With construction of its pea and canola protein production facility still in the early stages, Merit Functional Foods and its technology partner Burcon NutraScience have entered into a joint development agreement with global food giant Nestlé.
Merit and Burcon will work with Nestlé on what the parties are saying will be a long-term arrangement to tailor the functionality of the plant-based proteins that will be produced at Merit's plant in Centreport for use by Nestlé in meat and dairy alternatives.
Merit, which is investing more than $65 million in the 94,000-square-foot plant that is currently under construction, is 40 per cent owned by Burcon, a publicly traded Vancouver-based company that has been around for 19 years. Burcon has a 13-person research and development lab in Winnipeg and that is where a lot of the collaboration with Nestlé will take place prior to the commissioning of the production plant.
No financial details of the arrangement were disclosed, but Johann Tergesen, the CEO of Burcon said the three-party collaboration involves paying Burcon to customize and tailor its proteins for specific applications into Nestle products everything from beverages to dairy and meat alternatives and then Merit will produce and supply the proteins to Nestlé.
Burcon's shares were up more than 35 per cent Friday morning.
Ryan Bracken, the co-CEO of Merit, said arrangement is for Merit and Burcon to work with Nestlé on a multitude of products, including some that Nestlé already has on the market, as well as others that are in development.
"As you can imagine, the plant-based protein movement is growing rapidly," Bracken said. "We are very pleased to be working with one of the largest food companies in the world on this effort."
This announcement was preceded by another major plant-based protein-supply agreement last week that will see the French company Roquette's Portage la Prairie plant dramatically increase its supply of pea protein to Beyond Meat.
"This is a great story for Manitoba and all of Western Canada," Bracken said. "There is real consumer demand (for plant-based protein) and this is the epicentre of the best growing area in the world for oilseeds. This is only the start."
In an interview this week on CNBC from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nestlé CEO Ulf Mark Schneider was asked about the innovation he's most excited about in 2020.
"Overall, I think plant-based will be a continuing theme," he said. "This is going to be a 10-, 20-, 30-year thing. I think it’s one of the best ways to meet health goals with sustainability goals… we call it, ‘Right for you — right for the planet’… this is not going to be a short-term fad."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.