When A&W started serving Beyond Meat veggie burgers at its restaurants, the fast-food chain offered many patrons their first bite of the much touted, celebrity backed plant-based patty.
In the year and a half since, Canadians continued searching for plant-based options at home and on the go. By the time A&W added a plant-based nugget in December, many fast-food chains--even long-time holdout McDonald's Canada--boasted a trendy vegetarian menu item, too.
As restaurants jumped on the plant-based protein craze this past year, the products also proliferated on grocery store shelves.
Earlier this month, Beyond Meat announced grocers across the country would start stocking its Beyond beef product, which mimics ground beef. It launched its burgers in the summer and they're now sold at more than 4,000 stores in the country.
Lightlife, meanwhile, boasts seven plant-based protein products with national distribution in Canada, and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. makes about four that are sold in many parts of the country. Both brands belong to Chicago-based Greenleaf Foods SPC, a wholly-owned, independent subsidiary of Mississauga, Ont.-based Maple Leaf Foods.
Kicking off the trend, Health Canada revealed a new food guide in January recommending people "choose protein foods that come from plants more often." It minimized meat's dominant position in the previous iteration and put the meat industry on the defensive for their share of consumer plates.
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As interest in alternative protein grew, backlash bubbled.
But the folks leading major plant-based manufacturers said consumers wanted their products and planned to add more varieties and sales points, create tastier options and lower their prices to beat out bargain meat. Beyond Meat wants to add more product types and sales points, so consumers can find every type of meat substitution conveniently.
READ: The battle between animal and plant-based proteins
But, with burgers, nuggets and other plant-based forms becoming ubiquitous, pushback started. In particular, meat producers are taking aim at claims that alternative proteins offer better health benefits.
The Quebec Cattle Producers Federation called on the country's food inspection agency to intervene on what it called misleading advertising on Beyond Meat's products, saying the company shouldn't be permitted to use the word meat.
The Centre for Consumer Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization funded by food industry and consumers, took on the issue of what it calls "fake meat." It launched a website and created advertisements alleging some plant-based protein products use potentially harmful chemicals and can be worse for humans than their meat counterparts.
"It's unfortunate," said Beyond Meat's Brown of the organization's campaign geared toward scaring consumers from eating food that will benefit them.
The burger, for example, contains no trans fat or cholesterol, and 20 grams of protein, according to the company. It does include 16% of the daily recommended sodium content, which is comparable to a seasoned meat patty.
Beyond Meat will launch a substantial marketing initiative in Canada next year, said Brown, as it looks to grow its presence in the country.
"The products that we have are limited in scope. They need to be improved and we need to expand our market presence."
He envisions a future where shoppers can select a Beyond Meat alternative for any animal protein cut they were shopping for at the grocery store, such as a boneless chicken breast or steak.
For some consumers though, the price presents a roadblock. A pack of two Beyond burgers costs $7.99 plus tax at one Canadian grocery chain, compared with $12.99 for an eight-pack of the grocer's house-brand burgers.
Brown aims to lower prices to undercut animal protein within five years, though it may happen sooner in certain segments.
Greenleaf, too, believes there's room for growth in Canada and plans to continue creating products for restaurants and grocery stores, said its president Dan Curtin."It is about innovation."