Appetite for meat-free diets continues to grow: Survey

While the ‘plant-based’ noise quieted during the quarantine, vegetarianism is on the rise
Shutterstock/Nina Firsova

Canadians are crazy about comfort foods amid the pandemic, but it’s not all meat and potatoes.

New figures from Dalhousie University (which surveys Canadians about their food choices every quarter) show that interest in meat-free diets continues. Comparing the last pre-COVID survey (February 2020) with the first conducted during COVID (July 2020), rates of vegetarianism, pescatarianism and veganism have increased.

Vegetarianism has increased from 1.5% to 2.5% in the latest quarter. Pescatarism, which is a diet free of land animals but includes fish and dairy products, increased by 0.2%. The rate of vegan diets increased by 0.7%, which translates to nearly 600,000 Canadians who consider themselves vegan now—the highest measured rate in three years. While the researchers note the rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the population, Canadians continue to be interested in diets that completely exclude land-animal proteins.

“I think the increase has a lot to do with the fact that the livestock industry really struggled with COVID-19,” says Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University and senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “Most of the news coming out of the livestock industry was unflattering stories: backlogs, temporary closures , euthanasia, milk dumping... It didn’t look good.”

Another contributing factor could be the sharp rise in beef prices. According to Statistics Canada, in June, consumers paid 8.3% more for fresh or frozen beef compared with May, the largest monthly increase since May 1982.

“If you’re not into chicken or pork, you’re going to be looking for alternatives, whether it’s fish or ,” says Charlebois. “There are more options out there and the public is more educated about lentils and chickpeas and other pulses. And there is a growing number of products out there that are pre-prepared for consumers.”

For grocery retailers, Charlebois says it’s important to recognize that plant-based diets are gaining traction. “You want to allow consumers to have options when it comes to proteins,” he says. “It is worthwhile to grocers to look at how to support the category. You need a strategy beyond just putting a few packages at the meat counter. You may consider a whole plant-based section or something a bit more elaborate.”

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