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    OFF THE LINE: EAT Group and Australian Plant Protein directors and founders Brendan McKeegan, left, and Phil McFarlane.

Horsham plant pumping out protein


Horsham is the springboard for a new multi-million-dollar value-adding agricultural product, with the first shipment of pulse-protein powder coming off the production line.

Australian Plant Proteins, part of EAT Group, has informed its growing queue of national and international clients that it will start delivering its high-quality Wimmera and southern Mallee-grown powder from the start of October.

The company has transitioned from commission to production stage, with its manufacturing plant in Horsham’s Enterprise Estate ramping up conversion of faba beans into the highly sought-after multi-use food additive.

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Commercial production represents a major milestone for a Wimmera concept born about 10 years ago from the identification of the high levels of protein in Wimmera-grown pulses, regardless of grade – and the market opportunity this might present.

Company director and co-founder Brendan McKeegan said more than 100 food-manufacturing customers were developing products based on the protein powder.

He said the product range was vast, from drinks and supplements to baked produce.

“We’ve been able to supply sample products out of our Werribee research and development base, which means we have had a whole range of Australian customers trialling the product for more than 12 months,” he said.

“Because of our research and development facility, we’ve been able to get ahead of the market, which has meant that when our facility became operational we could move straight into direct customer production. 

“From an Australian manufacturing perspective, we’re the first company to be able to offer an Australian plant-based protein ingredient. 

“Our clients are very excited from a product quality perspective and in meeting customer demand for Australian-made.

“We also have a number of large international customers who we have been working with, particularly from Japan, the United States and Europe and they are very keen.

“The key missing link in plant proteins has been Australian manufacturing. We’re excited to be able to put Australia on the map.

“We were also always committed to this location – it is the heart of pulse growing in Australia. 

“The closer we are to transferring raw material to a processing facility, the better the economic outcome.”

Production at the Horsham plant will ramp up continually with an initial staff of 22 in place by the second week in October. Expectations are that production will move to a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week timetable in January. Production of 20 to 30 tonnes a week will increase with the introduction of more equipment.

Multiple applcations

The launch product, created through patented technology, comes from faba beans, which trials revealed were protein rich but benign in odour and taste. 

This made them ideal for functionality across multiple applications.

Australian Plant Proteins is also working on yellow and red lentils, mung beans, chickpeas and yellow peas to ultimately offer its clients a suite of products.

Fellow director Phil McFarlane, who grew up at Brim, said the company was working with Wimmera pulse suppliers and the relationship was working well.

“We’re also looking forward to a new harvest that is fast approaching,” he said.

“We’re working with bulk handlers in the region who are getting the product straight off Wimmera and southern Mallee farms.

“This is the first real value-add in the grains industry, a true alternative in the market. 

“It is an opportunity that really defines the value-add channel and a return from farmers to international customers, which is quite exciting.

“To put it into perspective, some of our clients are from large grain-growing countries, yet they are reaching out to us to buy our product.”

Australian Plant Proteins has long-term plans to continually develop its manufacturing project, in the Wimmera and beyond.

The company is scoping out ways to use waste fibre and starch as biofuel to generate its own behind-the-grid renewable energy.

“Part of the next phase of development is to make our own renewable energy to power the Horsham and future sites,” Mr McFarlane said.

Australian Plant Proteins is also continuing to explore a greenfield site to significantly expand operations and will consider plans in more detail in the new year.

Wimmera Development Association created the initial business case for a pulse-protein manufacturing plant in Horsham.

Executive director Chris Sounness said a start in commercial production reflected ‘exciting times and opportunities’ for the region.

“It can take time for the spark of an idea to turn into a business opportunity. But it shows what can be done if people stick at it,” he said.

“Hopefully we can build on it and provide support for further investment in the region.

“It’s a good model in taking advantage of what we do well and creating more job opportunities and giving kids more career opportunities.”

The entire September 23, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!