Beef bans in the U.S. have been grabbing headlines in recent weeks—Michelin-starred New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park is going vegan, cooking website Epicurious will not publish any new beef recipes, and Republicans have falsely claimed President Joe Biden is taking away Americans’ hamburgers. But despite the hoopla, along with the ever-growing hype around plant-based foods, it appears Canadians have no beef with beef.
A new survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid, found that 92% of Canadians eat beef. A total of 65% of Canadians consider themselves to be regular beef eaters, eating beef at least once a week. The highest rate of beef eaters is in Alberta (73%), while the lowest rate is in B.C. (58%). Women are less likely to be regular beef eaters (59%) than men (72%).
When asked why they enjoy eating beef, respondents cited taste as the most common reason (69%). Twelve percent of respondents do so because of lifestyle and social status, and 10% eat beef for health reasons.
“Canadians remain committed to beef, but there are clouds on the horizon,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “Certainly with the younger generations, they are thinking differently about animal proteins and in particular, beef. They appear to be influenced by health and the environment, which are factors that we were expecting. But the one that has crept up a lot compared to past years is price.”
When asked if they have thought about cutting beef from their diets in the last 12 months, 25% of Canadians have thought about it. However, among Canadians under 35, the number rose to 31%.
Nearly half of Canadians (47%) believe the number of people cutting beef from their diets will increase in years to come. And 44% believe it is desirable to see more people cutting back on beef over time, with health being the top reason.
Of Canadians who have thought about cutting beef from their diets, 53% believe it would be good for their health. While 46% considered cutting out beef for the environment, 32% are concerned about animal welfare and cruelty. And as meat prices continue to rise, price is an issue for 31% of Canadians thinking about cutting beef from their diets.
“I think a lot of Canadians have been spooked by meat-counter economics,” says Charlebois. “And it’s not just beef—it’s the trifecta of meat with chicken and pork as well... People are thinking about options because the cost to buy meat is pretty significant compared to just a few years ago.”
Overall, respondents were asked about top influencing factors that would get consumers to cut out beef. Both price (49%) and health concerns (49%) were top choices.
A total of 40% of Canadians also expect vegetable protein options to get better with time and could tempt some to cut out beef. Among the 35 and under set, 54% expect vegetable protein options to get better over the next few years.
Given the high cost of meat, Charlebois says the industry will have to build a case for the younger generations to spend money on beef. “I’m starting to think this will be the most significant challenge for the beef and cattle industry.”
On the retail side, Charlebois says grocers will see more consumers looking for options. “I’ve always believed that eventually there’s going to be a protein section at the grocery store, which will include vegetable proteins, not just animal,” he says. “And you’re starting to see that more and more... You want to make sure your customers are aware of all your protein options, and that they are readily available.”