Prairie processors plan gluten-free partnership


A Saskatchewan firm processing gluten-free oats is pairing up with a Manitoba pulse miller to expand Prairie producers’ space in the certified gluten-free market.

Portage la Prairie-based Best Cooking Pulses and Regina-based Avena Foods on Monday announced a new partnership agreement they say will boost cross-selling and market penetration.

Financial terms of the partnership, which takes effect this month, weren’t disclosed in Monday’s announcement, though the two companies said via email their management “continue to have ownership and will be part of the business for the long term.”

“The structure of this partnership will allow us to take advantage of synergies and to build on the existing strengths of both companies,” Best Cooking Pulses president Trudy Heal said in Monday’s release.

The synergies from the partnership deal, the companies said, will be on the customer side, “where we can leverage each brand’s customer base, increasing product offerings to existing customers, and both Avena Foods’ and Best Cooking Pulses’ overall market penetration.”

The two companies also said their operations and brands will continue as is, with new product offerings in the “not too distant future” resulting from “shared proprietary technology and expansion of the ‘Purity Protocol’ program into pulses.”

The “Purity Protocol” refers to Avena Foods’ regime of food safety and traceability protocols, which it said is meant to provide customers with “superior-quality certified gluten-free oats” consistently below the five-parts-per-million level.

The protocol, as applied at Avena, is meant to guarantee oats free from wheat, barley and rye, processed at a gluten-free and allergen-free facility, supplied by a network of over 90 gluten-free growers across Western Canada and moved through a “controlled distribution” system.

Avena and BCP emphasized they both have “strong” food safety programs but are “exploring opportunities” for farmers to supply pulses that can meet “Purity Protocol” benchmarks.

Most conventional and certified organic producers supplying BCP, though, can expect “business as usual” with the Manitoba company, the two firms said.

Formed by pedigreed seed growers in 2008, Avena has been majority-owned since June last year by Toronto-based private equity firm Ironbridge Equity Partners, which focuses on “traditional industry businesses in the manufacturing, distribution, consumer products and services with distinct competitive advantages.”

BCP, which has been in the pulse trade since 1936, produces pulse flours, pea hull fibres and related ingredients at its milling plant in Portage la Prairie, and operates a pulse plant at Rowatt, Sask., just south of Regina, where it cleans and bags whole peas, lentils and chickpeas, and de-hulls, splits and polishes peas.

The company’s customers have included Toronto organic and “natural” processor SunOpta, with which it signed a distribution deal in 2009 to produce pea fibre under the SunOpta brand. — Network

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