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A World of Opportunity for Alberta Pulses Starting to be Tapped in China (PCN Winter 2015) DEC 22 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Alberta Pulse Growers saw first-hand how the yellow peas they grow end up in commercial products half a world away on a recent tour, and also saw the opportunities for increasing exports of pulses to China.

“It’s a great opportunity for us as producers to increase our market,” said APG’s Zone 5 Director D’Arcy Hilgartner. “Canada produced almost four million tonnes of dry peas in 2013, and about a quarter of that was exported to China. If we could increase that, it would be fantastic.”

China is Alberta’s second largest trading partner. With over 1.3 billion people in the eastern nation, there is a significant opportunity for the pulse industry to capture new markets with the use of pulse ingredients. Hilgartner noted that Beijing and Shanghai each have the population of Canada, which was eye-opening for him as a first-time visitor.

APG’s Zone 4 Director Fraser Robertson had previously visited China on a vacation, so the population density of the cities wasn’t a surprise.

“It was nice to see the countryside this time on a bullet train,” he said. “We saw harvested fields and some that weren’t harvested. A lot of it was like a garden, well-manicured. A lot of the fields looked to be only about 20 or 30 feet wide and 300 feet long. Likely, so that they could irrigate more easily. There were so many people everywhere, even out in the country.”

Pulse Canada recognized the opportunity to participate with Chinese counterparts to explore opportunities to increase export to the densely populated nation several years ago. In 2009, Pulse Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Cereals and Oilseeds Association (CCOA) to investigate opportunities for engagement. From that initial work, Pulse Canada completed a market study on utilization opportunities for pulses in Chinese foods. This led to a proposal focused on pulse flours, which was drafted and presented to Canadian grower groups in order to seek out interest and partnership.

In April 2014, Pulse Canada entered into contractual agreements with the CCOA for three research projects that involve product scale up to commercialization using pulse flours for steam buns, noodles and biscuits – all important foods with significant growth potential in the Chinese marketplace. Recognizing the opportunity, Alberta and Saskatchewan growers are supporting the projects with a $445,257 investment. Whole and de-hulled yellow pea flours were milled at the Canadian International Grains Institute using the knowledge gained from the Pulse Canada Pulse Milling Project, and provided to Chinese researchers for their use in this food product development project.

“We saw first-hand the research being done over there that we’re funding,” Robertson said. “The people are extremely friendly and tried to show us exactly what they’re doing. It was such an eye-opener to see our product being produced there – to see exactly where the peas Alberta produces are going and making products.”

Robertson had the opportunity to sample the biscuits, which were like crackers and contained various amounts of yellow pea flour.

“They tasted excellent,” he recalled. “I could taste a little pea flour at 50 per cent. Even at 10 to 20 per cent of pea flour in the products to get more protein into Chinese people’s diets, it would be a massive market.”

Hilgartner said the group was surprised to learn that the factory they visited made dumplings in the winter and ice cream bars filled with a red bean centre in the summer.

“It reminded me of one of the products at the national Mission: IMPULSEIBLE competition,” he said. “It’s not something in North America that you would usually consider as a treat. The Chinese company sold 16.2 million of those bars last year, which they consider small – just an introductory market.”

The Alberta Pulse Growers delegation consisted of Hilgartner, Robertson and Jay Han, a food scientist at the Leduc Processing Development Centre, who participated in the technical review of the Chinese projects. They were part of a contingent of growers and staff from Alberta and Saskatchewan pulse organizations, a CDC pulse breeder, and Pulse Canada staff who travelled to China in November to meet with the project partners and learn how commercialization of these new pea flour projects is proceeding. The group was hosted by the CCOA and visited areas where the work is taking place. APG directors supported the trip as a chance for growers to see Canada’s largest yellow pea market first hand, and get a handle on the true opportunity for food product growth and innovation with pulse ingredients in the Chinese economy.

At the vermicelli noodle factory, the delegation had the chance to see the process of incorporating Canadian peas in the product from fractionation, all the way to packaging the product.

“They used to use mung beans exclusively for the vermicelli noodles, but now they’ve moved into yellow peas because they can get a consistent supply at a cost-effective price,” Hilgartner said. “It opens more markets for us as a producer. They do some limited work with red lentils as well as an additive. The Chinese market has a lot of potential.”

Hilgartner said that the Chinese manufacturers and consumers with whom they met had a positive image of Canada as a source of sustainable and quality products, though they were concerned about logistics after last winter.

He added that the group had a discussion with the manufacturer of a snack that uses dry green peas coated with flavours like ranch and wasabi, and in order to achieve the best results, the maker needs to obtain one variety of peas from a single source in order to be able to process them the same way.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to go,” Robertson said. “It sure increased my understanding and if I can help spread the word to other Alberta producers, I’m pleased to do that.”