Fast food chains look to capitalize on vegetarian, vegan trend with new items

Seven per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians and 2.3 per cent identify as vegans

The once meat-dominated world of fast-food and casual restaurants is starting to cater to the one-in-ten Canadian diners who identify as vegetarian or vegan by adding an increasing array of alternative proteins to their menus.

Restaurants are the latest link of the food chain taking notice that more consumers are turning to alternative protein because of high meat prices, as well as environmental, humanitarian and health reasons.

About seven per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians and 2.3 per cent identify as vegans — levels that were not previously known, according to a poll conducted earlier this year by Dalhousie University.

That accounts for about one-in-ten diners and grocery shoppers.

Food manufacturers have gobbled up plant-based protein makers and grocery stores have started carrying a wider array of meat alternatives.

“This has been building for more than a generation, but only began taking off about five years ago,” Michael Whiteman, president of Baum+Whiteman, a food and restaurant consultancy firm, said in an email.

Baum+Whiteman predicts plant-based food hitting the mainstream will be the biggest trend in restaurant dining this year.

Until very recently, supermarkets have been ground zero for the big expansion of plant-based foods, he said, adding over the last decade sections devoted to vegetarian products doubled, and sometimes tripled, in size.

Even food manufacturers closely associated with the meat industry have started to jump aboard the trend.

Ontario-based Maple Leaf Foods has made two important moves into the space in the past two years, acquiring Lightlife Foods, a U.S. company that makes plant-based foods, and Field Roast GrainMeat Co., another American alternative protein maker.

Nine Lightlife Foods products started appearing in Canadian grocery stores, like Sobeys and Walmart, this summer, said Michael Lenahan, Maple Leaf’s vice-president of marketing for alternative protein.

The meat processor’s acquisitions are part of the company’s ambitious rebranding strategy for a health-conscious era, complete with a new goal: “to be the most sustainable protein company on earth.”

Plant-based protein tends to require less water and land compared to beef production, Lenahan said. But he admits there’s also a big business case for adding plant-protein products to Maple Leaf’s portfolio.

“The category is just exploding,” said Lenahan.

But the world of fast food has, until recently, lagged behind, often with nary a veggie burger to be found at some of the biggest brands in the food court.

A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. last month launched a plant-based burger made by Beyond Meat, a celebrity-backed California-based company whose burger uses ingredients including beet, coconut oil and potato starch to mimic beef’s colouring, juiciness and chew. Last week, the company announced the burgers were temporarily out of stock.

The more upscale B.C.-based chain Earls Restaurants Ltd. restaurants recently unveiled a vegan menu section at several of its U.S. and Canadian locations and Aroma Espresso Bar Canada revealed its so-called power burger, a vegan patty that it says “tastes like a traditional hamburger.”

The demand is largely being driven by millenials. The Dalhousie report showed that among the Canadians who identified as vegetarians and vegans, more than half were under the age of 35.

Millennials — a younger generation now in their 20s and 30s — tend to be concerned about health and beauty, as well as animal welfare.

But baby boomers born near the end of the Second World War and now reaching their senior years are also increasingly looking to meat-alternatives amid concerns about extending their lives, said Whiteman.

Rising beef prices and concern around antibiotic use in agriculture may also be pushing consumers toward alternative proteins, Robert Carter, executive director of foodservice for market-research firm NPD Group.

But in the end, Carter said, the main impetus for the trend is the improvement in vegetarian and vegan options, which have come a long way in satisfying taste buds since they first started to appear.

“The innovation within the vegan meal categories has really improved dramatically… so that it actually really tastes good.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Let the Games begin!

Team Alberta takes home gold and silver in speed skating on day one

‘Mitts don’t just warm hands. They warm hearts’: Mitts for Many Program launches

Donate new or lightly used mittens to bin in the Great Hall of the Gary W. Harris Centre

WATCH: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony welcomes athletes from across Canada

Athletes’ medals unveiled at the official opening of 2019 Canada Winter Games

Medals depict Central Alberta landscape and pay tribute to First Nations

Red Deer RCMP arrest man after vehicle theft from dealership

Police were able to disable the SUV with assistance from the built-in vehicle assistance system

Fashion Fridays: Up your beauty game

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

LOCATED: Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Amanda Kucher was last seen at the Innisfail 7-Eleven on Feb. 15

Red Deer College transforms into Athletes’ Village

Red Deer College’s campus will be home for the athletes during the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Alberta minor hockey team, slammed for Indigenous dance video, forfeits season

Parents say season was too dangerous to finish because the team has been threatened

Trump officially declares national emergency to build border wall

President plans to siphon billions from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts

Father to be charged with first-degree murder in Amber Alert case

11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found dead in her father’s home in Brampton, Ontario

Red Deer man loses car after being caught twice driving with suspended licence

The Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit ticketed the man in December and on Valentine’s Day

January home sales were weakest since 2015, average national price falls: CREA

CREA says the national average price for all types of residential properties sold in January was $455,000

Most Read