As Maple Leaf Foods expands its presence in the plant-based protein space, the Canada-based company still sees a strong demand for meat and poultry in export markets. However, in North America, the demand is “soft,” a company leader said.

Speaking during a recent conference hosted by Bridge2Food in Calgary, Alberta, Rory McAlpine, senior vice president of government and industry relations with Maple Leaf Foods, explained why the company no longer refers to itself as a “meat company,” but rather a “protein company.”

According to a Calgary Herald report, McAlpine estimates the alternative protein market could grow as much as 7.5 percent annually, but at least in North America, the meat and poultry market won’t see such growth.

“The meat industry is certainly large and it’s not shrinking in the sense of the global demand,” said McAlpine. “The per capita consumption, as countries become wealthier in Asia and the developing world, is just increasing steadily the demand for meat protein. But in terms of North American consumption, absolutely its soft. The growth opportunities (for meat), certainly in North America, are very limited.”

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Continued commitment to meat and poultry

Maple Leaf Foods, which in recent years acquired plant-based protein companies Lightlife Foods and Field Roast Grain Meat Co., is in the process of building a new alternative protein plant in Shelbyville, Indiana. The 230,000 square-foot plant represents a US$310 million investment. Production there is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2020.

However, it also remains dedicated to its meat and poultry operations. In November 2018, it announced it was building a 640,000 square-foot value-added fresh poultry facility in London, Ontario. Construction of the new poultry plant is expected to be completed in 2021.

Maple Leaf Foods also completed the acquisition of VIAU Foods, a Canadian market leader in premium Italian cooked, dry-cured and charcuterie meats, in November 2018.