A grandmother who calls herself the ‘Pea Queen’ has built a multi-million-pound food business, all thanks to a vegetable: the humble yellow pea.
Christine Lewington has invested every spare penny into launching a new technology that she says will revolutionise the food industry – with a protein powder, unlike any other.
But despite having full control of a company worth £119 million ($150M USD) the 51-year-old lives a frugal life in the small city of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada with her family.
Driving a friend’s car and using super glue to fix her shoes, she has turned down offers of $50M in cash to share her brand secrets, because she says money doesn’t motivate her.
“Growing up I had one pair of shoes each school year and my mum made all my clothes – I didn’t own a shop-bought dress until I was 14 years old,” the CEO of PIP International told Jam Prime.
“We didn’t have a lot of money but we didn’t feel poor, we were self-reliant and had a great community of friends and family around us.
“My parents always taught me to look outwards to see what help you could offer others.
“I grew up knowing that life’s real pleasure is helping your community.”
Christine, who launched her company in 2019, has always had an entrepreneurial spirit – having set up her own babysitting gig aged just 12.
Then she worked in events before heading to college on a volleyball scholarship to study engineering, which landed her a job as a contract engineering project manager in the food processing industry.
After graduating college in 1993 and starting a family, she has since worked for food giants including the companies that make Pepsi and Doritos.
But she knew she wanted something of her own and that’s how her pea protein business was born.
She said: “Plant-based proteins were taking off, so I decided to invest with three business contacts.
“We each paid $165,000 to secure a secret new technology from a lab in France.
“And by January 2021, I was ready to invest over $5m to buy a former craft beer brewery and turn it into a large demonstration-scale pea-processing factory to test and prove the new technology.
“Fast-forward two years later and peas have taken over my life.
“I dream of peas, I know everything there is to know about peas.
“People call me the Pea Queen.”
And to this day there are only four of us who know the secret to our recipe.”
Christine and her colleagues chose the yellow pea as it is grown locally and is inexpensive to buy due to its bitter taste.
It has historically been used for animal feed.
By January 2024, Christine hopes to create 45 local jobs at her factory.
The business has also become somewhat of a family affair with Christine’s daughter, Shelby, 23, working in the marketing department and son, Justin, 29, being employed on an affiliated solar farm close by.
Christine is grandmother to a six-year-old girl called Adria Rose and has another grandchild on the way due on 16 December 2023.
She said: “We work hard but even with my big goals in business we are a normal family.
“We get along and look forward to family games night and long lunches together on the weekend.”
Christine admits to working many 18-hour days and never really takes a day off.
She says her protein is used to improve the nutritional value, taste, and texture of dairy alternative milk, yoghurts, and ice creams without the need for flavour masking ingredients like sweeteners.
She said: “Many other pea proteins on the market are gritty with a bitter taste.
“Ours is tasteless and smooth as we extract the protein without damaging it and maintaining its nutritional value.
“With the interest we have, we are sold out of our product seven times over, we can’t make it fast enough.
“With more investment, we are already expanding.
“I am actively looking for an anchor partner with the right heart and vision to invest in our mission to help change the world.”
Christine says her secret method of extracting protein from yellow peas has also unlocked new technologies that will help worldwide water sanitation.
She aims to achieve a level of financial success that will allow her to switch her focus to philanthropy projects and gift clean water facilities to third world towns and villages that need it.
She added: “I’m a grandma and at this point in my life my ‘why’ in business is to leave things in this world better than it was.
“If I can leave the world a better place, even in a small way, this motivates me more than money ever could.
“Instead of aiming to have millions, I aim to be a disrupter in the food industry.
“I want to be an example to others on how to invest smart in clean technology.”