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Plant protein is playing an increasingly important role in food security – and is expected to make up around one-third of the world’s protein market by 2050.

This trend, driven by global population growth as well as health and environmental concerns, is motivating the work of Protein Industries Canada (PIC), a supercluster of partners working to position Canada as the leading centre for high-quality plant-based protein, says Bill Greuel, CEO of PIC.

A key area of investigation focuses on value-added processing efficiency. “Let’s take yellow peas, for example,” says Mr. Greuel. “There is a huge market globally for pea protein as a functional ingredient and energy source in a number of different foods and animal feed products.”

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Food processors are looking for processing methodologies that are energy- and water-use efficient and also yield products with a high protein concentration, he says. And industry- and research partnerships can provide valuable answers. Existing research infrastructure, such as the Food Processing Development Centre in Alberta, for example, already has a track record of helping companies develop new food products using ingredients coming from the region.

PIC is supported by the federal government’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative, which Mr. Greuel sees as a response to the urgent call to boost Canadian research and innovation intensity. “The supercluster initiative allows industry to select key projects – and the government provides funding to de-risk private sector investments,” he says. “Since the intention is to focus on projects with the greatest economic impact, partnering with industry is essential. Industries know cost structures, technical constraints and customer needs – they know what it takes to achieve the highest return on investment.”

PIC’s objective is to look at all aspects of food production, says Mr. Greuel. In the example of the yellow peas, genome analysis and advanced breeding techniques can potentially achieve an increase in the peas’ protein concentration already at the breeding stage.

“This can make processing much more efficient and allow processors to reach new markets with products that have a higher protein content,” he says. “We aim to invest in research and development along the entire supply chain – from plant breeding, farming and processing all the way to the end user.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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