Day 6

Why the Beyond Meat trend could be a huge boon for Canada's pea industry

Analysts say alternative meat could be a $140-billion market in the next decade. Financial Post reporter Jake Edmiston tells us why some Canadian investors are looking beyond Beyond Meat and pouring millions of dollars into Canada's pulse industry.

'This is Canada's market to lose,' says Financial Post reporter Jake Edmiston

A Beyond Meat burger is seen next to dried peas. Will the plant-based burger's popularity boost certain crops in Canada? Some think so. (Elizabeth Chorney-Booth/CBC, Nancy Russell/CBC)
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Alternative meats are having a bit of a moment and Canadian farmers are well-poised to cash in on it.

On Wednesday, Beyond Meat — a leading producer of plant-based foods — announced Beyond Beef, a marbled ground beef substitute made largely from peas.

According to Financial Post reporter Jake Edmiston, as Canadians consume more plant-based foods, including gluten-free products and dairy alternatives, Canadian pea farmers are looking to bolster their pulse crops.

Meanwhile, Canadian companies are getting in on the movement. Maple Leaf Foods announced in April it will build a pea and pulse crop processing facility in Indiana. 

Edmiston spoke with Day 6 guest host Jorge Barrera about why peas and pulses may be "gold" for Canada's agriculture sector.

Here's part of that conversation.

Why yellow peas instead of something like soy? What is it about peas that makes them so magical or special?

Not much, actually, except that they're among the cheapest of the pulse crops like chickpeas, lentils [and] dried beans. 

The best way that I had it described about why peas are at the forefront of this movement is one of the leaders in the pea trade in Canada was saying 20 years ago he was struggling to have farmers even grow them. But then hummus comes along and hummus becomes very popular in North America — and hummus is made from chickpeas. 

So food producers say, "OK, well hummus has become so popular. It's really cheap to produce. You know what else are we overlooking?"

And so all of this research and development starts going into peas because peas, at the time and still, we're among the cheapest of them all. 

Oil is a good, sort of, cautionary tale in that we don't want to be sending our raw materials out to be processed and then sent back to us.- Jake Edmiston, Financial Post

You've written that the momentum behind Beyond Meat could turn the humble pea into Canada's new gold. Why is Canada such a potentially big player here? 

It's because we have an abundance of peas. We are one of the biggest growers of peas in the world as well as most of the pulses. 

I think what that industry is saying is not only are peas gold, but if we take these peas and we can turn them into protein, that is where the industry stands to gain. 

We grow a lot of this stuff, but the money is in the processing. So where are things at right now with that?

Right now we are seeing millions of dollars in investment going into building these high-tech facilities to process the peas. 

So there is some processing going on right now — there can be a lot more going on right now, and that's what some of the industry leaders are saying. 

I spoke to one who said oil is a good, sort of, cautionary tale in that we don't want to be sending our raw materials out to be processed and then sent back to us. 

Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, rings the opening bell with company executives and guests during the company's IPO at the Nasdaq Market site in New York on May 2, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Canada's poised [to be a] big player in this potential market, but there must be other big players. Who is Canada competing against to actually dominate this market? 

There are sectors in China and Europe that are both quite robust. But what one of the leaders in [the] industry was saying to me today was this is Canada's market to lose. 

We have an abundance of peas, we have an abundance of pulses, and if we can process them, we can get a foothold in that sector as well. 

Does government have a role to play in ensuring Canada doesn't lose out on this market?

Yes ... They've set up a number of superclusters [a network of businesses and researchers tasked with generating new technologies], and one of them is focused on protein industries and particularly plant-based protein. 

They're funnelling millions of dollars into helping the sector get off the ground into research that is going to help create more efficiency in processing, and that kind of thing. 

Right now, Canada's facing a lot of turbulence on the trade front. I'm just wondering how you think that this new emerging sector could help Canada create a buffer against what it's facing right now?

A buffer is a good word. 

I was speaking to the head of that supercluster that's looking at plant-based protein and that's his point, is that we are facing a lot of turbulence but by processing domestically, we guard against some of it. 

By not being completely reliant on markets like China and India to send raw products to, we can add value to our products locally. 

An Indian labourer harvests peas in a field on the outskirts of Amritsar, India. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

One company, Rocquette, I guess they're a French company and they're the largest supplier to Beyond Meat. They're actually developing a processing plant here in Canada. Can you tell me a little bit about what they're doing and where? 

This is supposed to be the biggest processing facility in the world according to Rocquette, and it's going to be in Portage la Prairie in Manitoba. It's a $400 million investment. 

There's a lot of buzz right now around these alternative meats but, you know, the market is also driven by fads. Is this another fad? Are people throwing in for something that's going to burst?

Well, your guess is as good as mine about whether or not Beyond Meat is on fast food menus all over the continent in 10 years. But what processors and investors have said to me is this is not a fad. This is a major shift in diets. 

There's a gluten-free movement, and peas and pulses can be involved in making gluten-free noodles and that kind of thing. There's a dairy-free movement, and peas and pulses can be involved in making those kind of substitutes.

So there's this shift and that is what they're thinking is going to be a more lasting trend rather than a fad.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Jake Edmiston, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.

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