By Connor Lynch
TWEED — Tweed-area beef farmer Harold Bateman said he had some concern when Beyond Meat products suddenly seemed to be everywhere.
The U.S.-company which bills its pea-based burgers as made from plant-based meat, took Canada by storm last year, with an initial offering at A&W restaurants, then forged a half-dozen partnerships, including scoring space in the meat section of some grocery stores.
These days, Bateman is less concerned. “Anyone we talk to thinks it’s a fad,” he said. “Maybe we’re wrong. I got a feeling it’ll wash over. But it might not in Toronto.”
Beyond Meat, and the numerous other companies now offering their own plant-based meat products, are no longer ubiquitous in the news. Tim Hortons initially offered a plant-based burger, but has since pulled it from the menu.
“I thought at one point (Beef Farmers of Ontario) weren’t biting in hard enough to protest it,” Bateman said. “Then I got thinking, why give them more advertisement. I think maybe they did right just sitting back, letting it go its course.”
He’s not alone in his thinking. Northumberland beef farmer and Hoard’s Station livestock exchange operator Dave DeNure said he was “quite concerned to start with.” But he doesn’t think the popularity of plant-based meat will last. “A vegetarian who doesn’t want something to do with meat wouldn’t leave it alone,” he said. “(But) I can’t see a meat eater changing to it, that’s for sure. But I can’t see lots of people taking up marijuana just because it’s legal either.”
Other farmers that spoke with Farmers Forum agreed that the plant-based protein would have its moment in the sun and then the sun would set.
For many beef farmers, a major gripe about the explosion of plant-based protein is that it runs contrary to nutritional recommendations: Avoid processed food. There’s nothing processed about a steak or a chunk of ground beef, they argue, but these plant-based burgers seem to contain nothing but processed ingredients.
The Beef Farmers of Ontario haven’t made their own statement about Beyond Meat, but did discuss plant-based protein in a statement on the new Food Guide. “While Canada’s Food Guide does recommend the incorporation of plant-based proteins into the diets of Canadians, it is important to share that not all proteins are created equal. A small amount of lean beef can provide high-quality, readily available protein and many other nutrients with relatively low calories. To get an equal amount of protein from plant sources could mean consuming higher volumes and more calories. In fact, meats and plant-based foods are better together — the nutrient value of both foods increases when consumed as part of a meal.”
Sylvain Charlebois, the self-proclaimed food professor who specializes in food distribution, security and safety at Dalhousie University, thinks that’s the message beef farmers need to hone in on.
The plant-based protein movement may not have legs, but it does have life, he argued. An emphasis on protecting the environment and being healthy are two of the main drivers of it, though animal welfare does also play a role, he said. Canada also has a surprising number of vegans (about 470,000) and has almost three million vegetarians.
But one of the biggest drivers of people eating plant-based protein are the flexitarians: People who aren’t dropping meat (91 per cent of Canadians eat at least some meat, he said), but are eating less of it. As many as 10 million Canadians by 2025 are going to be reducing or eliminating their meat consumption by 2025, he said.
There is an opportunity for beef farmers here. “There’s a bit of a paradigm shift happening. This isn’t a movement against beef, but about redefining our relationship with protein in general.” To that end, he said, “Instead of pushing back against different alternatives, embracing them could be a benefit to the industry.”
Having more options at the meat counter will increase chances for a consumer to spend at that meat counter. Everyone wins in that scenario.”
Meat consumption worldwide has been rising since the 1960s, and given its close ties to increases in GDP, consumption rates overall are likely to continue rising. Ontario’s beef industry could perhaps ignore the issue of alternative proteins if all its markets were in regions where consumption is rising and they were the key supplier. But Asia utterly dominates global meat production, according to data from the World Bank, and most of Ontario’s beef is consumed in the province, according to CanFax. Producers have to reckon with changing attitudes locally.
Said Charlebois: “This is just part of this new normal: Providing more choice to consumers.”
Plant-based meat part of the new normal: Embrace it, says food professor
By Connor Lynch