s sights are set firmly on the prize. They’re not competing against other plant-based proteins currently on the market, Bracken contends. Instead, they’re aiming to deliver plant-based ingredients that can offer a similar sensory experience as you would get from an animal-based such as whey.
Bridging that gap, of course, is a hugely ambitious technical undertaking requiring significant capital. “The support we got from Protein Industries Canada was much needed,” says Bracken. “We’re a startup playing in a field of giants. You don’t just build a plant-based startup and have full sales from day one. This is a very capital-intensive business that requires patient investors. But, if you look at the long-term benefit for Canada, you’re talking about a Canadian-based source of food ingredients to feed the world and a significant job base that adds value to underlying raw materials that would otherwise have been exported. We’re thankful for the support of Protein Industries Canada in making that possible.”
So, promoting a more plant-based diet as a healthy and sustainable choice for Canada is easy. What’s harder is making that diet approachable and palatable. The Canadian spirit, however, has never shirked a hard but worthwhile task. Plant-based protein innovation within these borders is blazing the trail for a sustainable global future. That’s an investment worth doubling down on.