Merit Functional Foods has started commissioning its $150 million pea and canola protein facility at Winnipeg, Man.

Construction on the 94-thousand square foot plant on the west side of the city started in the fall of 2019.

“This is a momentous step for us,” says Merit’s co-CEO Ryan Bracken, highlighting the completion of construction in a statement issued February 9, 2021. “We’ve been building our product portfolio and our facility for the past year and a half. Now, it’s time to redefine plant protein.”

The company describes the new facility as the first commercial plant in the world with the capability to produce food-grade canola protein. Merit will also make high-quality pea protein for food, beverage, and nutraceutical products, and expects to begin fulfilling commercial commitments to food companies “this quarter.”

“Now that we’ve completed construction, we’re spending every day optimizing our manufacturing process so that we can satisfy the demand for better-tasting, better-functioning, and better-for-you plant protein,” says Bracken. “With our facility now live, we’re eager to start collaborating with brands across the industry to develop better plant-based products.”

To begin, Merit estimates it will require around 25,000 tonnes of peas and/or non-GMO canola per year, with the flexibility to use both. With plans already in place for an expansion, the company says its demand could grow to more than 100,000 tonnes per year.

The company was founded in 2019 as a joint venture between Burcon NutraScience Corporation, which owns a patented protein extraction technology, and several food industry veterans. Both Bracken and co-CEO Barry Tomiski were executives with hemp food manufacturer Manitoba Harvest.

The plant in Winnipeg was originally billed as a $65 million facility, but the project grew along with rising demand for plant-based protein. As of last summer, the company said the estimated cost had grown to $150 million.

Bunge, which operates four canola processing plants in Western Canada, has invested $30 million in the plant in exchange for a minority ownership stake. It’s expected Bunge will also play a role in sourcing inputs for Merit.

Merit has received nearly $100 million in financing through federal government-related agencies, including $9.2 million from the Protein Industries Canada supercluster and $90 million in repayable contributions and debt financing from FCC, Export Development Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovate Program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the federal funding in an announcement in June 2020.

The Manitoba and federal governments announced $2.5 million in cost-shared funding for Merit’s equipment purchases in August 2020. The provincial government is also contributing $1 million for cost-shared training activities and a rebate of up to $4.5-million over a maximum of 20 years through the Manitoba Works Capital Incentive (MWCI) Program.

The Merit plant is coming on-stream at roughly the same time as Roquette’s pea processing plant 90 km to the west at Portage la Prairie, Man.

Related: Roquette powers up $600 million pea protein plant

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