Beyond meals

The rise of plant-based eating in Canada is an opportunity to grow the snack and beverage category.

The buzz around plant-based eating continues to accelerate as many Canadians pledge to eliminate meat from their diets. The annual Ipsos Canada CHATS 2021 Trends Report reveals that a quarter of Canadian adults (26%) are looking to cut back on their weekly meat-eating habits and opt for alternative protein sources for a variety of health and social responsibility reasons.

Although a significant number of Canadians report a desire to eat less meat, there certainly doesn’t appear to be the same willingness to give up meat entirely. 

This year’s CHATS Report confirms that nine in 10 Canadians adhere to an eating regime that includes meat and fish. Though, 15% of those consumers report that they restrict their intake to chicken and fish only, while eliminating red meat from their diets.  

The most recent data released in November 2020 details that 6% of Canadians classify themselves as vegan or vegetarian. Ongoing tracking from Ipsos shows that these rates have held steady for more than five years now.

The findings prompt the rise of a growing share of ‘Lessetarians’ in the Canadian marketplace. While consumers of all ages (2+ years) report solid development for opting for plant-based options as a main dish protein, younger cohorts, particularly those aged 18 to 34 years of age, show the strongest development for this behaviour. 

A key sector prompting trial of plant-based protein alternatives is the foodservice channel.  The rise of the juicy and satisfying plant-based burgers on menu boards has been a gateway for many. This has directly broadened consumers’ willingness to try alternatives. This ranges from trying vegan chicken nuggets, strips, and patties as a protein main dish or additive, to frying up a vegan egg alternative for breakfast.

In the pre-pandemic era, Ipsos Foodservice Monitor reported a whopping 13% increase in vegan burger orders from the previous year (2019 vs 2018).  Vegan burger orders rose during that period faster than any other type of burger (including beef and chicken).  Though mandatory closures, curfews and safety restrictions have impacted restaurant traffic in our current environment, this channel will be critical to future success, particularly as meal preparers look to the channel for plant-based eating inspiration and ideation.  

Currently, in our highly homebound environments, the top options Canadians are substituting as their centre of plate protein alternatives at meals are:

Beyond meals, there is an abundance of opportunity for both snack and beverage manufacturers to target innovation options to the plant-based eating craze. Snacking occasions currently represent two-thirds of our intake occasions (66%) in an average day. Consider the inclusion of protein-rich ingredients like almonds, oats, hemp, cashews, and a variety of plant-based oils (coconut and avocado) to augment snack food or beverage appeal.

Key to winning innovation is ensuring a fit to consumer needs driving plant-based protein choices. The Ipsos data reveals that beyond the desire for something healthy and nutritious, plant-based protein choices (compared to meat protein choices) are more likely to be motivated by benefits that support both emotional well-being, physical energy boost and social consciousness factors.

After almost a decade of tracking the impact of the social consciousness movement on food and beverage choices, there is little doubt that it may no longer be enough for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice operators to have a low environmental impact. Rather the future will be more about what you are doing to positively impact the world around us.

The rise of plant-based eating offers opportunities for brands, both big and small, to commit to the environment, animal welfare and fair treatment of workers. For c-stores, it means offering snacks, beverages and foodservice products that cater to a variety of tastes, including those who embrace plant-based eating. Consumers are increasingly looking for it and counting on it.

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