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

OUR VIEW: Let’s find Surrey pellet-gun punks

Those who do have information – if they are also possessed of a conscience – must contact police

Coldest Night an event for warm hearts

Sources’ White Rock event one of 130 walkathons across Canada on Feb. 23

VIDEO: A new Hive climbing/fitness facility coming to Surrey in 20,000-sq.-ft. space

‘Bouldering’ and other activities planned at site near Pattullo Bridge

MK Delta Lands development another step closer to breaking ground

Delta needs Metro Vancouver’s okay before swapping hundreds of acres and adding it to Burns Bog

Guatemala mission offers hope, health

Peninsula team to visit remote villages, build a home, in Piedra Blanca

VIDEO: Canada’s flag turns 54 today

The maple leaf design by George Stanley made its first appearance Feb. 15, 1965

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Prominent B.C. realtor says he doesn’t know how child porn got on his computer

Closing arguments heard in Ian Meissner’s Chilliwack trial for accessing, possessing child porn

Plecas won’t run in next election if B.C. legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Workshop with ‘accent reduction’ training cancelled at UBC

The workshop was cancelled the same day as an email was sent out to international students

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

Avalanche control planned tomorrow on Highway 1

The highway will be closed in the morning east of Revelstoke

Judge rules Abbotsford home must be sold after son tries to evict mom

Mom to get back down payment and initial expenses

Mayors approve SkyTrain extension to UBC

Next step is a business plan and public consultation

Most Read