Trade Talk

December 16, 2021

Trade Talk: Trade Talk with Rav Kapoor of ETG Commodities

Kirsten Provan


At a glance


Could we start with you telling us a bit about ETG, Rav? What are the company’s main goals?

Absolutely. So, ETG was established in 1967 and is now a conglomerate operating across the world. Within ETG, there are several different strands but, above all, we consider ourselves to be supply chain managers, meaning we connect production to consumption. That has been the main pillar of ETG’s existence since its inception. Based on that, we keep on building assets through the supply chain. Concerning pulses, ETG is one of the largest processing, supply chain management and distributing companies in the global pulse market. In total, we process around 900,000 tons a year, and our capacity for cleaning is close to 1.6 million tons. We’re involved in every stage of the process, from farm to fork; we buy our product directly from farms, then we clean it, hull it, split it and get it shelf-ready. It is our mission to ensure that these quality goods reach our customers.

What kinds of pulses do you deal with? Where are your biggest markets?

We are in pretty much all major growing regions and major consumption regions. We’re a significant part of the Canadian and Australian pulse industries and we’re more than fifty percent of origin in East Africa for all pulses grown there. We have three different facilities in India. Basically, all major originating countries have processing plants and origination centers owned and operated by ETG. In Ukraine, we have a small set-up, which we are expanding, and we also hope to establish ourselves in Russia eventually too, beyond just trading.
In terms of pulses, we originate, distribute, or process pretty much every pulse you can think of. Our pigeon peas operation is one of the largest in the world. We also deal with red lentils, chickpeas, beans, green mung beans, and desi chickpeas, to name a few. When pulses are grown, for example, red lentils, numerous products come from that one crop, such as football lentils, split lentils, broken lentils, and so on. That’s why our SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) numbers keep growing as we move into secondary processing and get closer to the shelves.

Are there any upcoming releases or research on value-added use of pulses that you can tell us about?

There’s a lot happening with the plant-based movement all around the world. We have been active participants in supplying plant-based protein manufacturers in places like China, the US, and Canada. We supply a large number of chickpeas to hummus manufacturers, and that market is ever-growing; we are active participants in that evolving space.

I can also tell you that we will soon be announcing a significant new facility for the value-added pulse market: a facility we will be building ourselves from scratch. More on that will come out in the next few months.

We expect the plant-based protein market to quadruple very soon; our predictions are that it will be an industry worth over $120 billion in the next ten years. Given that we are one of the largest pulse processors and supply chain managers, we see ourselves playing a key role in this growth.

Sustainability in food production is critical; what steps have ETG taken towards ensuring things are as fair and sustainable as possible?

We’re doing lots of things to be as sustainable as possible, both internally and externally. In East Africa, for example, we have one of the largest agri inputs divisions, distributing fertilizers, feed supply, and agro-chemicals to local farmers. We work closely with smallholder farmers and put a lot of effort into educating these farmers about the benefits of growing pulses for the land, as well as keeping them up-to-date on new sustainable practices. Sustainability starts at the production level, so it’s important that we support our farmers in these efforts.
Internally, we also have many sustainable initiatives. One of the key projects that ETG has taken on in North America is organic farming, so we participate in organic pulses quite extensively now. Four out of our ten facilities in North America are already certified organic; we intend to push organic production as much as possible and try to bring these products to new supermarkets. Organic production supports the land and promotes sustainable, healthy living and that’s really important.

As well as championing organic farming, we are also passionate about waste reduction. We manage our production schedule so it’s sustainable in every shape and form; we reprocess a lot of product so that wastage is limited and any excess becomes feed.

ETG is involved in local communities: working with the Empowering Farmers Foundation to support smallholder farmers, donating produce to struggling communities, and offering relief after natural disasters, as well. How important is it to ETG to be able to support those in need?

The Empowering Farmers Foundation came from our Chairman, Mahesh Patel. It was one of his missions to make sure that farmers without access to certain teaching or resources were empowered and educated in innovative farming methods. The farming industry is changing all the time, as is our climate, so the EFF helps smallholder farmers improve agricultural productivity and profitability. As an organization, ETG donates a lot of resources to make sure we are supporting farmers wherever we operate. If there is no farmer, there is no food, so it is our priority to empower those workers. We also make sure that the communities surrounding our operation flourish; it’s important to us that we have a positive impact wherever we are based.

Speaking of supporting local people, we know that you did a lot to help employees and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us a little more about that?

As soon as the pandemic hit, there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, but our main goal was to keep our employees safe. We worked alongside ever-evolving health guidelines and created a system where there was no face-to-face interaction to minimize risk. From day one, we had the responsibility of keeping the food supply going and keeping our people safe, so we were very thorough in our restrictions. For the first twelve months of the pandemic, in 95% of our units, we had zero COVID-19 cases, and we were running at 100% capacity.

In terms of COVID’s impact on ETG itself, how has the logistics crisis affected you, and how is it still affecting you? Have there been any other complications as a result of the pandemic?

It’s a disaster out there! When COVID hit, there were initial operational challenges, but then we hit a freight disaster, which was predominantly due to an imbalance in trade worldwide. The whole supply–demand equilibrium just took a dive. Fortunately, we were able to adapt to this new reality and keep on moving; we were actually at 110% of our volumes compared to the previous year, though this came from a lot of hard work and innovation. The logistics crisis is still affecting us, as it is still affecting the world, and I think it will take another six to twelve months before things stabilize. The world has overcome a lot of new challenges in the past few years: this is just another one of them.

How did the droughts in North America affect ETG and how will it shape global trade more generally?

Canada is one of the largest producers and exporters of pulses, and we’ve just had the worst drought in history. This created a huge vacuum in the pulses market. Because the drought happened around harvest time, we’re only really going to feel these effects at the end of 2021 through to the beginning of 2022 as we start relying on these supplies. Other pulses will have to be substituted to deal with this, for example yellows peas coming from Ukraine and Russia, as well as pigeon peas from India and East Africa, could be used. Even with these substitutions, there will still be a shortage of pulses which we will start to feel in the first quarter of next year. We hope that the moisture levels come back to Canada and that by next August/September, we will have a bumper crop to make up for this year’s poor harvest.

With all these issues in mind, what are your projections for next year? What’s next for ETG? Any possibility of expansion?

As supply chain managers, we are involved in every aspect of the business, including origination, production, cleaning, and processing. We are building distribution channels and strengthening existing channels across the world. In North America, for instance, we are building three more distribution centers, one in the west, one in the east, and one in the middle of the continent. We are also further expanding our distribution capabilities in South America. So, we’re very well integrated in terms of production and, from there, we plan to focus on value-added products and our connection to consumers. That’s what you can expect from us next year and in the years to come.