Consumers Going ‘Meatless’ Phenomenon Tied to Economy: Expert

Date:

Share post:

By Sylvain Charlebois, Professor in Food Distribution and Policy, Faculties of Management and AgricultureDalhousie University

We seem to be living in an era in which the pleasure of eating is quite simply overpowered by values-based narratives in food consumption. And this is happening at an astonishing pace. Vegetarianism and veganism are both coming into their own, allowing more people to “come out of the cupboard” to speak openly about and affirm their commitment to a self-imposed diet. They’re doing it for animal welfare, the environment, health — whatever factor is deemed personally important. But make no mistake: this trend is an indication that the current economy is strong.

Human psychology has shown us that consumers traditionally indulge, ironically perhaps, in times of uncertainty. The fear of food insecurity is a very powerful force. Consumers who may lose their professional situation will often treat themselves with sweets and other often unhealthy offerings, just to forget about their own reality for a while.

It appears, though, that healthy eating habits are winning over indulgence these days. Once food security is achieved for a foreseeable future, or even if it is based on pure optics, many things can change. Science serves as a reminder that the food security concept must recognize the importance of food quality in a general sense, which includes considerations of food safety, nutrition and health as well as the experiential aspects of food shopping and consumption. This is likely where we are at in our present economic cycle.

Many years ago, conversations about food were about flavours, tastes and traditions. Today, we talk more about morals and values linked to how we consume food, simply because we can afford to do so. Stock markets are on a tear, and the unemployment rate is almost at an all-time low. Food is not just about survival, but rather more about making a socio-economic statement as much as a moral one. At social gatherings, some are now made to feel as though eating meat is a crime.

In the past, consumers recognised the limitations on their ability to influence the choices made available to them, and they often seemed doubtful about the potential for collective action to work. They made little connection between threats to global food supply and their own daily consumption practices. That has all changed, due to the abundance of time we now have.

Most of our time is spent looking at a screen, a computer, phone, television, or other portable device we have at hand. Technological advances coupled with our pursuit of convenience, have given us a lot more time to think about food in a different way. Grocery shopping and cooking at home takes less time than the pre-industrial practices of hunting or harvesting. With ready-to-eat food, or even ready to cook solutions we save even more time — time now spent on developing a philosophical attitude toward food consumption. Technology makes our lives simple, and with simplicity also comes greater coherent thought and enhanced self-awareness as a consumer and particularly, as a food consumer.

In the meantime, the industry is coping, and adapting quickly. A few stunning examples: McDonald’s is offering Big Macs without the meat, and according to some sources, the Beyond Burger campaign at A&W is having great success. We also have seen changes in packaging and labels to appeal to the increasing number of consumers who are rejecting the status quo, or anything that appears disconnected with a holistic view of the world. 

But it all really comes down to how the economy is doing. The current unemployment rate is incredibly low, and according to Morneau Shepell, salaries should be going up by 2.6% on average over the next 12 months. More money in the consumer’s pocket will allow them to believe they can trade up, or perhaps sideways, when making food choices. It also gives families much needed financial help. What is also enticing consumers is a weaker than expected food inflation rate across the country. Food inflation remains more than 1% lower than the general inflation rate. So, prices have been less of an issue this year, although this is about to change.

Grocers are indicating that prices will increase due to tariffs. While the rationale of raising prices due to tariffs is highly disputable, when grocers use financial updates to let consumers know prices may go up, it is a sign. Loblaw and Metro have done it, and it would not be surprising if Sobeys follows suit. Food inflation should reach anywhere from 2% to 2.5% by year’s end. 

Yet, even with higher food prices, the buoyant economy allows more of us to think about the ethical, environmental and moral implications of our food choices. And we can afford to — for now.


Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Dean of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star. Follow him on twitter @scharleb.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

More From Retail Insider

Flexible Work Company ‘LAUFT’ Discusses Expansion Plans and New Government Collaboration [Interview]

Founder Graham Wong discusses the Canadian company's plans for new locations, enhanced spaces for events and content creation, and a future in places such as airports and hotels.

Ice Bath Spa Concept ‘Othership’ Opens 2nd Toronto Location with Expansion Plans for Major Markets in Canada and NYC [Interview]

The company's co-founder discusses the concept that began in his back yard in 2019, which is now a big business with a new Yorkville location and plans for Manhattan and other urban centres.

Anatomy of a Leader: Peter Mammas, President and CEO, Foodtastic

The man behind the food empire got started in Montreal where he wanted to be a pilot, then an architect. He eventually worked his way up in the world of foodservice, where he found his passion.

Nostalgia vs Reality: Exclusive Poll Shows Canadians Warm to Zellers’ Return but Hesitate to Shop One Year After Relaunch

Zellers relaunched a year ago as shop-in-stores at Hudson's Bay, and a poll done for Retail Insider shows that Canadians' think the current offerings fall short.

Cracking the Newcomer Code: Study Urges Canadian Retailers to Adapt for Inclusivity as Immigrants Reshape Retail Trends [Feature]

Making newcomers feel at home could mean increased sales for retailers. Ian Large of Leger says retailers should collaborate with communities as Canada's population changes.

Italian-Themed QSR Chain Fazoli’s Announces Major Expansion into Canada with 25 Locations Planned [Interview]

The chain could open even more locations according to its development officer, who discusses Fazoli's success being rooted in quality ingredients and speedy service.

Toronto-Based Fashion Designer Adam X Discusses Inspiration, Retail and Designing for the Future [Video Interview]

Craig and Adam X discuss the the founding and ethos of Adam X Atelier, a Toronto-based haute couture fashion brand which is rare to find in Canada.

Swatch Opens Flagship Store in Downtown Vancouver as it Expands Across Canada [Photos]

It's the 12th store in Canada for the popular Swiss watch brand, which almost doubled its store count in this country in less than a year.

Economic Strains Dampen Montréal’s Retail Growth, But Luxury and Transit Projects Could Spark Revival: JLL Report

Montreal retail has struggled recently and leasing activity has been particularly slow downtown, while a new luxury mall and a growing transit network could help things this year.

IKEA Canada Launches ‘Second-Hand Tax’ Initiative in Protest of Government Policies [Interview]

Ikea dropped the tax on its 'as-is' marketplace, stating that second-hand goods should not be subject to the same taxes as new products.

Significant Variances in Food Price Changes Not Reflected in Statistics Canada Numbers [Op-Ed]

Sylvain Charlebois says that StatCan numbers on food inflation do not reflect the reality of what consumers are seeing at the grocery store.

US-Based Women’s Fashion Brand Windsor Announces First 5 Canadian Stores, Plans National Expansion [Interviews]

The fashion brand is expected to be a runaway success in Canada, with an existing customer base and a void in the market.

Chop Steakhouse Set to Open in Downtown Toronto, Continuing an Influx of New Restaurants to the Financial District [Feature]

Chop Steakhouse is joining a number of new restaurants and dining options that have opened recently in the Financial District, as the area starts the journey back from a pandemic that took a huge toll on the core.

Virtual Reality Arcade Concept ‘Ctrl V’ Expanding in Canada and the US Following Pandemic Setback [Interview]

The world's first and largest VR arcade franchise is opening new locations across Canada and the US, seeking spaces of about 4,000 square feet.

Good Neighbour ‘Lifestyle Department Store’ Expanding with a New Flagship in Toronto’s Summerhill [Interview]

The unique retail concept that launched 10 years ago in Leslieville has grown its offerings with its newest location catering to locals with a range of produces and a beverage lounge.

Anatomy of a Leader: Ian Rosen, President and COO of Harry Rosen

Rosen discusses his life up to becoming head of the luxury menswear retailer, and discusses what's been happening with the family as new leadership emerges.

Mid-Market Retailers in Canada Navigating Challenges and Opportunities as Consumers Shift [Op-Ed]

Jared Gordon discusses challenges facing mid-market retail, such as declining consumer interest and competition from discount and luxury sectors. Mid-market retailers need to adapt to survive he says.

Canada Ranks Highly for Seamless Retail Experience, Embracing Digital and In-Store Integration: KPMG Report

The report says that Canadian retailers are improving blending online and in-store with a majority of Canadians preferring an in-store experience, necessitating seamless channel integration.

Indigo Books & Music to Go Private After Sale to Schwartz-Controlled Holding Company: Expert Commentary

The Canadian retailer is able to turn itself around privately after much public turmoil, according to experts, though its future remains uncertain with limited scrutiny.

Shift in Yorkville Retail as Harry Rosen Prepares to Relocate Bloor Street Flagship [Podcast]

Craig and Lee discuss Harry Rosen's flagship store moving from Bloor Street to Cumberland Street in Toronto's Yorkville, marking a significant shift in the area's retail landscape.

RECENT RETAIL INSIDER VIDEOS

Advertisment

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe

* indicates required

RECENT articles

Flexible Work Company ‘LAUFT’ Discusses Expansion Plans and New Government Collaboration [Interview]

Founder Graham Wong discusses the Canadian company's plans for new locations, enhanced spaces for events and content creation, and a future in places such as airports and hotels.

Ice Bath Spa Concept ‘Othership’ Opens 2nd Toronto Location with Expansion Plans for Major Markets in Canada and NYC [Interview]

The company's co-founder discusses the concept that began in his back yard in 2019, which is now a big business with a new Yorkville location and plans for Manhattan and other urban centres.

Anatomy of a Leader: Peter Mammas, President and CEO, Foodtastic

The man behind the food empire got started in Montreal where he wanted to be a pilot, then an architect. He eventually worked his way up in the world of foodservice, where he found his passion.

Nostalgia vs Reality: Exclusive Poll Shows Canadians Warm to Zellers’ Return but Hesitate to Shop One Year After Relaunch

Zellers relaunched a year ago as shop-in-stores at Hudson's Bay, and a poll done for Retail Insider shows that Canadians' think the current offerings fall short.

Cracking the Newcomer Code: Study Urges Canadian Retailers to Adapt for Inclusivity as Immigrants Reshape Retail Trends [Feature]

Making newcomers feel at home could mean increased sales for retailers. Ian Large of Leger says retailers should collaborate with communities as Canada's population changes.

Italian-Themed QSR Chain Fazoli’s Announces Major Expansion into Canada with 25 Locations Planned [Interview]

The chain could open even more locations according to its development officer, who discusses Fazoli's success being rooted in quality ingredients and speedy service.

Toronto-Based Fashion Designer Adam X Discusses Inspiration, Retail and Designing for the Future [Video Interview]

Craig and Adam X discuss the the founding and ethos of Adam X Atelier, a Toronto-based haute couture fashion brand which is rare to find in Canada.

Swatch Opens Flagship Store in Downtown Vancouver as it Expands Across Canada [Photos]

It's the 12th store in Canada for the popular Swiss watch brand, which almost doubled its store count in this country in less than a year.

Economic Strains Dampen Montréal’s Retail Growth, But Luxury and Transit Projects Could Spark Revival: JLL Report

Montreal retail has struggled recently and leasing activity has been particularly slow downtown, while a new luxury mall and a growing transit network could help things this year.

IKEA Canada Launches ‘Second-Hand Tax’ Initiative in Protest of Government Policies [Interview]

Ikea dropped the tax on its 'as-is' marketplace, stating that second-hand goods should not be subject to the same taxes as new products.

Significant Variances in Food Price Changes Not Reflected in Statistics Canada Numbers [Op-Ed]

Sylvain Charlebois says that StatCan numbers on food inflation do not reflect the reality of what consumers are seeing at the grocery store.

US-Based Women’s Fashion Brand Windsor Announces First 5 Canadian Stores, Plans National Expansion [Interviews]

The fashion brand is expected to be a runaway success in Canada, with an existing customer base and a void in the market.

Chop Steakhouse Set to Open in Downtown Toronto, Continuing an Influx of New Restaurants to the Financial District [Feature]

Chop Steakhouse is joining a number of new restaurants and dining options that have opened recently in the Financial District, as the area starts the journey back from a pandemic that took a huge toll on the core.

Virtual Reality Arcade Concept ‘Ctrl V’ Expanding in Canada and the US Following Pandemic Setback [Interview]

The world's first and largest VR arcade franchise is opening new locations across Canada and the US, seeking spaces of about 4,000 square feet.

Good Neighbour ‘Lifestyle Department Store’ Expanding with a New Flagship in Toronto’s Summerhill [Interview]

The unique retail concept that launched 10 years ago in Leslieville has grown its offerings with its newest location catering to locals with a range of produces and a beverage lounge.

Anatomy of a Leader: Ian Rosen, President and COO of Harry Rosen

Rosen discusses his life up to becoming head of the luxury menswear retailer, and discusses what's been happening with the family as new leadership emerges.

Mid-Market Retailers in Canada Navigating Challenges and Opportunities as Consumers Shift [Op-Ed]

Jared Gordon discusses challenges facing mid-market retail, such as declining consumer interest and competition from discount and luxury sectors. Mid-market retailers need to adapt to survive he says.

Canada Ranks Highly for Seamless Retail Experience, Embracing Digital and In-Store Integration: KPMG Report

The report says that Canadian retailers are improving blending online and in-store with a majority of Canadians preferring an in-store experience, necessitating seamless channel integration.

Indigo Books & Music to Go Private After Sale to Schwartz-Controlled Holding Company: Expert Commentary

The Canadian retailer is able to turn itself around privately after much public turmoil, according to experts, though its future remains uncertain with limited scrutiny.

Shift in Yorkville Retail as Harry Rosen Prepares to Relocate Bloor Street Flagship [Podcast]

Craig and Lee discuss Harry Rosen's flagship store moving from Bloor Street to Cumberland Street in Toronto's Yorkville, marking a significant shift in the area's retail landscape.