Time ‘to buckle down’ and build Alberta’s plant-protein industry, AGM hears

Time ‘to buckle down’ and build Alberta’s plant-protein industry, AGM hears

By Jane Chamberlin

Representatives from industry, government, higher education and economic development networked over meatless burgers and yellow-pea cookies at the first annual general meeting for Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta, discussing a common goal: making Alberta a leader in plant-ingredient processing.


Allison Ammeter, chair of Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA)

Photos: Wil Andruschak, Orca Graphics
Allison Ammeter (centre)

PPAA board chair Allison Ammeter welcomed attendees and recognized the significance of the organization’s official birth at the AGM.

“In my mind, it’s huge,” Ammeter said. “It felt like I was taking my baby in for baptism.”

Ken Gossen, executive director of the Leduc Food Processing Development Centre, congratulated PPAA on its official inception. He encouraged attendees to move the plant-protein industry forward.

“We do see this as such a growing opportunity that we need to take advantage of,” said Gossen. He stressed the urgent need to shift from producing raw materials to value-added products.

“That opportunity isn’t just emerging,” said Gossen, “it’s arrived. Now we really need to buckle down and take advantage of it.”

Ken Gossen, executive director of Leduc Food Processing Development Centre

Ken Gossen (right)

Ammeter put Gossen’s message in numerical terms. “Currently, we are exporting about 90 to 95 per cent of what we grow in Alberta. I would be thrilled if we brought that down to about 70 to 75.”

To inspire those working in plant-protein processing, Ammeter invited Chris Shields, head of technical for The Meatless Farm Company, to be the AGM’s keynote speaker. Based in the UK, The Meatless Farm Company produces plant-based versions of ground beef, burgers and sausages, all made with pea, soy and rice proteins.

The company’s history illustrates the dramatic opportunities open to plant-protein visionaries.

The Meatless Farm Company was founded in 2016, and products hit UK shelves in October 2018. “We’ve had incredible growth. We’re now into Hong Kong, Canada, Dubai and the US. We have interest in Australia and we’re expanding the team globally,” Shields told the meeting.

Chris Shields, The Meatless Farm Company

Chris Shields (right)

Health and the environment are the top two drivers for flexitarian customers trying plant-based options, he said.

Shields is delighted with the business connections he’s formed in Alberta, and he recognizes PPAA’s role in that process. “It’s massive. We’ve probably managed to achieve in three months more than we’ve achieved on the European market. It’s a very well-connected community that PPAA has managed to establish and that’s certainly helped us find all the right partners.”

Shields noted that the plant-based movement that is shaking up the global retail market has many opportunities for Alberta as companies like his look for sources of pulses that the province grows, the prices for crops are more stable when sold as a source for human consumption, research and development here is excellent, and new businesses will venture here as the potential for value-add grows.

An equally inspiring story came from Calgary-based entrepreneur Nancy Markley. Markley has a PhD in molecular biology and is CEO and president of MPowrx, a global company focused on health and wellness solutions. She outlined the product development journey for Bellycrush, a line of cookies made with yellow-pea fibre.

Bellycrush cookies are clinically proven to help maintain a healthy body weight, promote gut health and support healthy cholesterol.

Nancy Markley, Mpowrx

Nancy Markley (left)

As she moved through research and development, recipe formulation, and packaging, Markley found herself working with a large number of service providers. “This is where it got really complicated,” she said. “This took a lot longer than we hoped.”

Markley believes PPAA can help streamline the process. “This new organization makes it a lot easier to find the right people quickly. When you’re developing a product and you’re on short timelines and maybe an even shorter budget, you need to know quickly who to turn to.”

Despite its timeline complications, Bellycrush launched successfully. During the initial US release, “people were buying the product sight unseen,” said Markley. “We actually sold out within a couple weeks.” Bellycrush cookies will be available in Canada in late 2019.

Dee Pannu, director of investment attraction at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Dee Pannu (left)

The business climate in Alberta is conducive to ventures such as Markley’s, according to Dee Pannu, director of investment attraction at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“We’re very excited about Alberta being a bigger player and attracting investment in this space. We believe we’ve got a great business case and a great story to tell,” said Pannu.

To ensure PPAA provides the plant-protein industry with the best possible support, the group voted in two new board members – Kimmo Lucas, president of Top Health Ingredients, and Dan Dibbelt, executive director of the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance. Lucas brings an industry perspective to the board and Dibbelt adds the northern Alberta viewpoint.

Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA) AGMAmmeter spoke about some of PPAA’s highlights during its first year of operation, including networking events with international speakers, and Calgary and Edmonton events with Alberta entrepreneurs such as Keith Driver of Driver Projects, James Szarko of Botaneco, Christopher Boyse of Brain Bar Nutrition and Debbra DeMarco and Lucas of Top Health. She also looked ahead to workshops this month on value-add processing, January events with Dr. David Hughes and some future workshops in the spring of 2020.

As the Nov. 5th AGM drew to a close, Ammeter was optimistic about PPAA’s continuing role in driving diversity and growth. “There is so much potential in Alberta and the industry is growing. We’re here to serve Alberta’s value-added plant-protein industry and we’re just at the beginning.”

See more photos from the AGM here: Photo Gallery

Jane Chamberlin is a Calgary-based writer and communications strategist. She also teaches writing courses at the University of Calgary.

Posted Nov. 14, 2019

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