“We have a great product. We just need to let people know about it.”
The nutritional benefits of pulse crops such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas are steadily becoming better known by consumers. What’s not so well known is that they are grown right here in Alberta, says Sheri Strydhorst, executive director of the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission.
“We have a lot of education to do. We really need to raise awareness about the diversity of pulse production in Alberta.”
The 4,700 pulse producers in Alberta are seeing the benefits of diversifying their markets and receiving the advantage of nitrogen fixation, Strydhorst says.
The challenge is finding more stable and profitable markets.
“Right now we’re an industry that is very dependent on some price-sensitive markets, such as India. We need to widen opportunities. We feel that North America and Europe are markets where there are a lot of health problems, and people need the health benefits of these products in their diets,” said Strydhorst. “We have a great product. We just need to let people know about it.”
Most pulses grown in the province are consumed by humans, although some are used as animal feed. About 80 to 90 per cent of the pulse crops grown in Alberta are exported, APGC believes there are more market opportunities not only in Alberta, but in North America.
The APGC has embarked on several campaigns to increase the awareness of pulses. One was “Savouring Pulses,” now in its third year. The event was held in Edmonton in May and alternates between the Calgary and the Edmonton areas each year. “We feel a lot of awareness about food trends and food starts at some of the finer-dining establishments,” said Strydhorst. The APGC collaborated with seven restaurants in the Edmonton area to showcase some of the diversity of pulses in a variety of dishes.
The APGC is also trying to have more of a presence at Aggie Days, in the Agriculture in the Classroom program and at other educational and agricultural events. The APGC has also been providing teachers with funds to buy pulses and recipe sheets so students taking home economics can learn how to cook with pulses. Community groups holding cooking classes are also eligible for funding to learn how to cook with pulses.
The APGC has also been funding research projects to help diversify the use of pulses in Canada, such as including pulses in the batter of chicken nuggets. One research initiative was called Mission ImPULSEible. In this challenge, four groups of food science students from the University of Alberta created new food products using pulses. The winner of the Alberta competition developed YoPulse, a post-workout drink that contained yogurt and pea protein. Other research projects involve looking into the fractionation processes or breaking down of pulses so they can be added to processed food.
Players in the pulse industry are looking to expand their markets, both at home, and internationally. Sending an effective message about the importance and benefits of pulses to consumers is a crucial part of this process.