The plant-based protein trend is evident in recent manufacturer and restaurant moves in Canada.
The demand for plant-based protein is growing in Canada.
Meat processors Maple Leaf Foods Inc., for example, acquired two companies in this niche in recent years: Lightlife Foods and Field Roast GrainMeat Co.
At the same time, fast food chains have started adding vegan and vegetarian options to their menus. A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. even temporarily sold out of its Beyond Meat patties shortly after adding them to its menu.
Industry watchers have attributed the demand for plant-based protein to a combination of millennials, health-conscious baby boomers, and concerns surrounding antibiotic use in agriculture.
A key turning point for animal protein came in 2014 when beef prices started to rise dramatically, said Sylvain Charlebois, one of the lead researchers and a professor at Dalhousie University.
Between December 2013 and December 2014 the average monthly retail price for one kilogram of ground beef rose by more than 26%, according to Statistics Canada data. By way of comparison, the price advanced about 3.5% between December 2012 and December 2013. It reached a record high of $13.23 in October 2015.
“It really spooked consumers,” said Charlebois, adding that they started substituting plant-based protein into their diet.
Butchers and grocers will likely take it easy on beef prices next year in an effort to bring people back to the red meat, he said.
Meanwhile, consumer demand for plant proteins will help push vegetable prices higher next year, as will the weather, according to the report.
“Fruit and vegetables are some of the most perishable, fragile food products that are on the grocery shelf,” said Simon Somogyi, a lead researcher on the report and a University of Guelph professor.
They’re particularly influenced by climactic events, like the El Nino expected to occur this winter, he said, which can result in warmer and drier conditions, and create shortages in the supply chain.
As far as which vegetables may see the biggest price increases, it’s difficult to know what produce item will become the next cauliflower, which saw its price soar in 2016.
Charlebois points to lettuce and tomatoes as possible candidates for big price fluctuations.
The report predicts more modest increases for bakery (one to three per cent), dairy (zero to two per cent), fruit (one to three per cent) and other food items, such as non-perishables, not covered by the other categories (between zero and two percent).
Restaurant prices will rise between two and four per cent, according to the report, mainly because operators’ labor costs increased as several provinces and territories boosted their mandatory minimum hourly wage recently.
The researchers’ predictions for 2018 were fairly accurate. Fruit prices, which they estimated would rise between one to three per cent – but which actually stayed stagnant – was the only category where they missed the mark.