Q: Could you provide our readers with a brief introduction to your career in the food industry?
Lionel Kambeitz: The Kambeitz family has been involved in agriculture since 1899. We still farm the original lands homesteaded by my forefathers. We have a long history of agricultural innovation and implementation of sustainable agricultural practices.
Our operation, KF Kambeitz Farms, was selected as the North American representative in 2015 for the Expo Milano. The theme of the World Fair was sustainable and scalable agriculture, and we were very proud of that recognition.
Often, we read about large scalable agricultural operations not being run sustainably. That’s part of why we felt there was a need to grow our crops in a sustainable way. It would allow us to grow better quality products. Along the way, plant-based protein started to develop.
It turns out the best proteins for this are chickpeas, yellow peas, green peas, lentils, fava beans, and a few others. They grow best in Northern Plains of America and Western Canada. It turns out that we were sitting on the best place in the world to grow these “new proteins.” We had a natural advantage, and we felt it was really the next step.
Q: You have several decades of experience in the food industry and you have founded several other food companies before this one. What is different about Above Food and what are your biggest hopes for the company?
Lionel Kambeitz: Above Food is a complete seed-to-fork, vertically-integrated company. It’s a company that will own and control the future genetics of these crops that will be utilized to produce plant-based foods.
You put the seed in the ground knowing the seed will end up in a finished food product. The challenge for plant-based foods is not taste. These foods will get to the point where they taste as good or better than the meat and seafood analogues. Technology will make them taste good.
The challenge is that they have to be nutritious. The bio-available protein and amino acid balance is going to become very important. By growing the best proteins in the world, we will be in a unique position to provide plant-based foods that are not only delicious, but made with the most nutritious plant-based proteins anywhere.
Q: Do you see a shift coming in the attitudes toward plant-based food? What are the major developments that you expect to see in the future for this emerging segment of the food industry?
Lionel Kambeitz: Two things have been happening. One, the demand for plant-based protein foods and ingredients in North America and Europe is at a much higher demand beyond the health conscious market driver, but rather also focused on carbon footprint and sustainability. We have to be held accountable for the environmental impact of our food. Let’s build food that will reduce the environmental footprint of food production.
Second, the impact of ESG-based investing, whereby companies are being held accountable for their impact on the environment by this investing community.
We have to be held accountable for the environmental impact of our food. Let’s build food that will reduce the environmental footprint of food production.
Q: Your family has been working in the food industry for five generations. How has that influenced your professional goals? And do you see younger generations continuing the work that you have started?
Lionel Kambeitz: You’re shaped by where you live. I was shaped by the vastness of these pristine prairies in Southern Saskatchewan. This vastness and pristine nature shaped who I have become.
It made me realize the ability to grow at scale — at massive scale — the new proteins that we’re growing here. There are billions of mouths that need to be fed in the world, and they need to be fed with more densely nutritious food.
Coming from that vantage point, it’s natural to think of scale, of miles and miles of crops.
The majority of the two billion people in the world that live well —are looking for food with less environmental footprint, and for food that has a better health outcome.
The remaining 4 billion plus people in the world – are looking for food that is affordable, nutritious and taste worthy. The scale of agriculture and the evolution of food technologies will allow us to produce nutritious cost-effective and indulgent tasting foods moving forward.
Q: What can we expect from your company over the next year or two? Any big plans?
Lionel Kambeitz: I think we can expect an absolute crowning of Above Food as the Canadian champion in the plant-based food business. We will emerge this champion and then compete within the US with already established plant-based companies, in the US market next year.
We can also expect a significant movement toward plant-based seafood. Chickpeas and fava beans make tasty, plant-based seafood. The new ocean of the world are the vast fields of Saskatchewan and Montana and North Dakota. That’s the future.
Q: You also founded Delta CleanTech Inc. Any interesting developments with that company that you would like to share?
Lionel Kambeitz: There’s been a substantial ESG revolution that goes beyond government and legislation. The governments of the world are concerned about climate change, and they’re creating incentives, but what’s important is that the investment community does its part as well.
We are capturing carbon dioxide and contributing to the reduction of the global carbon footprint. We are very pleased about that. We consider ourselves to be pioneers.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
Lionel Kambeitz: I would say the success of my family stability, and the success of integrating our business into the new sustainable economy.
If you talk about feeding the hungry and tending to the sick and helping people through the elements of their lives, we are involved in businesses that have a cause to help humanity, as well as a cause to be profitable.
I want to continue to celebrate the sustainability of these environmental endeavors, to celebrate the success of the sustainability of our business model. I’m proud to build a good business that’s built around sustainability and helping humanity, that’s built around healthy earth and healthy food — that’s the achievement.
The ongoing theme is my involvement in technology development that ultimately drives scalable sustainability. Whether it’s carbon-capture or food, it’s about developing technologies that build sustainable business models.
That will be our theme throughout the next year or so as we build our businesses towards these objectives.