Honouring Dennis McKnight: PPAA builder awarded honourary lifetime membership

Honouring Dennis McKnight: PPAA builder awarded honourary lifetime membership

By Emily Rendell-Watson 

When Dennis McKnight set out to build an Alberta agri-food industry alliance in 2016, his goal was to create an organization that would give back to the region and make a difference.

It started out with him, Allison Ammeter and Alan Hall driving around the province to talk to industry players about the idea, and over time McKnight’s passion for “building the Canadian prairies into a leading global source of plant-based proteins and ingredients” shaped the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA) into what it is today.

Dennis McKnightThe former chief executive officer of PPAA and now strategic adviser for the organization was awarded an honourary lifetime membership in January 2021 to mark his contributions to the group.

“I feel honoured,” said McKnight. “It’s nice to realize all that hard work meant something. I know the legacy will live on — plant-based foods are not a fad, they are here for the long run and this is only the start.”

McKnight said he is proud of how much the organization has grown since he took the helm when PPAA was established in May 2018, pointing to the board of directors as a group of talented people who “made it easy to accomplish things.”

‘A visionary’

One of those board members is Corey Keith, who met McKnight when he attended a meeting for an investor network Keith was running. The two hit it off and later spoke several times a week for months as they worked out the details of how the alliance could be a successful organization.

“He’s a visionary and can see where things can go. Dennis has a way of getting people to rally around a vision and make it a reality,” Keith said.

He remembers McKnight working on an event to launch PPAA and raise awareness about its goals. The plan was to have presenters talk about the plant-protein opportunity and for people interested in the industry to have an opportunity to connect.

“This was before we had incorporated, before we had any sponsors and before we had received any funding. I kept wondering how we would pull it off, but Dennis was steadfast in his belief that we would make it happen.”

Through sheer will and hard work, it came together. The event was held in Calgary on Feb. 15, 2018 and more than 100 people attended.

“One of the speakers was Frank Hart, chair of the board of Protein Industries Canada, and as luck would have it, Feb. 15 was the day that the federal government announced the organizations that would be receiving supercluster funding. Frank made that announcement during our event. None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for Dennis’s vision and drive,” Keith said.

McKnight had also been part of a group that worked to ensure that plant protein would be one of the federal superclusters, and his drive to build up the whole industry is something that was felt by Bill Greuel. Greuel took on the role of CEO of Protein Industries Canada in October 2018 and, at the time, he said he didn’t know very much about the industry or the players within it.

“Dennis was always very giving of his time mentoring me, introducing me to people, helping me tour around Alberta to meet the right players, giving me guidance in terms of what it is we needed to do to try to build out an innovation supercluster which, as it turns out, you need a lot of help with,” Greuel said.

‘The glue’ 

Another PPAA board member, Sandra Marocco, said McKnight was instrumental in bringing Bridge2Food’s Protein Summit to Alberta in 2019. McKnight began planting the seed to bring the conference to Canada for the first time during a trip to Denmark in 2017.

“That was a massive coup for the plant-protein industry in the prairies,” she said.

It was during that same trip to Denmark that Marocco realized how gifted McKnight was in bringing the right players together and guiding them with his own passion.

“I just kept thinking: ‘Wow, this is the glue’,” Marocco explained.

Whether it was his ideas for funding and partnerships, or how to bring other people to the table to keep advancing what needed to get done, McKnight was always hopeful and looking for new ways to keep the alliance valued and respected.

Board members Marocco and Keith both agree that McKnight is a strategic guide, whose legacy with PPAA meant building future capacity into the organization so its success would continue even without him at the helm.

“You need someone at the core to be pushing towards that end goal and that’s what Dennis does so well,” Keith said.

“It is entirely reasonable to say that PPAA would not exist if it weren’t for him.”

VIDEO: Board members, colleagues and friends talk about the impact Dennis has had with PPAA and on the broader ecosystem https://youtu.be/pPUmVLB_hFk

Emily Rendell-Watson is a multi-media journalist based in Edmonton

Posted Jan. 19, 2021

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