A package of meatless burgers are seen in Orlando, Fla., on June 26, 2019. 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Raoux

A package of meatless burgers are seen in Orlando, Fla., on June 26, 2019. 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Raoux

Plant-based protein companies poised to expand products, distribution next year

Beyond Meat wants to add more product types and sales points

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.

As interest in alternative protein grew, backlash bubbled.

But the folks leading major plant-based manufacturers say consumers want their products and plan to add more varieties and sales points, create tastier options and lower their prices to beat out bargain meat.

A&W sparked a consumer frenzy when it debut the company’s veggie burger in July 2018. The chain temporarily sold out of the patties, having under-estimated people’s appetites.

That sales spike wasn’t a flash in the pan, either. Demand ”stayed remarkably stable” since that temporary shortage, said chief executive Susan Senecal.

A&W added a new veggie option this month — Lightlife nuggets. Only its Ontario and B.C. restaurants stock the chicken-nugget imitation, and A&W expects to sell out by the new year. Still, in a sign of the industry’s strength, the company hopes eventually to offer the nuggets nationwide.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for growth in Canada,” says Ethan Brown, the founder of California-based Beyond Meat.

“We’re just getting started.”

READ MORE: Beyond Meat goes public as sales of plant-based meats rise

Beyond Meat wants to add more product types and sales points, so consumers can find every type of meat substitution conveniently.

After A&W introduced Beyond Meat burgers to Canadians, other eateries raced to offer something for vegans, vegetarians or — most frequently, it seems — flexitarians. The latter describes those who sometimes swap meat for other options for environmental, health or animal welfare reasons.

Today, many fast-food chains boast a veggie burger, some pizza places offer veggie ground “meat” or vegan cheese as toppings, and Kentucky Fried Chicken Canada dabbled with plant-based fried chicken sandwiches and popcorn chicken options at a single restaurant for one day.

McDonald’s Canada, which long resisted consumer calls to bring back a veggie burger, decided to pilot a PLT — a Beyond Meat sandwich — for 12 weeks, starting in late September, at 28 restaurants in southwestern Ontario.

The company is trying to understand what place plant-based proteins may have in its operations, said John Betts, McDonald’s Canada chief executive.

He believes it won’t canniabalize the company’s meat product sales, but will likely reflect what he calls “the salad effect.” When McDonald’s first introduced salads in the 1980s, it removed what executives dubbed “the veto vote” of someone preventing a group visit to McDonald’s because it didn’t suit their dietary needs or preferences, he said.

“Plant-based protein could be the new salad type of option,” he said, stressing the chain expects the addition to drive up meat sales, which remains the company’s focus.

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 he says is 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 per cent 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, and where diners can sample more of its product range at restaurants. Beyond Meat anticipates more partnerships next year.

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 its house-brand burgers.

Brown aims to lower prices to undercut animal protein within five years, though it may happen sooner in certain segments.

Greenfield, too, believes there’s room for growth in Canada.

“In totality, the plant-based products that are being sold are still in its infancy,” said president Dan Curtin, adding household penetration remains low for the category.

Vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians, especially, continue looking for more options.

“We still see significant growth opportunities,” Curtain said.

“But it’s beyond just the core products that are out there,” he added, pointing to the company’s partnership with A&W for the limited-time plant-based nugget offering.

Greenfield plans to continue creating new products to add to its restaurant and grocery distribution channels.

“It is about innovation.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Cancer Care Unit at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, April 14, will benefit from a $100,000 donation from Prince Rupert Port Authority towards renovations. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert Port Authority donates $100,000 to hospital renovations

Cancer Care Unit at PRRH to undergo upgradesat PRRH to undergo upgrades

Teresa Van sorts bottles at the April 10 Rainmakers Interact Club bottle drive to earn funds for six Seabin garbage collection units for harbours and waterfronts in the local region. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Bottle drive successful with more collected than can be sorted in one day

Rainmakers Interact Club supports local community with funds toward ocean garbage collection units

Flights are to resume to Prince Rupert and Sandspit airports under an Air Canada and federal government $5.9 billion agreement that was reached on April 12. A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
$5.879 billion agreement between Air Canada and Fed’s will assist YPR in re-opening

Prince Rupert Regional Airport to reopen flights by June 1st, if not earlier

BC Housing townhouses on Kootenay Ave. were demolished during March to make way for new affordable residential units by Prince Rupert Indigenous Housing Society. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Despite a recent reduction in units project will still be able to house many

Prince Rupert Indigenous Housing Society says 60 units is still the plan

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks’ return to ice postponed again after players voice COVID health concerns

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was called off after the team met virtually with the NHLPA

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Minister Responsible for Housing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. announces $2B for affordable, middle-income family home projects

HousingHub financing to encourage more developers, groups – with low-interest loans – to build affordable homes

Most Read