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On Monday (June 22), Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will be investing CAD $100 million (US$74 million) into Merit Functional Foods, a Canadian company specialising in plant-based protein production. In his announcement, Trudeau says that the investment represents an opportunity to create employment in the fast-growing plant-based industry.
Speaking from Rideau Cottage, Trudeau revealed that the funding will go to Merit Functional Foods in Winnipeg, a producer of plant-based protein ingredients. “As people around the world start eating more plant-based products, we have an opportunity to bring together Canadian innovation and Canadian crops, and a chance to create good, well-paying jobs,” said the prime minister.
“By using 100% Canadian input it will also support farmers who produce the canola and yellow peas used in Merit’s products,” added Trudeau.
The capital will help finance Merit Functional Foods’ new 94,000 square foot agricultural production facility, which is slated to be fully operational by the end of this year. The plant extracts plant-based proteins from Canadian-grown peas and canola seeds, which can be used to create everything from vegan protein powders to plant-based meat and dairy alternative products.
Among the brands already signed on to use Merit’s pea and canola protein products includes Nestlé, the largest food manufacturing company in the world. Nestlé will use the plant proteins to accelerate its meat-free product offerings, which is a part of the multinational giant’s ambitious plan capitalise on plant-based demand this year.
In addition to Ottawa’s contribution, the facility will be set up using loans of $25 million (US$18.5 million) from Farm Credit Canada, $55 million (US$40.7 million) from Export Development Canada and a repayable grant worth $10 million (US$7.4 million) from the AgriInnovate Program.
In his speech, Trudeau highlighted that the government had previously invested in vegan-friendly food and beverage development before, including a $150 million (US$110 million) investment in plant-based protein farms in 2018, but the most recent investment comes as the industry experiences unprecedented growth.
According to the National Research Council Canada, the market for alternative protein is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 14% by 2024 to reach a third of the country’s entire protein market. To date, more than 40% of Canadians have adopted flexitarianism as sustainability and health become increasingly important dietary considerations.
The trend is consistent all over the world, especially as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down slaughterhouses globally and is raising the profile of food safety in addition to sustainability and health. From the United Kingdom and United States to Hong Kong, multiple consumer surveys are now indicating that mainstream shoppers are shifting to plant-based alternatives more than ever before.
Commenting on the trend, Alex Beckett, associate food and drink at Mintel who conducted a survey amongst British consumers, said: “People want the world to change for the better right now…For consumers struggling to know how to make a positive difference, cutting out animal protein may be seen as a way of tackling the climate crisis, showing compassion for nature, and boosting their own nutrient intake.”
Lead image courtesy of Nestlé.