Plant Based Eating Trend Impacting Grocery Retail and Restaurants in Canada

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According to studies conducted by Dalhousie University, almost 10 percent of Canadians are now vegan or vegetarian. That amounts to 2.3 million vegetarians and around 850,000 vegans. This number may pale in comparison to the entirety of Canada, but it’s clearly putting pressure on our cities’ food retail industry as we see our favourite grocery stores carry new lines, while restaurants adding plant-based options to their menus, in addition to new vegetarian and vegan restaurants popping up regularly. The Economist has declared 2019 the year of the vegan. One has to wonder how accurate that statement is when applied to Canada?

For many it’s a choice rooted in the deplorable nature of some of our meat and dairy sources. Others settle into the vegan lifestyle based on allergies, particularity to dairy. Others commit with the hopes of reducing our environmental footprint. Regardless of your reasons, deciding where to eat when you have severe dietary restrictions is no easy feat. This raises the question, should restaurants be required to provide vegetarian or vegan options as part of their menu? 

FRESH’S QUEEN STREET WEST RESTAURANT IN TORONTO PHOTO: FRESH RESTAURANTS VIA FACEBOOK

One of Toronto’s favourite vegan and gluten-free bakeries, Bunners, is opening their newest location on Dundas Street West right by Trinity Bellwoods Park. This is their third location in the city, proving that demand is high for vegan baked goods. Toronto is also set to welcome by CHLOE, a US plant-based restaurant chain. This coming fall will see their first location open in Yorkdale Shopping Centre and next year the financial district will also have a location of its own. by CHLOE will join the Toronto scene with the likes of Fresh, Kupfert & Kim, and The Hogtown Vegan (to name a few) suppling our city with a selection of plant-based salads, burgers, and more.

Even fast-food chains are feeling the heat. Subway recently announced their introduction of Beyond Meat meatballs, in order to provide a meat-free alternative to their beloved Meatball Marinara sub. The plant-based sandwich is currently available in 685 Subway restaurants across Canada and the US, but only for a limited time. Subway has announced that this will be a trial period for the Beyond Meat option to evaluate the demand for such products. In addition to Subway’s efforts towards the cause, we’ve seen Burger King add a meatless Whopper to their menu, Pizza Pizza offer plant-based pepperoni for pizza toppings, and Tim Hortons partner with Beyond Meat to provide us with an array of Beyond Meat sausage breakfast sandwiches. Noticeably absent from the lineup is McDonalds, who reportedly do not have any plans to add vegan options to their menu.

BY CHLOE.’S BLEECKER STREET RESTAURANT IN NEW YORK PHOTO: BY CHLOE.

It has been argued, however, that some of these efforts are geared more so towards flexitarian eaters rather than strict vegans or vegetarians. In other words, people who wish to contribute to the cause but have not committed to the totally vegan existence. For example, Subway’s Beyond Meat Meatball Marinara sub contains parmesan cheese. Despite the slight controversy this has caused, it is not unlike many of the organic restaurants that can be found dotted around the city. Focused on sourcing their ingredients from GMO-free farms who enforce high standards of animal welfare within their farming techniques, these initiatives are a welcome addition to our often inhumane food industry, particularly for those who are not vegetarian or vegan. Acknowledging the issue is the first step, and doing your part, no matter how small, is important, so opting for a plant-based meat alternative while still enjoying cheese should not be repudiated.

Marking the beginning of fall is the Veg Food Fest, presented by the Toronto Vegetarian Association. A celebration of all things vegetarian and vegan, it is located at the Harbourfront Centre during the weekend of September 6th – September 8th. Veg Food Fest hosts over 160 vendors and approximately 40,000 people are expected to attend over the two-day span. This makes it North America’s largest vegetarian festival, and proves the omnipresence of plant-based living in Toronto.

PHOTO: VEG FOOD FEST VIA FACEBOOK

Becoming more inclusive in this respect is undoubtably a smart move for restaurants and fast-food chains alike. It means contributing in the efforts to shrink our environmental footprint. It means placing more importance, and a much needed emphasis, on animal rights and welfare. It will guarantee you some new, and extremely loyal, customers, if you get the recipes right ,that is. It is also a clear cash-flow incentive, which despite the smilingly cynical nature of this incentive in comparison to the rest, is undeniably a contributing factor in the decision making process for a business.

Making it a prerequisite would be a little tyrannical. There are many restaurants that would simply fail if forced to include vegan or vegetarian options throughput their menu. It is not always in keeping with every restaurants’ design, and that’s okay. There is, however, no denying that becoming involved in the initiative can only mean good things for your business. So rather than the plant-based movement giving restaurants a perpetual headache, it should instead be viewed as an opportunity to increase sales, make a difference, and have some fun with new recipe ideas.

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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