Home-grown Phyto Organix is hoping to take full advantage of an emerging market to put Alberta at the forefront with an already produced major cash crop
A Calgary-based company is set to build a state-of-the-art plant protein processing facility in Strathmore.
While there are other plants that process yellow peas, this $225-million facility is also targeting net-zero emissions, which would make it the first of its kind in North America.
Phyto Organix is hoping to move Alberta to the forefront of an emerging market with an already produced major cash crop.
“In making this project happen, there is $120 million of GDP that we are going to create in our backyard and there’s a tremendous amount of pride associated with that,” Chris Theal, president and CEO of Phyto Organix, said in an interview Tuesday.
The 100,000-square-foot facility uses a process that strips all non-nutritional elements out of yellow peas, separating them into four final products. What is left is used in red and white meat alternatives as well as dairy alternatives, different starch applications, fibre for baked goods and meat, and soluble and insoluble baking and processed meat applications.
The key is the end products are void of flavour and colour, making it easier to incorporate into a wide range of foods without adding extra masking agents.
“One of the biggest challenges in using the isolates on the market today is they’ve got this yellow hue, it’s very challenging to put that in an alternative milk drink when you’ve got that colouration,” he said. “I see the high-growth markets for us now in the white meat alternative to chicken and fish — it’s in the very early stages of growth in that market — and across the dairy alternative market.”
Theal said location is key to helping achieve net-zero status. Within 75 kilometres of the future plant, the company will be able to access more than five times its requirements of 40,000 tonnes of yellow peas annually.
There are other pea processing plants in Canada — in 2021 Roquette opened the world’s largest pea protein plant in Portage la Prairie, Man. According to Statistics Canada, however, Manitoba only produced 5.4 per cent of Canada’s yellow pea crop in 2020, while Alberta accounted for 40.2 per cent and Saskatchewan totalled 54.4 per cent.
Phyto Organix’s process is also critical to its environmental goals, using 75 per cent recycled water, taking pressure off downstream wastewater systems and limiting greenhouse gases. Natural gas will be used for heating the water but its use will be mitigated by heat recapture processes. The company also plans to tap into renewable energy sources to power the facility.
The project will be the largest in the southern Alberta town’s history and will be on 15 acres on the south end of the community on Orchard Way. The field is currently used for agricultural purposes and equipment storage.
Theal said they looked at eight different municipalities over the past year before choosing Strathmore. He noted its proximity to Calgary was important and will save between $5 million and $7 million in construction costs, while supplying a large workforce. He noted Strathmore also shared in the company’s sustainability vision.
Phyto Organix is currently working through the regulatory and zoning process with the Town of Strathmore, but Theal said he hopes to begin construction this fall with production starting in 2024. The project is expected to create 300 construction jobs, as well as 60 permanent positions at the plant and another 20 in the Calgary office.
Phyto Organix has received $1 million over two years in cost-sharing from the federal and provincial governments through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The funds will support engineering costs and the purchase of equipment.
“Plant-based protein is an emerging subsector with significant potential for growth and diversification of the agri-processing industry in Alberta,” Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development Minister Nate Horner said in a news release. “With demand for high-quality plant-based products increasing dramatically in recent years, Alberta’s government is pleased to support companies like Phyto Organix that will work with local producers, create jobs and help grow Alberta’s economy.”
Bird Construction, based out of Ontario with a branch in Calgary, has been tapped for the design and construction as well as the 3D connectivity of the processing equipment, with a contract worth about $125 million.
The pea protein will be used in domestic production and exported to U.S. and Asian markets. The company projects the facility to have a $120-million annual effect on the local economy.