Enchant seed grower Greg Stamp was expecting the unusual when he travelled to India last month. That proved to be the case, but not always in ways he expected.
For example, he learned the fast-food market in India grew by 18 per cent last year.
“That was a huge number. I was surprised,” said Stamp, a director with the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission.
But, he noted, this trend is an opportunity for pulse growers on the Prairies as fast food doesn’t mean hamburgers in the world’s second-most populous country.
“There is opportunity with ready-to-eat meals and fast food, which doesn’t mean fast food the way we eat fast food,” he said. “It could mean the vegetarian diet. These people are not beef eaters, and so pulses are easier to roll into that type of diet.”
Stamp said he got a better appreciation of export opportunities by attending the India Pulse Conclave, a biannual conference organized by the India Grains and Pulse Association, on behalf of Alberta Pulse.
“India, traditionally has been bulk market sales,” he said. “It seems to be slowly transitioning into more packaged or branded, as people are shopping a little bit differently and becoming slightly more affluent.”
Even if a small percentage of the population jumps on North American food trends, it’s still a significant number, he said.
“If that trend comes to India, it’s magnified because there are 10 times the number of people there,” he said.
The per capita consumption of pulses in India has gone down slightly.
“People might not be eating as traditionally,” he said. “As young people are coming into the workforce and going out into the world, they are eating a little differently than their parents.”
Canadian pulse exports to India nose-dived after the government imposed high tariffs, part of its bid to encourage its farmers to ramp up pulse production and make the country self-sufficient in the food staple.
Indian farmers have increased pulse acres, but much of the new acreage is on marginal land, said Stamp.
“They’ve got no access to good seed or good genetics and they have no storage for after harvest,” he noted.
Stamp was the only Canadian farmer at the conference of about 400 people, but he was accompanied by a few staff from the Alberta government’s trade office. There were also traders and pulse processors from Canada at the conference.
“There were mainly Indian-based companies there,” he said. “There were not a lot of farmers at the conference. It was more of a trade conference.”
The Canadian presence was a bit reduced because trade with India has been restricted by phytosanitary concerns and other trade issues. Attendance at the conference was lower than usual because of the coronavirus.
Stamp then travelled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to attend the Gulfood Show, an international food show. In size, it rivals Agritechnica, Germany’s huge farm equipment show, he said.
“It’s massive. I call it the Agritechnica of food shows. They are showcasing everything from candy to drinks to coffee beans to pulses. There’s also pea protein powder, pea additives, the whole run of the mill.”
Meeting some of the people who run the companies was also fascinating, he added.
“The show is quite amazing because you have a lot of the companies’ management and the CEOs at the show. At this show, you see company owners, their kids and the management staff, so we’re really talking with the people who own the businesses.”
Naturally, Stamp was interested to see the pulse products on offer.
“When I look at the plant protein market, there was a lot of buzz around those booths, and a lot of people who are starting to produce that protein,” he said. “A lot of Canadian companies are starting to produce pulse protein, there is some interest. I think the opportunity is there for more inclusion in ready-to-eat products, on a global scale.”
The trip reinforced his belief that it’s important to share the story of the product and the environmental impact of the product when it is grown in Canada.
“We might be able to jump through some hoops that other countries can’t,” he said. “That’s the advantage that we have as Canadian farmers. We can participate in the traceability and sustainability side of the products.”
That might include labelling products differently.
“On the boxes are a few different kinds of labels, and the people who can afford to buy those products, they are starting to look at those things,” he said.
In both countries, Stamp was impressed by the work of overseas Canadians. He learned Alberta has a provincial trade office in Delhi (India’s capital) and there are trade commissioners who work for the Canadian government stationed all around the world.
“I don’t think we realize how much these people help Canadian companies or potential upstart Canadian companies to figure out what to do to get these products to market,” he said.
Stamp said he was humbled to learn about the variety of products on the global marketplace.
“What we see and experience and what we sell is a really small selection of what the companies all over the world have,” he said.
“Myanmar, for example, is doing a lot of unique oddball pulse crops that we’re not growing. And it’s growing some that we are. It is close to India, like three days away (by ship).”
And that means Canada needs to do better to prevent transportation disruptions, he said.
“Access to markets is critical because we’re so far away,” he said. “Word travels fast if we can’t get that product out.”