To give customers something different for the holidays, Colemans in Corner Brook, N.L., is offering up frozen seal meat. The 11-unit chain says it enjoyed great success when it ran a loins and flipper promo last fall in its larger format stores. The goal: to encourage purchases for Christmas and promote Newfoundland’s homegrown seal industry, which, says spokesperson Judy Bennett, “is often misunderstood.”
Colemans also ran a big seal-sampling event this past April to coincide with the seal harvest. Customers could learn about seal harvesting methods, seal sustainability and about seal meat and its health attributes. Local celebrity chefs Jeremy Charles and Todd Perrin cooked dishes to show the flavour of seal and what home cooks could do with it. “Seal meat doesn’t have to be flipper pie anymore,” says Bennett.
Poultry, beef and pork may dominate Canada’s dinner plates today, but the insatiable curiosity we have for not-so-common ingredients is hitting the meat counter, too. Data from Euromonitor shows consumption of exotic meats, such as camel, horse and venison, rose 10.6% on average each year between 2010 and 2015 in Canada. And that figure doesn’t even include our most popular exotic meat, bison, or others like guinea fowl and ostrich .
Sales volume of such odd meats is small, of course. So don’t expect up-and-comers such as wild boar or emu meat to challenge chicken anytime soon. However, some grocers are noting the interest in exotic meats and catering to demand.
Independent Toronto retailer, McEwan, has seen exotic meat sales jump by about 15% this year over last, though meat manager Frank Galloro admits that doesn’t amount to big sales. What’s keeping these meats in check is their prices, he says. Bison tenderloin is about twice the price of beef tenderloin, and the venison he introduced this fall retails for a whopping $59 per kilo.
Cheaper cuts are doing better. During the summer, bison burgers (at $16.99 per pound, compared to $11.99 per pound for beef burgers) ew off the shelves, though sales slowed as the grilling season ended.
Choices Markets, an 11-store natural food chain in British Columbia, sells bison, elk, wild boar, crocodile, rattlesnake, emu and muskox, all frozen except the bison, since demand is sporadic. It’s there to satisfy foodies, says meat operations manager Rob Hunt. They often come in with a recipe in hand, he explains. “They’re looking for something different.”
At Toronto’s The Healthy Butcher, owner Mario Fiorucci believes exotic meats are doing well both because of foodies’ experimentation and because consumers are looking for “cleaner” proteins without preservatives. Another influence is celebrity chefs and TV cooking shows, which are stoking a desire for more adventurous dishes .
But restaurants are inspiring the masses, too. Restaurants “continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves,” says Michael von Massow, assistant professor in the department of food, agricultural and resource economics at the University of Guelph. Stony Plain, Alta.-based Freson Bros. has done well with its bison burgers during the summer. Even then, these only constitute about five per cent of burger sales, says Brian Petty, director of the meat category. The cost’s still significant—five patties for $17, as opposed to $8 or $9 for beef burgers, he says. Still, that’s more affordable than fresh bison, which runs around $45 per kilo for strip loin steaks and $30 per kilo for top sirloin. “It’s the healthy aspect to bison that customers want,” Petty says.