It started with avocado toast as a millennial breakfast staple. Then came chickpeas instead of chicken. And cauliflower… as an entrée. For the first time in the history of Canada’s annual Food Price Report, the price of animal-based protein is projected to decrease. Meaning you can expect to pay one to three percent less for meat next year, and about two percent less for seafood. That hasn’t happened in more than a decade, and it’s driven by food choices that young Canadians are making as they pivot away from traditional protein sources.
Across the country right now, people in Canada are consuming less beef than they did in 2010—about 95 million kilograms less. According to University of Guelph Professor Simon Somogyi, who is one of the lead authors of the Food Price Report, this trend away from beef and other meat has gained traction in recent years, especially with millennials and younger cohorts. “Nearly ten percent of the Canadian population identifies as vegetarian or vegan and more than half are under the age of 35.” In fact, people 35 and under are three times more likely to shun meat and meat products than people over the age of 48.
The ranks of what Somogyi calls young “flexitarians,” people who are choosing to eat mostly plant-based but with flexibility to have meat occasionally, are harder to quantify. They’re people like 24-year-old Toronto resident Luke Bradley, who says most of his urban peers are opting to eat less meat.
He tried to go vegetarian for the first six months of this year, but he found the “absolutist mentality” wasn’t sustainable. Instead, he’s eating meat once a week, which he says has cut his grocery bills in half. It was a big transition for him. He grew up in Calgary, Alberta, where he typically ate meat once or twice a day—a major meal wasn’t complete without it. “I’d have meat sweats all the time,” he says.
In addition to saving money, he’s doing it for environmental reasons. “In the past year or two, I became conscious of the fact that meat production has a pretty massive carbon footprint and it seemed like cutting back was the simplest way for me to reduce my personal carbon footprint.”
Somogyi says younger Canadians are consuming less meat for a variety of reasons. The most common are health, environmental considerations, and concern about animal welfare. “Younger, more educated females are more likely to have a strict vegetarian or vegetarian-dominant diet and men are following what the women are doing.” Researchers at the University of Dalhousie, who collaborated on the report, say the price drop will be the result of an oversupply of meat.
The majority of non-carnivores are in British Columbia and Ontario and although demand for meat has dropped, Somogyi predicts an increase in interest for specific types of meat products. “My opinion is there will always be consumption but it will be higher quality meat, higher quality cuts and branded. Wagyu and Angus are good examples of branded products that capture a consumer's imagination.”
Although the price of meat and seafood is expected to drop, the cost of other food items including vegetables, fruits and baked goods is likely to increase. According to the report, the average Canadian can expect to spend about $102 more on food in 2019, bringing the total yearly grocery bill to $3,039.25. People in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario are likely to see price increases that are higher than the national average while Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces can expect prices to go up more modestly.
“We’re predicting some small changes across the board,” says Somogyi. “The best way to deal with this as a young consumer is to stay home and cook. You need to be eating healthy so even though vegetable prices are going up, you still have to eat those. Buy local as much as you can because local food has less of an impact on transportation costs.”
His best bit of advice is to stay away from restaurants. About a third of Canadian food budgets are spent on food that is prepared outside the home. “The big increase is in restaurants. It’s one of the few areas in the marketplace that business can actually make more money. Grocery stores don’t make huge profit.” He cites minimum wage increases for raising the cost of doing business for Canadian restaurants.
As for interesting food trends for the coming year, Somogyi will be keeping an eye on the new Canada Food Guide, the nascent edible cannabis market, and an increase in protein alternatives such as insect-based products and lab-grown meat.
Bradley says he’s open to almost any kind of protein with a relatively low carbon footprint. “I don’t think I know anyone who’s disgusted by the thought of eating bug powder. I’d eat that. I’ve eaten a cricket or two in my time. I don’t know about lab-grown meat though, there’s something scary about that."