France's Roquette bets on pea protein with Canadian factory

PARIS (Reuters) - French plant-based ingredient maker Roquette will build the world’s largest pea protein facility in Canada to meet fast-growing demand for vegetable protein in food and pharmaceutical products in North America, the group said on Wednesday.

The global pea protein market has seen a sharp rise in recent years, mainly driven by increasing demand for processed and healthy food.

The new factory, representing an investment of more than 400 million Canadian dollars ($306 million), will be located in the central region of Manitoba in Canada, the world’s largest producer of peas with 30 percent of global output.

“It was a really perfect fit for us putting a plant right in the middle of the largest pea producing area in the world for probably one of the fastest growing markets for pea protein, i.e. North America,” Roquette chief executive Jean-Marc Gilson told Reuters.

The facility is due to start production in 2019.

Pea protein, extracted from the yellow pea, is used in a range of allergen-free and vegetarian food products including snacks, nutrition bars, soups, sauces, pasta, biscuits and meat alternatives.

Hospitals have also turned to vegetable protein as it helps rebuild muscle mass and for elderly people who have difficulty digesting animal protein.

The global pea protein market is expected to grow by 13.5 percent per year in volume to reach around $200 million by 2023, research firm Global Market Insights said in a report.

The launch of its Canadian unit will make Roquette the word’s top producer of pea protein for human nutrition, Gilson said.

Family-owned Roquette has been extracting protein from peas since 2005 in France, where it has been expanding output to meet growing European demand for the product.

Roquette, which has sales of around 3.3 billion euros ($3.5 billion), expects to process up to 250,000 tonnes of locally-sourced peas by 2019, a volume split equally between the French and Canadian factories, Gilson said.

Asked whether the group had other plans in the sector Gilson said it was too early to say but he hoped the Canadian investment would be followed by many others.

“We are at the beginning of a new market segment, a new industry,” he said.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by David Evans