Plant proteins are all the rage - at least that’s what the market researchers are all saying - from pea and soy to algae and rice. But what about protein from canola, the second largest oilseed crop in the world?
While canola protein ticks all the right boxes - non-allergenic, sustainable, good amino acid profile, great functionality - the two firms best-known for developing technology to extract it (BioExx and Burcon NutraScience) have yet to find partners willing to put in the capital to manufacture it on an industrial scale.
The biggest opportunity in the biggest global protein market in 50 years?
Burcon - which issued a statement last March saying that a license and development deal with ADM for canola protein would terminate [after 8 years of talks] - says it is still convinced canola protein has potential but has been prioritizing pea and soy protein.
Burcon's corporate development director Michael Kirwan told us: "We are in active discussions with most of our proteins and see a potential market for each.
"In short the interest in canola is still there. [But] Clarisoy [soy proteins commercialized by ADM] and Peazazz [pea protein] had more immediate potential for a number of economic reasons, however as the category grows we would anticipate seeing canola going to market as well."
Meanwhile BioExx - which has developed a patented solvent-free extraction process claimed to boost the solubility, functionality, flavor and odor of canola proteins - has just parted company with its CEO and chairman and hung a ‘for sale’ sign over its front door - although it is still talking to potential partners in Europe.
The depressing news was announced just months after the firm said it held the keys to “the biggest opportunity in the biggest global protein market in 50 years”.
The challenge is not convincing food and beverage manufacturers about canola protein. The problem is the financial markets
So what went wrong?
A lack of capital, said BioExx, which told analysts in April it was on the verge of setting up a joint venture in Europe with a rapeseed (canola) processor and a private equity firm - and in talks with a “global strategic partner”.
The plan in Europe was to build a protein extraction facility next to the processor’s existing operation, financed by the private equity firm, said BioExx, armed with a feasibility study from GEA Process Engineering indicating that “compelling returns” could be made from canola protein using its technology.
However, executive VP Samah Garringer told us yesterday that the JV won't proceed unless another financial investor puts some money in or a strategic partner gets involved.
Canola has an amino acid profile and functionality that make it the best vegetable protein on the market
She added: “The challenge is not convincing food and beverage manufacturers about canola protein. We’ve actually got two very large customers willing to talk to investors [about its merits]. Canola is the second largest oilseed crop in the world with an amino acid profile and functionality that make it the best vegetable protein on the market.
“The problem is the financial markets. Everyone has become very risk averse and the environment has changed a lot from when we were first talking [to investors].
“The financial partner we are talking to does not want to put in all the equity itself. We were also talking to a global strategic partner but it has decided not to proceed for its own internal reasons and is instead investing in something already on the market [other vegetable proteins] rather than something that might be two years away from the market.”
Capital is the only barrier to bringing to market this new protein of great importance to the world
BioExx, which recently revealed it had “engaged a firm to undertake a process to explore a sale of the company”, had been burning through cash after building its own canola processing facility in Saskatoon, which it is now closing in order to save money.
Former CEO Chris Schnarr, who resigned late last month, told analysts recently: “We’ve proven the scalability and efficacy of our technology… we’ve proven the products… and the protein market is large and growing…
“Capital is, in essence, the only barrier to bringing to market this new protein of great importance to the world.
“And yet, in this challenging financial environment, we have been unable to secure a strategic partner with the patience and risk tolerance to take the next steps to bring this novel product to market.”
John MacDonald, a board member since 2008, is now acting as interim CEO.
Clean, sustainable, robust and scalable
BioExx’s proprietary process for extracting protein from canola, which involves enzyme-assisted mechanical separation and filtration, is clean, sustainable, robust and scalable, according to Garringer. “There is no hexane.”
BioExx’s low-temperature extraction process means it can avoid the denaturing process that usually kicks in when proteins are exposed to high temperatures, which makes it harder to separate them from the meal and can reduce their solubility and functionality, claims the firm.
BioExx also says it has been able to improve the flavor and odor of canola proteins and decrease the ‘anti-nutrients’ that had historically hindered its use as a food grade material.