Pulse Canada is a national association that represents the growers, processors, and exporters of peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and faba beans. Ahead of the upcoming Pulses 22 convention, Kirsten Provan spoke to Greg Cherewyk, President of Pulse Canada, about the 25 by 25 strategy, the current demand for Canadian grown pulses, and opportunities for growth in the industry.
Pulse Canada is a strategic partner of the Global Pulse Confederation and a key sponsorship partner for the upcoming Pulses 22 convention in Dubai on May 10–12.
Can we start with you introducing Pulse Canada to us? Who are you, and what do you do?
Of course. Pulse Canada is a national association representing the growers, traders, and processors of Canadian pulses. We are guided by the vision that worldwide demand for Canadian pulses will grow each year as every market segment recognizes their value as nutritious, sustainable, and functional foods. As a national industry association, Pulse Canada’s purpose is to enhance the profitability of the Canadian pulse industry, now and into the future. Our vision and the profitability equation inform how we structure our organization and the programs and services we offer to growers, processors, and exporters of Canadian pulses. In that way, everything we do is guided by our need to deliver outcomes that maximize revenue or optimize costs. In terms of maximizing revenue, our focus is on diversifying market opportunities for pulses. When it comes to optimizing costs, our focus is on ensuring Canadian pulses have unfettered access to markets and ensuring that the supply chains that help serve those markets are fluid so that, as a supplier, we can meet a brand promise of consistency and reliability.
Can you tell us more about your 25 By 25 plans and how you’re implementing them? Are you on track to achieve what you set out to do?
25 By 2025 is the Canadian pulse industry’s global diversification strategy to move 25% of Canada’s productive capacity, roughly 2 million tonnes, into new, non-traditional markets or for use in value-added processing by 2025. The directive from the national board came on the heels of the International Year of Pulses, where nearly every marketing-oriented goal was reached or exceeded. For the board, it wasn’t a time to sit back and celebrate social media impressions; it was time to translate awareness into tonnes moved into new markets. With that high-level directive, a national team set out to develop tonnage targets for peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, and faba beans.
Each crop-specific strategy is being implemented through a range of activities, including projects and stakeholder knowledge transfer to address information gaps and bottlenecks and outreach to target audiences highlighting key messages through digital campaigns, events, and workshops.
The tonnage targets are ambitious, but some are within closer reach than others. For example, with the significant growth in pea protein fractionation and increasing demand for these ingredients in North America and globally, the industry is on track to meet its target of 1.2 million tonnes. The same would apply to the target for faba beans. Chickpea demand in North America is also growing, as is ingredient processing activity, so we don’t anticipate major challenges there. In the case of lentils, there is significant production volume in Canada but relatively low familiarity in non-traditional markets as a whole food compared to crops like beans and chickpeas, and limited value-added lentil ingredient processing compared to peas. With respect to beans, domestic consumption in Canada has been growing, but in order to meet our 2025 target, it needs to double, which will be challenging.
With all of that said, interest in plant protein, nutrition, health, and sustainability does not appear to be waning, and we expect we’ll continue to see increasing amounts of pulse crops being used and consumed in non-traditional markets.
One of the goals of 25 By 25 is to increase demand for Canadian pulses; this has certainly happened, with Canadian-grown produce being much in demand worldwide. Why do you think it appeals to customers across the globe?
The Canadian pulse industry’s growth has been very much linked to demand in traditional pulse markets where peas, lentils, chickpeas, and beans are consumed as staple sources of protein. Canada’s consistent quality and competitive price have helped it gain market share in major markets where population growth alone can drive demand. Over time, however, the Canadian industry has evolved from simply supplying a generic bulk product to supplying a food ingredient that’s recognized for its versatility in a wide range of food applications. Where the majority of bulk yellow peas from Canada were once exported to India or into Spain’s feed industry, today they’re fractionated, and both the starch and protein fraction are valued in plant-based food markets the world over.
Meeting the needs of the markets of today and driving demand from the markets of tomorrow are keys to Canada’s success and are certainly the things that customers have come to expect.
How closely do you work with farmers and growers? With markets, varieties, and technologies ever-changing, are efforts being made to educate customers and keep things up to date?
Pulse growers and the pulse trade sit shoulder to shoulder around the Pulse Canada table and drive the agenda for the Canadian pulse industry. This synergistic partnership ensures that direction and decisions benefit from a full range of perspectives from across the pulse value chain and, because members and stakeholders of Pulse Canada represent the entire value chain from farm to fork, including pulse processors and end-users, communication and education flow in both directions.
For example, right now, members of staff are sharing new information on pulse quality from Canadian regional variety trials and, in turn, they’re gaining access to unique insights into industry needs for commercially relevant research. These relationships will continue to strengthen as we develop new programs to formalize these types of partnerships.
Where do you think the biggest opportunities for growth and innovation are in the pulses industry? In terms of research, how involved are you in the industry’s advancement, in finding the next end-use opportunity, for instance?
There is clearly a lot of interest in plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, categories which are experiencing significant growth. Improving the nutrient density of these products is becoming a bigger priority for innovation after taste and functionality challenges are solved, and pulses offer some advantages on this front. I expect we’ll also see growth in whole pulse use and consumption in both retail food and foodservice as the plant-based trend continues. But there’s also a lot of opportunity for significant volumes of pulses and pulse ingredients to be used in other categories like cereal-based foods and meat products, where pulses can provide nutrition and sustainability advantages.
In terms of our involvement in research, our focus is on projects that address bottlenecks or information gaps that are common to processors and end-users.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on at the moment?
It’s difficult to land on one most exciting thing, but I would say that the promise of partnerships across the food value chain and within the food system is very exciting. The evidence is mounting that pulses add value in the rotation on the farm, in the feed ration, in the food formulation, and in the diet more generally. And at every stage, from the farm to the food on our plates, there’s partner potential; leveraging the health and environmental benefits that pulses can bring is not only a smart business decision but smart as a solution to societal challenges as well.
What has the response from consumers been like with your increased marketing efforts?
Aside from our strategy on beans which involved some direct marketing to Canadian consumers, the majority of our focus is on working with processors and end-use manufacturers, ensuring they have the tools they need to market their products to consumers. Consumer research suggests that, while sustainability is becoming more and more important, taste, price, and nutrition remain the biggest influences on purchase decisions today. Having good data and information that highlight the unique advantages of pulses will be critical as we continue to build the food industry and, ultimately, consumer demand.
It’s been a difficult few years with the COVID-19 pandemic, the North American droughts, the logistics crisis, and now the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; how has that affected you? Do you think the industry is in a period of transition?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis in March of 2020, the heads of the WTO, the WHO, and the FAO came out early with a statement that stressed that as countries work to address the pandemic, they must minimize impacts on food supply and unintended consequences on global trade and food security. In the context of COVID-19, there was support in the short term aimed at keeping food supply chains fluid. However, if you combine the recent trend towards protectionism with the experiences that some countries had during the pandemic, the challenges that they faced with respect to the logistics crisis, and now the uncertainty created by the war in Ukraine, it’s not unreasonable to think that there will be even more emphasis on doing what it takes to protect the domestic food supply and to secure supply chains into the future. This continued transition away from a predictable global trading environment is worrisome on many levels.
Pulse Canada and its partners in the Global Pulse Confederation believe strongly that government and industry partnerships can ensure that the health of people and the environment will be protected and that adequate supplies of high-quality food can flow to food-deficit regions of the world. But in order to deliver on these important objectives, governments around the world must create an enabling environment through predictable and transparent trade policies and actions that are rooted in science. The Canadian pulse industry will advocate for this approach to international trade at every opportunity.
With the recent lifting of fumigation penalties for Canadian pulse imports into India, how do you see trade between Canada and India developing?
After years of work between Indian and Canadian plant health agencies, it is not only welcome but also an important step towards creating a more predictable and transparent trading environment on a broader scale.
In that regard, Canada and India have formally re-launched Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations and discussions related to a potential interim agreement or Early Progress Trade Agreement have already begun. The Canadian pulse industry supports a continued focus on achieving predictable and transparent policies governing the trade in pulses between Canada, the world’s largest pulse exporting country, and India, the world’s largest pulse consuming country.
Pulse Canada is kindly sponsoring the GPC’s conference, Pulses 22, which is taking place in Dubai this May. Are you looking forward to the conference?
Although I have been with Pulse Canada for over eighteen years, it may come as a surprise that the last solo GPC event I attended was in Beijing in 2004! With that said, I am very much looking forward to attending this year’s event, meeting people, making friends, and taking in all that the conference has to offer.
Given that the conference will feature pulses experts from all around the world, do you see this as a good opportunity to promote the Canadian product?
Attending an event like this is all about meeting with and creating a global network of like-minded partners. The GPC and initiatives like the International Year of Pulses have taught us that we can get further faster when we work together. Physically coming together and building relationships is step one. For that reason, I’m not only looking forward to meeting people at Pulses 22 in Dubai, but I’m also looking forward to extending a warm invitation to everyone to come back to Canada (for the first time in two years!) for the Pulse and Special Crops Convention from September 20-22 in Niagara Falls.