January 17th, 2021

New Winnipeg plant could have indirect benefits for local growers

By Jensen, Randy on July 10, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


A new production plant being set up in Winnipeg to turn peas and canola into protein powder is of interest to Alberta growers, but is considered more of a long-term prospect rather than of immediate benefit to most producers.

Canola exporters have been seeking new markets for Canadian crops after ongoing trade issues with China derailed the industry for most of the past year. In 2018 the Chinese market accounted for 40 per cent of all Canadian canola exports, but that trade has slowed to a trickle in the wake of tensions between Canada and China after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was taken into custody in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport at the request of U.S. authorities.

In an effort to create new opportunities for pea and canola producers, the federal government announced earlier this week it would be giving a grant of $100 million to help Merit Functional Foods Corporation set up its 94,000-square-foot production plant in Winnipeg’s Centreport, and have it up and running by the end of the year.

The protein powder extract from peas and canola would be used in products like pre-packaged protein shakes, meat-alternative foods, non-dairy creamers and energy bars.

Merit Functional Foods announced a new partnership earlier this year with Nestle and Burcon NutraScience to commercialize these products.

Calling the idea “novel,” and a “good long-term idea,” Turin area farmer, vice-chair of Alberta Canola, and Canola Council of Canada board director Kevin Serfas welcomed any new investment which could open new markets for Canadian canola, but cautioned this new plant was not of immediate benefit to most in the Canadian canola industry.

“(Merit) has an agreement with Nestle to develop protein isolates that Nestle could use in its food business,” he said. “So, yes, it is positive, but not at a scale which will move the mark.”

As for the Canadian pea industry, it has had its own tariff issues with India since 2017. India is still one of Canada’s biggest customers for peas, but crippling, protectionist tariffs have made it far less profitable to grow peas than it once was.

Enchant area farmer and Alberta Pulse Growers southern region director Greg Stamp says any efforts to establish new domestic markets for Canadian peas are welcome.

“Domestic projects are really nice because it spreads out some of that risk with (international) trading partners that can be up and down,” he said.

Stamp acknowledged establishing the Merit Functional Foods plant in Winnipeg would not provide many market opportunities for Alberta growers, but he hoped it was an idea that could potentially catch on in southern Alberta and other regions of the country.

“The tonnage isn’t massive, but it does show proof that things like that can work,” he explained. “So it is kind of a springboard to the next size of project, too. Not that this plant would specifically use a huge amount, but it generates the interest and shows it can be done.”

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