The Eat Well Group (EWG) portfolio companies have helped offset more than 96,250 metric tonnes of methane from the atmosphere, saving over 875,000 cows’ lives by producing approximately 1.4 billion plant-based burgers. EWG, a publicly traded investment company, works mostly with companies in the agribusiness, food tech, plant-based and ESG (environmental, social and governance) sectors.
One of their portfolio companies is Belle Pulses, which connects the farm to downstream processors as the first step in refining some of nature’s best sources for plant-based protein. Brand customers include General Mills, Nestle and Ingredion, serving both people and pet food sectors.
We spoke with Marc Aneed, CEO of Eat Well Group (EWG), about Belle Pulses’ work in plant protein sources. Founded in 1979, Belle Pulses is the largest producer of plant-based protein in Canada, and is located in Bellevue, Saskatchewan.
FE: How has EWG offset more than 96,000 metric tonnes of methane from the atmosphere and saved cows’ lives—just by creating plant-based products?
Aneed: The environmental benefits of pulses (as nitrogen fixers) are part of a multifaceted narrative of benefits that Belle Pulses brings for the environment, regenerative agriculture and improved global food security. Canadian pulses are some of the most sustainable crops in the world. The processing of pulses leads to three key ingredients: proteins, starches and fiber. Of the nearly 100,000 tonnes of pulses processed by Belle, nearly 26,000 is pure plant protein, which is typically used downstream in CPG items such as plant-based burgers, nuggets, and other items. Those pure plant-based proteins processed by Belle Pulses last year equate to the protein equivalent to over 813,000 cattle not being part of the food chain. The displacement of that number of cattle also yielded the savings equivalent to approximately 90,000 metric tonnes of methane that the cattle equivalent would have produced over the same period.
FE: Why did EWG consider Belle Pulses as part of its portfolio?
Aneed: Key partners of Eat Well Group got to know Belle Pulses and the Gaudet family for many years in previous business ventures. Belle was and is a very successful company that has both a legacy and key strategic positioning within the industry and with customers in over 36 countries worldwide. More importantly, the Gaudet family has been extraordinary stewards of Belle Pulses as a values driven business, which is very important to Eat Well Group. When the key shareholders of Belle began to consider both exit and succession, it was a very comfortable relationship and dialogue to structure a deal that made sense for everyone, especially given that Belle is a perfect fit into Eat Well Group’s vertically integrated model and has substantial room for growth and expansion.
FE: Who, in the early days, purchased the pea and legume protein, since plant-based products weren’t a big staple food at the time?
Aneed: Great question. Over Belle Pulses’ 40-year history, there has been an evolution and expansion of markets and use cases for pulse proteins. In the early years of the business, most of the pulses were exported to developing countries—mostly in Africa and South America. The reason is that pulses have long been an inexpensive and highly efficient source of protein for those countries, whereas meat protein is expensive and often doesn’t align with personal, cultural and religious values. With that said, over the decades the processing technologies for pulses have evolved and dramatically expanded the functionality and use cases for pulses as key ingredients in existing and new products, such as milks, plant-based meats, pastas, pet foods and much more.
“The products are used in typical formats, but also the fiber from the hulls is high in insoluble fiber, which is an important ingredient in pet foods, as well as for human applications.“ — Mark Aneed, CEO, Eat Well Group
FE: The company uses pea protein. How does it connect the farm to processors?
Aneed: Belle Pulses buys green and yellow peas, which typically contain 20-25% protein. Over the past four decades of operation, Belle Pulses has developed relationships with over 3,000 farmers located throughout western Canada. We process the peas by removing the skin, split them and sell them all over the world in both human and pet formulations. After Belle Pulses’ processing, further downstream processing—such as fractionation—separate the protein, starches and fiber. We don’t separate the pea protein.
FE: How does the process work?
Aneed: Belle Pulses has mastered processing and efficiencies that separate the skin from the raw pea. We split the pea using our proprietary splitting process. Depending on the granulation required, the peas can be shipped whole, split or as a flour. It is bagged in various sizes to meet customer specifications: anywhere from a 25kg bag to a 2200 lb. tote, or sold in bulk.
FE: Can you give some examples of how the product is used?
Aneed: The products are used in typical formats, but also the fiber from the hulls is high in insoluble fiber, which is an important ingredient in pet foods, as well as for human applications. With nearly 100,000 metric tonnes being processed for customers in 36+ countries, our customer base tends to be long standing, with multi-decade relationships with key international conglomerates, as well as smaller exporters and downstream processors.
FE: Belle Pulses uses other protein sources. Can you explain each?
Aneed: Belle Pulses also sells split desi chickpeas and split faba beans.
FE: Products from these proteins include crackers and pastas. How are the peas processed and in what other on-shelf products?
Aneed: Peas not only offer one of the most efficient sources of protein on the globe, they also offer ever increasing functionalities due to advances in food science and increasing global demand for protein, fiber and starches. Peas are easily broken down into building blocks of function: starch, fiber and protein. Yellow pea flours can be used as functional ingredients in extrusion processing. The high temperature, high-pressure conditions of extrusion processing create products with a desirable crispy, aerated textural structure with improved nutrition. The process also increases the bioavailability of nutrients. The fractionation of peas and pea-protein isolate have ever-increasing uses. Examples: Pea starch is used to make noodles, high-protein pastas, ice creams, non-dairy milk, mac and cheese, plant-based meats, soups, sauces and yes, crackers, biscuits, nutrition bars and other baked goods.
FE: What is the most purchased product by processors to-date?
Aneed: Yellow split pea for the versatility and value for downstream CPG products.