• Departments
  • Foodie
  • Where's the Beef?

Where's the Beef?

Make way for the new "meat" eaters – plant-loving flexitarians.

Over 100 years ago, on April 14, 1912, the last meal they would ever eat was served to the vast majority of the passengers on the R.M.S. Titanic. They had no way of knowing that, a few short hours after finishing dessert, their fates would be sealed.

Much is known about this last meal, as presented in the podcast ‘Titanic’s Final Feast: Edwardian Eating on the Unsinkable Ship.’ In fact, the ship served five ultimate meals that night – a la carte restaurant, 1st Class dining saloon, 2nd Class, 3rd Class, and 4th Class galleys – one for each tier of passengers on board. According to Dana McCauley, food trends expert extraordinaire and co-author of the book Last Dinner on the Titanic, the menus largely reflected the tastes of its patrons. 

The actual 1st Class menu was fortuitously preserved for posterity by a number of the survivors, as they had folded a copy and tucked it into their suit pockets as a keepsake. 

The 1st Class menu showcased the best of Continental cuisine, and, in retrospect, tells a story about the avant-garde food tastes of the time. There were 10 courses on offer. Seen through the current gastronomic lens, the dishes seem slightly dated, but they are not unfamiliar even a century after the fact.

What is noticeable, is the amount of animal protein on offer. Of the nine courses, excluding dessert, fully six of them included one of oysters, salmon, filet mignon, chicken, lamb, roast duckling, sirloin, foie gras, and squab. For those lucky (and unfortunate) enough to be on board Titanic, indulgence meant meat, meat, and more meat.

The more things change

These culinary preferences did not go down with the ship. Food tastes carried on through the first half of the 20th century, more or less, in a period of stasis. The world stayed much as it had been, with classical French cooking at the forefront of Western cuisine.

The last 50 years, however, have seen dramatic changes, the result of a multitude of factors like mass immigration, dramatic per capita income growth, increased consumer and materials mobility, and explosive expansion in both foodservice proclivity and health information.

The movement from beef to poultry has been dramatic. But the steady downward trend away from animal protein since 1976 is no less consequential.

Different times

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Project Lead, Institute of Agrifood Analytics at Dalhousie University, has data confirming that Canadians are eating less meat. Dr. Charlebois has been surveying Canadian consumers over the last decade and has identified clear trends:

  • Beef consumption is down by 16% or 94 million kilos per year, compared to 2010. 
  • More than 82% of Canadians remain committed to meat consumption. BUT 6.4 million Canadians, a number equal to the population of Toronto, have either adopted a meatless diet or are limiting the amount of meat they eat every week.
  • 32.2% of Canadians are thinking of reducing their meat consumption within the next six months

So, who are these six million meatless/flexitarians? So, who are these six million meatless/flexitarians?

  • 63% of vegans are under the age of 38
  • Majority of the cohort are Generation Y (Millennials)


  • More than 42% of flexitarians are Boomers
  • The group includes mature consumers who recognize reduced meat consumption as a healthy choice

Taking notice

Maple Leaf Foods (MLF) is a Canadian success story – a multi-billion dollar, singularly focused protein company that is a global leader in the category.

In 2017, MLF established a greater purpose and vision: “To Raise the Good in Food” in its pursuit to be the most sustainable protein company on earth. Towards this end, MLF expanded into plant protein through the acquisition of Lightlife Foods, Inc. In 2018, MLF continued to pursue plant proteins through the acquisition of Field Roast Grain Meat Co.

The foundation of MLF’s initiatives comes from the recognition that climate change and mounting environmental degradation are urgent and serious problems. Of equal import, plant-based sustainable protein is a key to higher levels of growth and profitability.

This conclusion is the result of extensive analyses of multiple data sources that have and will continue to drive the meatless megatrend.

Why the change in consumer eating behaviour?

In its recent summary of Canada’s take on Healthy Eating, Isabel Morales of Nielsen Canada came up with three big takeaways on consumer perceptions:

  • Food is fuel for health
  • Canadians are changing the way that they eat
  • The future of food is greener

Nielsen’s Panelview survey in March 2018 identified a big reason for consumers to cut back on meat consumption – 70% of total respondents indicate that they are “eating with the future in mind” and that “their #1 motivation to make healthier food choices is to prevent future health issues”.

Underpinning this connection between food and health is the consumer self-perception that they are overweight, and the belief that the key to losing weight is to change their eating habits.

On-board and on-track

Animal protein is, and will remain, an undeniable pillar of foodservice. But the ground is shifting, and plant-based protein is where the growth is. The number of consumers looking to reduce meat consumption outnumbers those planning to eat more meat by 3 to 1. Not surprisingly, Technomic Canada, a leading consumer and foodservice market research provider, listed “Demand for Alternative Proteins” as the number 2 trend for 2019.

On July 9, 2018, A&W Canada launched the Beyond Meat Burger across the country.

CEO Ethan Brown encapsulated the raison d’etre of Beyond Meat – “not to create a meat substitute but a true build of meat from plants.” 

Beyond Meat is made from mung beans, yellow peas, beets, coconut oil, pomegranates, apples, rice, and potatoes. The key to its popularity is, in texture and mouthfeel, achieving a burger-like eating experience.

Less than six weeks after launch, A&W had completely sold out inventory and was in back order. Beyond Meat has become A&W's most successful product launch of all time. 

There are many other examples of regional chains and independent operators that have tapped into this trend. EthicalTree.com, a website dedicated to the movement, features thousands of restaurants, cafés, and specialty shops offering consumers an alternative to typical fare. Ethical Tree is in growth mode – the site identified 232 vegan friendly restaurants in Ottawa in 2018, up from 186 in 2017.

Sailor, take warning

Many remain fascinated by the Titanic and her fate. It is a cautionary tale about the risk of failing to look far to anticipate dangers on the horizon.

The cast and crew were caught unprepared when Titanic hit the iceberg. In the baking kitchen, the staff were preparing rolls for the breakfast service. At 11:45, a tray hit the floor as a result of the impact. They kept on working at their stations, until, too late, the first “all-hands-on-deck” warnings came. 

The captain of the Titanic received multiple warnings by telegraph about icebergs, from different sources, through the 14 hours preceding the collision. Despite the warnings, the Titanic failed to take notice and slow down. When the ocean liner struck the iceberg, Captain Smith was asleep in his bed.

Heed the warnings. Steer clear of the risk of being too reliant on meat in your foodservice operation. Embrace the opportunity to introduce options that appeal to all consumers – flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-avoiders, and more.

Dana McCauley’s 5 plant-based eating trends:

  1. Join the Avo-lution: Avocados (technically a fruit) have become a favourite healthy food choice for Canadians.
  2. Vegan ‘cheese’: Created by consolidating natural enzymes with protein mass from various plant sources. Oils, emulsifiers, and thickeners are also often used to produce firmer types of vegan cheeses.
  3. Better Faux Meat: Thanks to the ingenuity of food scientists and the growing meatless market. Looks like more effort is being put into creating truly palatable meat substitutes that have great texture and taste.
  4. Fermented Foods: Embraced by vegetarians and carnivores alike, (includes both) fermented foods and drinks. Research is increasingly showing that fermented food can be beneficial on a number of levels.
  5. Say Soy: Sort of like the granddaddy of the vegan movement – products continue to evolve and grow, such as beverages, frozen desserts and dairy-free yogurt-style snacks.

Source: 5 plant-based eating trends, Toronto Sun, November 7, 2018

Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years' experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.