Meat losing out to plant protein

There’s bad news for livestock producers but good news for plant protein providers in a new joint study from Dalhousie and Guelph universities.

Not only are growing numbers of young people eschewing and resisting meat consumption, but many aging baby boomers are avoiding meat most days.

“It really points to a challenge the sector has,” Sylvain Charlebois, who heads an agri-food research centre at Dalhousie, said about the study, called Plant-based Dieting and Meat Attachment: Protein Wars and the Changing Canadian Consumer.

“The horse has left the barn. The consumer is actively looking for other options.”

Charlebois, Simon Somogyi of Guelph and Janet Music of Dalhousie found that many Canadians are thinking about reducing their meat consumption, with baby-boomer “flexitarians” easing off meat on weekdays and then firing up the grills on the weekends.

Among young people vegetarianism and veganism are common, rather than a rare phenomenon.

“Twenty years ago we hardly talked about vegans or veganism. They were almost treated as freaks-of-nature. Now in some urban centres they are almost celebrated,” said Charlebois.

There are many reasons that meat has been getting a bad rap and losing popularity with consumers. Meat production is accused of being bad for the environment. Activists claim livestock are badly treated. Some studies suggest too much meat consumption is bad for health.

However, the study found some rock-solid support for meat consumption. Males, especially the less-educated sort, are most likely to declare themselves as “big fans of meat.”

And most people aren’t planning to give up meat, even if about one-third are hoping to reduce their consumption. Only about five percent of people fit into the plants-only categories.

Charlebois said the findings, which right now are only preliminary, are a wake-up call for livestock producers and the meat industry. Telling people their only choices are chicken, beef or pork isn’t working any longer.

“The younger crowd is just not buying into industry’s arguments,” he said.

It’s also the sound of opportunity knocking for plant proteins. Consumers might be trying to avoid meat, but they aren’t necessarily trying to avoid meat flavour.

Veggie burgers and other meat substitutes are becoming madly popular.

“For pulses it’s great news,” said Charlebois.

The A & W food chain, for example, has had great success with its Beyond Meat burgers, and other food providers are working on similar offerings. If vegetable-based meat substitutes can be produced for even less than real meat, then they’ll probably get pushed.

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