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Canadian consumers shift to plant-based diets

September 1, 2019
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin food producers and processors can help meet the need for meat alternatives.

Several reports indicate growing preferences globally for plant-based diets and preferences shifting away from traditional diets including meat such as beef, pork and chicken. Canada is experiencing the same trend, with a plant-based diet becoming more mainstream as a growing number of consumers commit to it.

A 2018 Dalhousie University Study found that close to 10% of Canadians consider themselves vegetarian or vegan. That’s approximately 2.3 million who identify as vegetarian, an increase from 900,000 reported in 2003, and another 850,000 labeling themselves as vegan. The study also found that more than half (63%) of vegetarians and vegans were under the age of 35 and estimates of 6.4 million Canadians that either limit their meat intake (flexitarians) or eliminate it completely. People living in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario were more likely to identify as vegetarians or vegans than those living in the Prairies, Quebec or the Atlantic region, and city dwellers were three times more likely to commit to veganism than those residing in small towns. Reasons influencing these food decisions include the concern for animal welfare, the environment, sustainability and reducing environmental footprint, and concern for personal health.

This industry is expected to continue to grow rapidly over the next several years, with reports that 43% of consumers in Canada indicated that they are trying to include more plant-based foods in their diets. Following the new Canada Food Guide introduced in January 2019 may help contribute to a boost in the changing food preferences, as it encourages Canadians to eat more plant-based foods, lots of fruit and vegetables, and less emphasis on meat and dairy for improved health reasons as well as being better for the environment. The guide may have widespread impact, since hospitals, schools, doctors and nutritionists, among others, often use the guide in preparing meal plans and/or guidance for healthier personal eating habits.

With the industry worth more than $3 billion and growing, Canadians are seeing more plant-based food/protein options available to them in the grocery stores, restaurants and fast food chains as businesses adapt to shifting consumer preferences. This shift is driving food industry companies to innovate and consider new approaches to product offerings. Maple Leaf Foods, a leading Canadian food processor of packaged meats, recognized an area of opportunity and recently invested $600 million in the industry and expanded its plant-based offerings. The Canadian government has also identified plant-based foods as an important and growing industry and has invested $150 million into its development. In support of an industry evolving and growing quickly, a new industry organization was formed in 2018 to help support the regulatory and market interests of plant-based food companies in Canada that make and market vegetarian products that are similar to traditional animal protein products.

The growing interest and consumption of more plant-based foods and proteins is being taken seriously, with expected long-term lasting impact on the way people eat, shop, cook and sell food. This presents many opportunities for the food industry in manufacturing, retail and food service to grow and innovate, develop and produce alternative food options that cater to changing consumer preferences.

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