In central Canada’s Manitoba province, not far from a water tower painted to look like a large Coca-Cola can, stands one of the most important links in the modern food supply chain: a $500 million pea-processing plant owned by the French-based food ingredient company Roquette. Under construction since 2018, the plant is the largest pea-processing facility in the world, capable of handling more than 125,000 tons of peas annually.
And that’s just the beginning. According to Roquette CEO Jean-Marc Gilson, the plant will initially employ around 150 people in one facility, but there is space to add another four or five more facilities that would accommodate up to 1,000 employees and hundreds of thousands more tons of pea-processing power. Based on the growth projections for the plant-based protein market, of which peas are a major part, Roquette will need the extra capacity to keep up with demand.
“It’s a race,” says Gilson. “The plant-protein industry is going to be very big, and it is a top-of-the-house priority for every food company.”
Driven by a growing global population and consumers who are making more sustainable, health-conscious food choices, analysts forecast the market for plant-based protein and alternative meat to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to an eye-popping $85 billion by 2030. It’s a small wonder that major traditional meat producers such as Tyson, Smithfield, and JDS now have C-suite executives overseeing dedicated plant-based food divisions and start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are worth billions of dollars.
While the trends driving plant-based protein’s expansion were there before COVID-19, the pandemic certainly accelerated them. “COVID heightened awareness around the impact of meat on the environment and health, and encouraged more people to find alternatives to the animal-based food supply chain,” says Frederika Tielenius Kruythoff, a Korn Ferry senior client partner responsible for the firm’s EMEA Agribusiness practice. She says there are several reasons why people who aren’t necessarily vegetarians may be incorporating plant-based protein into their diets. Between 60% and 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from other animals, for example. Kruythoff also points to the shutdown of several meat processing plants due to COVID outbreaks and the resulting supply shortages.
Great growth doesn’t happen without great disruption, of course, and the potential impact of the shift to plant-based proteins on food manufacturers cannot be overstated. Without the right talent and strategy, many food organizations could find themselves in the same predicament as newspaper and magazine companies after digital media took hold—struggling for survival. It takes a lot of capital to build a plant-based protein facility, for instance. Other challenges include figuring out which plant protein source to focus on (there’s more than peas), developing solutions that imitate the taste and texture of meat, and building a purpose- driven business at scale, among others.
Kruythoff says that as plant-based protein becomes an even bigger part of their growth strategies, food manufacturers will need to develop new tactics and pipelines for recruiting as well as enhance retention efforts to protect in-house talent. “The fight for talent is already underway and is only going to intensify,” she says.