The plant-based protein revolution is upon us

Soon to be Canada’s gold?

Soon to be Canada’s gold?

Have you had an A&W Beyond Meat burger yet? It was difficult to find them last year, when the fast-food restaurant quickly sold out because the burger was so popular. Since then, the Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat -- the supplier to A&W and countless other restaurants and supermarket chains across North America -- went public in one of the hottest public offerings of the year. The company’s stock has soared to more than 500 per cent above its initial price, causing all of us to curse ourselves for failing to get in on the ride.

Plant-based proteins are clearly having more than just a moment. There’s a potentially momentous shift happening in the general population’s eating habits. Canada’s beloved Tim Hortons is getting in on the action, partnering with Beyond Meat to offer meatless breakfast sandwiches alongside your double double. And here’s what’s causing sleepless nights for meat and poultry producers -- it’s not vegans driving the surge towards plant-based meat. It’s meat-eaters who want to eat less due to health reasons, concerns about the environment and animal welfare considerations.

There will be tremendous benefits to those in the supply chain, particularly farmers who grow peas, lentils, chickpeas and other pulses that are key ingredients in plant-based meats. Some are already predicting that the humble pea, in fact, is on its way to becoming Canada’s new gold. Roquette Frères, the French plant-based ingredient manufacturer that is currently Beyond Meat’s supplier, is spending more than $400 million to build what will purportedly be the planet’s biggest pea processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Man.

Ottawa has already earmarked more than $150 million in funding to farmers and entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan to look at ways to dramatically boost Canada's share of the growing global market for plant-based proteins.

The opportunities for savvy companies and entrepreneurs are vast and lucrative. But the field is filling up fast with players hoping for their own Beyond Meat-esque success. Loblaw’s President’s Choice brand, for example, is rolling out plant-based products that include veggie burgers, vegan cheesecake and chickenless cutlets.  

How can a company stand out from a crowded field of competitors? Beyond the corporate social responsibility already ingrained in the very DNA of their products -- they’re helping to make people healthier, to fight climate change and to reduce the burden on farm animals, after all -- smart companies will also find ways to make their products tastier, healthier and more sustainably produced than anyone else’s. After all, that’s why their potential clients are attracted to plant-based proteins in the first place.

They’ll be committed to doing good, to promoting diversity in their workplaces, to eradicating any gender pay gaps, to giving back to their communities and to ensuring their supply chains are practising sustainability. And they’ll know the absolute necessity of telling the world of their good work by effectively engaging with the media via top-notch communications teams.

And they’ll also know the importance of being fully prepared for any controversies or reputational hits long before they happen -- because the food industry, after all, is far from immune from sudden, unexpected and potentially devastating crises, including contamination scares. Our Crisis and Consequences study earlier this spring highlighted the need to have a plan in place to recover from such reputational bludgeonings.

In a rapidly exploding industry, companies hoping to ride the plant-based protein tidal wave should be preparing now to play in the big leagues. The plant-based food revolution is upon us.