Bison’s story could help survive meat decline

Sylvain Charlebois says it’s possible to make bison meat
a geographical experience rather than just an animal protein

Bison producers worried about the rise of plant-based diets should take heart, says a food distribution and policy expert.

Sylvain Charlebois told the annual Canadian Bison Association convention that while the overall story for meat consumption isn’t great, there is hope for bison.

That lies in the production story that bison producers can tell and the fact that consumers are fickle.

They are confused about the number of products and messages coming at them. They worry about animal welfare, the environment and the health benefits of what they are eating, he said.

And while plant-based protein is a strong trend, Charlebois said flexitarianism is also on the rise.

Flexitarians are part-time vegetarians.

“During the week they cut down on meat consumption and on the weekend they run back to the barbecue as soon as possible,” he said.

Most of the people in this category are from the baby boomer era, compared to vegetarians and vegans who are mostly millennials and Generation Z, which is the age group younger than 39.

In Canada, about 19 percent of people are walking away from meat, he said, but about 54 percent, when asked, said they had considered eating less of it.

“The rise of the conscious carnivore is something you want to think about and this is not bad news for you. This is actually good news for you,” Charlebois told the meeting.

Consumers who are turning away from meat may actually turn toward bison, he said.

Bison offers the terroir concept, in which a product is associated with certain environmental characteristics of a place. Bison meat becomes a geographical experience rather than an animal protein.

Charlebois said food service and restaurants are targeting flexitarians on their menus by incorporating more plant protein, and the meat industry needs to adapt to the reality that the competition isn’t among animal proteins but all protein sources.

Bison producers can capitalize on the misfortune of other animal proteins.

“There are gaps,” he said. “Go after them.”

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