BusinessWorld’s Largest Pea Processing Plant Opens in Portage la Prairie

World’s Largest Pea Processing Plant Opens in Portage la Prairie

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Roquette’s new pea processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Man. is officially open.

Global pea processor Roquette has officially opened its 200,000 square-foot pea protein plant at Portage la Prairie, Man. Former astronaut Chris Hadfield acted as MC in a star-studded virtual grand opening on Nov. 18, 2021.

“It’s a huge event for Roquette, it really positions us as a true leader in the supply chain protein markets,” Jean-Marc Gilson, CEO of Roquette, says. “I think this puts us in a fantastic position to continue the partnerships that we’ve been establishing with our customers, and now being closer to our customers on the other side of the ocean is going to make the true difference.”

The grand opening ceremonies included greetings from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Ralph Eichler, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown, celebrity chef Michael Smith, Kareen Rispal, the ambassador of France to Canada, and executives from Roquette’s France and North American operations.

The Portage la Prairie plant is the world’s largest pea protein plant with the capacity to process 125,000 tons of yellow peas per year. A news release on the grand opening notes multiple industry estimates are expecting an annual global growth rate in plant protein of between 15 and 24 per cent over the next decade.

Roquette is based in Vic-sur-Aisne, France and with the new plant they are now the only company with major pea protein facilities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The Portage la Prairie location gives Roquette easy access to the Canadian Prairies, United States and international markets by road, rail, and air.

Roquette markets its product through the Nutralys pea protein line. In 2020 they signed a three-year contract with Beyond Meat to supply the alternative protein company with pea protein for its non-meat-based products.

Roquette and Beyond Meat have been working together for over a decade. The partnership began when Beyond Meat approached Roquette about making a pea protein for the food products they were developing. At the time there was only soy-based plant proteins available.

“It was something that wasn’t in the market and no one else was doing it. And so, it was a process, and we grew with them,” Trish White, pea and new protein sales account manager for Roquette, explains during the grand opening.

Over the next few years, the two companies worked together to develop a pea protein for Beyond Meat. As Beyond Meat grew, so did the almost century old plant protein company Roquette.

“We went from there to innovating together year after year after year to provide the consumer with more choice. And I think what we’ll see going forward between Roquette and Beyond Meat is we’re going to continue to explore other proteins and continue to work together,” Brown says.

In 2017 Roquette announced its plans to construct its first plant in North America — the Portage la Prairie pea protein plant. The construction started in 2018 and continued throughout the pandemic. Roquette started contracting organic yellow peas in the fall of 2020, with the plant opening and processing peas a year later.

Working on the Supply Chain from Field to Plant

During the grand opening ceremonies, Jeremy Burks, senior vice president of plant proteins at Roquette, spoke of how the company has focused on processing peas from the field to the plant. Its team of agronomists works with farmers to grow peas for the plant and Roquette even runs its own farm to test grow pea varieties.

“We believe that by helping on the production side of our raw material, the greater the pea that we can make. We make some progress there for the benefit of the growers, and then eventually that would flow all the way through the value chain,” Burks explains.

Roquette is closely working on plant breeding also. In 2018 the plant protein processing company invested US$4 million in Israel-based plant breeder Equinom. The partnership agreement focused on the development and sourcing of new pea varieties with high-protein content.

According to Equinom’s website it creates elite seeds naturally by crossbreeding exotic, ancient and modern varieties. Their seeds are non-GMO and are bred based on nutrition, customer appeal and superior qualities for plant-based food perfection. In 2020, Equinom opened its first North American office in the United States.