Setting up the Summit: ‘It’s all about grabbing the opportunity’

Setting up the Summit: ‘It’s all about grabbing the opportunity’

By Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

Change is coming in the world of protein and Alberta will be riding that wave of global evolution, says Gerard Klein Essink, the CEO of the Netherlands-based Bridge2Food.

 

Photos by Christina Ryan

Klein Essink was in Western Canada in January to help set the stage for Bridge2Food’s upcoming Protein Summit, which will include segments in Saskatoon (May 29-31) and Calgary (June 3-5). As this is the first time that this conference is being held in Canada — in fact, the first time it’s being held outside of Europe — both Klein Essink and the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA) wanted to do some seed work, so to speak, to create some pre-summit buzz among members of the local plant protein industry as well as the food community at large.

Klein Essink’s Jan. 14 presentation in Calgary at the Glenbow Museum as part of the PPAA’s Global Business Network series was dubbed “Setting up the Summit: Trends in Plant Protein” in order to give attendants a small taste of what to expect at the summit in the spring. Klein Essink is well known in European food policy circles, but lesser so in Canada, and the event gave the 100 or so industry professionals and other curious parties in attendance a chance to get to know him better.

“Gerard is amazing at connecting people, so we’re so pleased to have him here,” said James Szarko, president and CEO of Botaneco, who introduced Klein Essink at the event. “Gerard is really here as a thought leader. He’s here to help us learn more and to accelerate our learnings.”

The bulk of Klein Essink’s presentation focused on emerging trends in plant proteins, specifically the sustainable development goals that are driving change within the industry. He used the example of how the Netherlands has seen a significant shift toward plant protein over the last decade, and he said that while Canada and the United States are still animal protein dominant, we are indeed catching up on the trends that are changing the ways that Europeans eat.

Klein Essink spoke about drivers like climate change, increased awareness of health and wellbeing, the need to reduce food waste, and changes in consumer habits and marketing trends. He mentioned a recent survey that found 54 per cent of Americans have changed their food purchasing habits because of climate change, in particular, with post-millennials leading the charge. All of these shifts are having industry impact, causing businesses to recognize the demand for plant proteins and to react accordingly.

“It looks like sometimes plant protein foods need to justify themselves as alternative foods,” he said. “But it’s not a matter of what’s ‘alternative.’ We’ve always been eating a lot of plant protein — it’s always been there. But it’s in transition.”

“It’s all about grabbing the opportunity,” he said later in the presentation. “It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s not about creating the market. The market is already there.”

Following his trends presentation, Klein Essink gave some additional information about the upcoming summit, explaining why he chose Canada rather than the United States as the first North American country to host the event.

“We wanted to bring our networks to North America, and I had to make the choice between Canada and the United States,” he said. “I found that here in Canada there were more conditions in place for the summit to have an impact.”

Obviously, members of the local plant protein industry agree and also acknowledge that Alberta is ready to embrace the expertise that the summit will bring to Western Canada.

“Southern Alberta is really in a good position to take advantage of this,” said Peter Casurella, executive director at SouthGrow Regional Initiative based in Lethbridge. “We’ve got 70 per cent of Canada’s irrigated farmland and hundreds of thousands of acres of pulse crops under cultivations right now, and the largest existing food processing and manufacturing cluster in all of Canada.”

Phil RobertsKlein Essink also gave some insight as to how the Protein Summit will be broken up between the two host provinces. The Saskatoon segment will be more ingredient-driven, while the Calgary sessions will be focused more on consumers, retailers and food services, as well as new product categories and brands. He encouraged attendees to choose which sessions they attend based on their own place in the industry.

During the networking portion of the event, there was considerable buzz in the room, both about Klein Essink’s positive trend report and explanation of the Protein Summit, as well as about the work of the PPAA and its role in helping to bring the summit to Alberta.

“The upcoming Protein Summit in Calgary will be a great opportunity to network with globally connected processors, investors and distributors,” said David Kalinchuk, economic development manager at Rocky View County. “This is a world-class opportunity for Canada’s remarkable plant protein production capacities to reach millions of global consumers.”

 

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a Calgary-based freelance writer who works for the Calgary Herald, Globe and Mail, West Jet magazine, Where and a number of other publications. She focuses on business, lifestyles, local events and, of course, food.

Posted January 23, 2019

 

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