It’s been two years since French company Roquette announced its plan to build the world’s largest pea-processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. And while the company did break ground in September of 2017, construction was suspended in the spring of 2018, but began again this past October. Roquette expects the new plant to process around 125,000 tonnes each year from 2020 onwards. Head of corporate communications at Roquette, Carole Petitjean, said the company is committed to long-term partnerships to locally source quality raw material — good news for Manitoba’s pea growers.
Petitjean explained the company’s reasoning for suspending construction in the spring of 2018 in a recent interview, saying that their expectations for the growing demand of plant-based products were met and exceeded. As a result, the company decided to expand production to include a broader range of products.
“You only get the chance to build once,” said Petitjean. “We wanted to ensure we had included all we could into the plans before we started building in earnest.
Construction resumed in October of 2018, and the company expects to begin production in the second half of 2020.
Location, location, location
When the company first announced its intentions, some were left scratching their heads. Manitoba, after all, produced just 80,000 tonnes of peas in 2017. Neighbouring provinces Saskatchewan and Alberta, however, produced nearly 25 times more each (nearly two million tonnes in Sask., and over two million tonnes in Alta.).
Production, however, wasn’t the only criteria Roquette wanted to meet. Manitoba was selected as the site of the new processing plant for several reasons.
“Manitoba has a well-educated and professional workforce,” said Petitjean. “It has strong logistics, with Winnipeg being the major Canadian hub providing ready access to multi-modal transportation links through North America and beyond.”
Energy was also a factor in the company’s decision to make Manitoba its home, as the province offers reliable competitive and sustainable hydroelectric power.
Petitjean also pointed to the province’s welcoming spirit as a deciding factor. “The people of Manitoba, specifically the local administration and the province, met us with a business-friendly spirit and tremendous support,” said Petitjean. “We feel Portage la Prairie is a perfect location to develop a food business, with several food industries already present, and space for future expansion.”
Manitoba pea growers will be happy to know that Roquette plans to source locally wherever possible. According to James Bozikis, head of communications for the Americas, the company plans to procure yellow peas, Grade No. 2 Canada.
“While we may process peas from other provinces, Portage la Prairie offers an ideal business environment to accelerate our development and contribute to further developing pea production in Manitoba, in close relation to the province and farmers, to ensure a high-quality and stable supply to respond to the expectations of customers and consumers,” said Petitjean.
While the Roquette group has more than 40 locations in Europe, America, Asia and India, this is its first in Canada. Demand for plant-based proteins is constantly on the rise, said the company, pointing to data from Lux Research and Frost & Sullivan.
According to Lux Research, total protein demand is expected to double by 2054 to 943.5 million tonnes, numbers that it says are driven by demography, economic development, urbanization and new eating behaviours.
“We note a strong growth of plant proteins for human nutrition markets, especially for new innovative sources like pea, which has an annual growth rate of 14 per cent in revenues,” said Petitjean, quoting stats from Frost & Sullivan.
Increased demand is likely to come from the newly revamped Canada’s Food Guide, released on January 22, which pushes Canadians to choose more plant-based proteins.
Dennis Lange, provincial pulse specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, says the announcement is good news for local growers. Although pea acreage in Manitoba has traditionally been quite low (approx. 84,000 acres in 2018), he believes there is capacity to increase production to 300,000 acres in the long term. More realistically, though, he expects next year’s production to increase to 100,000 acres.
“Protein right now is a hot commodity,” he said. “Everybody right now is talking about plant-based protein.”