Meat-free and vegan consumer base grows during COVID-19

While the growing demand for vegan food is a world-wide trend, Canada is amongst those countries where the spike in meat-free consumerism has been particularly distinct since COVID-19. The food services and grocery store industry has noted that consumer interest in plant-based food is the largest it’s ever been. Google data shows a 113% spike in vegan-related searches in Canada since 2016, with vegan recipe searches up 25.73% this year alone. According to the same data, British Columbia residents have shown the biggest rise in interest, with Ontario residents following closely in second place. What is causing the accelerated boom in plant-based consumerism since COVID-19, and is it a temporary trend or long-term change to Canadians’ consumer behaviour?

Health a Priority More Than Ever

It comes as no surprise that the general public is more health-conscious than ever, with many concerned about the implications of becoming sick. COVID-19 has taken lives and caused long-term health problems in many of those afflicted, but even individuals with other illnesses have suffered as a result of the pandemic. Non-essential surgeries have been postponed in several countries, while many hospitals have had limited capabilities in admitting new patients. People are consequently taking extra precautions to stay healthy, with methods ranging from self-isolation to more frequent hand washing and the adoption of a healthier diet. For some, a healthier diet means more plant-based food, which may be part of the reason why we see an increase in Canadians switching out beef burgers for lentil burgers, mayonnaise for hummus, or dairy chocolate for vegan alternatives.

Pandemic Raises Questions About Animal Consumption

From the moment it was reported that COVID-19 had been transmitted at a meat market in China, people around the world have been made to reflect upon their own consumer and eating conventions – and ponder difficult questions about the practicality and potential risks of these carnivorous conventions. As with many strains of flu and respiratory diseases that have posed pandemic-potential over the past few decades, COVID-19 was spread by an animal to a human by means of consumption. Coupled with what we know about the environmental impact of the meat industry, and in response to public campaigning, even Canada’s politicians are investing in what is regarded by many as the more sustainable future of plant-based food.

Meat Processing Centres Closing

Sky-rocketing meat prices and shortages are a likely factor in consumer’s growing interest in plant-based food. As the meat aisle remained empty in many supermarkets at the height of COVID-19, many turned instead to plant-based and vegan alternatives. Vegan food brands – or other coincidentally vegan alternatives, such as falafel, tofu and tempeh – have seen increased sales correlate with this decline in meat consumption. While this behaviour may be temporary, and consumers may return to old habits once the food industry restaurants return to normal as meat processing centers open again, it’s reasonable to assume a long-term change in behaviour for some people, for whom a more plant-based diet during COVID-19 will have introduced them to new favourite foods and insights.

More Diversity and Quality in Plant-Based Food

Canada’s vegan consumer base was growing at an impressive rate long before COVID-19, and in response to this trend, food producers have over the past few years focused on bringing new vegan foods to the increasingly competitive market. Ben & Jerry’s launched their first vegan ice cream in 2016 – with Magnum releasing their own vegan products not long thereafter. Restaurants, cafes and fast food joints are similarly offering a growing list of vegan alternatives. Global brands like Subway and McDonalds have vegan options available in their locations across Canada and in many other markets. An increasing number of entirely vegan restaurants and cafes are opening in the country. This year, the vegan fast food chain Copper Branch is set to open over 200 locations across Canada and France. Meanwhile household names like Beyond Meat and Almond Breeze are changing our perception of vegan food, convincing more people that veganism does not equate to a restrictive or unsatisfying diet.

Strong Canadian Advocacy and Campaigning

There’s no shortage of Canadian celebrities speaking out about the ethics and health benefits of veganism. Daniel Negreanu insists that going vegan helped him become a better poker player, and claims his improved health following the diet has fueled his success in online casino games. Pamela Anderson is another advocate and made headlines around the world for her iconic PETA campaign. Canadian stars Neil Young, Alanis Morisette, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh and Drake can be added to the list of prominent Canadian vegans, many of whom have been outspoken about the lifestyle. Coupled with heavy investment in vegan advertising across the country – from PETA billboards to the controversial Dairy is Scary awareness campaign by Canadian activist Erin Janus – it’s impossible to remain oblivious to the core arguments for veganism as a modern day Canadian.

Like with all major societal impacts arising from COVD-19, it’s difficult to know precisely to what extent we will ever ‘return to normal’. For the food industry, this could mean an even faster accelerating trend in vegan and plant-based consumerism over the long-term. In 2020, around 70% of Canadians say that vegan ‘meat’ is here to stay, while 58% say they have tried some kind of vegan ‘meat’ themselves. Almost 40% of meat-eating Canadians under the age of 35 admit they would like to reduce their overall animal-based intake. With these numbers, it is difficult to draw any conclusion other than that veganism will be on the rise for the foreseeable future, and that plant-based ‘meats’ are on course to become equally as common as meat on menus across Canada, while the ever-expanding soritment of vegan food at Canadian supermarkets further demonstrates the significance of this growing trend.

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