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Industry NewsNew study on plant-based foods: Sylvain Charlebois

New study on plant-based foods: Sylvain Charlebois

Almost two Canadians in five intend to continue to buy plant-based alternatives, but price remains the number one hurdle.

Plant-based products have been around for a very long time in Canada, but sales and promotions have intensified over the last five years. For instance, Beyond Meat invaded the market with its very aggressive marketing strategy, and many other companies followed suit. In recent months, we have seen sales for many plant-based product manufacturers drop significantly, prompting many to wonder what the future holds for plant-based products or vegetable-protein-based products.

Working with Caddle, we conducted a cross-national survey at the end of April 2023, which included 5,507 respondents. With this investigation, we looked at how Canadians are consuming plant-based products, how they perceive them, and what benefits they see in these products after a few years of very aggressive marketing campaigning.

Meat alternatives

We first asked if respondents had consumed any plant-based meat alternative in the last 12 months. Nationally, 34 per cent said that they did. The questionnaire also looked at the frequency of consumption over the last 12 months. A total of 31.0 per cent has consumed a plant-based meat alternative at least once a week. A total of 19.8 per cent stated a few times a month.

Dairy alternatives 

We did the same for dairy alternatives. Results were a little different. A total of 42.2 per cent of Canadians have consumed a dairy alternative product in the last 12 months. More than half of respondents (50.4 per cent) who have consumed did so at least once a week. These numbers are generally higher than with plant-based meat alternatives.

Benefits 

When asked what the preferred source of protein is, 49.2 per cent of respondents chose animal proteins. While 28.1 per cent chose both animal and plant-based, 12.3 per cent chose plant-based proteins as their favourite source.

We asked what motivated Canadians to buy plant-based alternative products. A total of 30.7 per cent chose a plant-based product due to health benefits. The personal taste difference was selected by 12.6 per cent, flowed by environmental benefits at 12.1 per cent. A total of 8.9 per cent of respondents chose a plant-based product for animal welfare concerns.

As for taste, 33.8 per cent of respondents consider plant-based products to taste good. Meanwhile, 39.8 per cent of respondents believe plant-based alternatives to offer high nutritional value.

Price is a challenge though. Only 22.3 per cent see plant-based alternatives to be affordable. A total of 49.0 per cent of respondents consider plant-based products to be available in retail stores when they want to purchase one. At restaurants, it is a little lower, at 30.7 per cent.

“Our data suggests the plant-based market is real in Canada, numbers are much higher than expected”, said Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. Charlebois further states: “But the market and plant-based products clearly remain a work in progress, but price is unsurprisingly the biggest hurdle for the category.”

Future of plant-based products 

Our investigation also looked at the willingness to buy plant-based products over the next 6 months. A total of 39.4 per cent of respondents are either likely or very likely to buy a plant-based product within the next 6 months. We also asked what factors respondents would consider when buying a plant-based product. While a total of 47.7 per cent see the price as a factor, 44.9 per cent see taste as a factor, 31.5 per cent consider nutritional value as important. Both availability and brand are much less important factors for respondents.

While only 29.0 per cent of respondents would buy plant-based alternatives if they knew they were made more sustainably, 48.2 per cent of respondents believe the quality of plant-based alternatives, in general, is improving. Interestingly, a total of 33.5 per cent of respondents believe they are more knowledgeable about proteins compared to 12 months ago.

“The fact that almost half of Canadians believe plant-based products are improving is interesting”, said Janet Music, Research Associate at the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “Canadians are clearly engaged and will continue to seek alternatives.”

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