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Roquette Grand Opening Dubs Portage As "Silicon Valley Of Plant-Based Protein"

Roquette's virtual grand opening held Wednesday hailed Portage as the "Silicon Valley of plant-based protein".

"I thank Roquette for choosing Canada to develop its industry and to build the largest pea protein plant in the world right here in Manitoba."

That's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his opening remarks in Roquette’s Plant for the Future grand opening. The event was hosted by Canada’s own astronaut commander Chris Hadfield.

Among the guests who spoke, there were Beyond Meat President and CEO Ethan Brown, chef Michael Smith, Roquette Canada managing director Dominique Baumann, Manitoba Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler, France’s ambassador to Canada Madame Kareen Rispal, as well as Roquette CEO Pierre Courduroux.

Hadfield noted that the world population is approaching 8 billion and will probably peak at 10 billion, adding that something must be done to feed that many people. He said Roquette’s efforts will play a big part in that answer.

He explained that he spent time living in Portage la Prairie while attending flight training in Southport, and therefore, the celebration has some significance to him.

Managing director Dominique Baumann helped build and lead the team that made this plant a reality. He greeted everybody and spoke of the many challenges involved in creating the facility, including building everything from ground-zero where they learned how to work in Canada with different regulations, different contractors, and different engineering practices.

"But the main challenge was COVID," says Baumann. "We were really close to shutting down the project. And because we have operations in China and in Europe, we were able to anticipate what was going to happen here in Canada. So, we're always a step ahead. And the team did a very good job to adjust. We did not lose any day of work on site due to COVID.”

Baumann also noted, "It's also a great opportunity for Manitoba, and Manitoba can be the Silicon Valley of plant-based protein, because we are here close to the farmers. The farmers are really amazing. They jumped on the opportunity right away. I'm very proud to be part of this adventure."

Hadfield adds "With this type of capacity -- the employment, and the product and the world influence -- it's going to play an important role in this industry globally, but obviously really huge for the province of Manitoba, itself."

Ag minister Ralph Eichler made these statements.

"It is exciting to see Roquette officially open the world’s largest pea protein processing plant in Portage la Prairie. It is truly important event for Manitoba that heralds the future of our agriculture sector and our economy. What an achievement! This state-of-the-art facility is a strong foundation for establishing Manitoba as the preferred supplier of sustainable protein in North America, which is our vision for the Manitoba protein advantage strategy. I know the pandemic presented challenges over the last 20 months, yet the Roquette team adapted, persevered and succeeded."

Madame Kareen Rispal is the ambassador of France in Canada and she also wanted to share her nation's best wishes for the launch of the Plant for the Future.

"Not only it is the largest pea protein processing plant in North America, after being one of the largest construction sites in Manitoba for a few years, the plant will be able to crush approximately 125,000 tonnes of yellow peas per year to extract protein. More importantly, this project is also of the utmost importance for the local economy. Indeed, the plant has already created 120 direct jobs in various sectors, ranging from agronomy, research and innovation to logistic. But it will also contribute to the vitality of this sector in the province, since it will not be supplied by local production but will also deliver processed products to local and international markets. As such, it is our project that fits perfectly into the vegetable protein strategy in the province."

She says France and Canada are investing massively in this sector.

"For our two countries, French recovery plan includes €100 million for the development of this field, and Canada has also invested more than $150 million Canadian dollars to create the supercluster protein in the prairies."

Baumann explained that the current plant is using 60 acres out of the 200 they have available here.

"We are actually already looking at expanding the plant for future production," says Baumann. "And we definitely will use the land."

He adds 100 employees would be hired by Portage la Prairie, with more to come.

"We're going to be 120 people at the end," explains Baumann. "We already hired actually 114 people, so we are very close to final goal."

Senior Vice president Jeremy Burks says they already work with other plant-based materials and not just yellow peas.

"We have a long history of working with wheat and wheat protein, and more recently we've launched products containing fava protein," says Burks. "We're exploring other botanical sources. We know that we have some expertise on what makes a good protein and how protein could be suited for this application or that application with this food or that food. So, that makes us interested to look at other botanical sources."

He stresses the big celebration right now in Portage is what they do with peas.

"Peas provide a tremendously versatile protein with many different applications," continues Burks. "So, that's going to keep us pretty busy in the short term."

Baumann added though there are some proprietary technologies involved with the Portage facility, Portage really has an engineering marvel at its location. He says many have come and were impressed with the technology utilized here.

"It's really the fruit of the experience Roquette has and has developed over the last 20 years with our plant in 'Vic' (Vic-sur-Aisne), France," says Baumann. "And so, we took all our research and our experience and included them in our Portage plant. To make this high-purity protein, we are using mechanical energy and water. This is the only two things we're using, and it's very challenging. But this is something we were able to do thanks to innovation. Innovation is part of Roquette's DNA. So, we are always here to build the Plant of the Future. And this plant is really putting the level of technology really, really high."

Roquette CEO Pierre Courduroux finished off by saying their presence on the North American market is their beginning in North America.

"I think for Manitoba, for the growers, for Portage and the neighbourhood, it's really also, I think that the beginning of a huge opportunity,” says Courduroux. “If we chose this part of Canada as part of the world, it’s because we believe strongly this is a great place to start something new, to take advantage of the natural resources and the expertise. And we are bringing our own teams, we're bringing our innovation and willingness to innovate and we are also bringing our capacity to invest. So, I think it's a great day, not only because we opened this plant, but I think it's really the beginning of something big that's going to be able to build with our partners. It's not only starting to produce, but continue to innovate. To bring new specifications on our product, and bring new solutions to our customers that are going to bring a new product to the consumers. So, we're very excited about that.”

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