Vegan goes mainstream and foodservice operators are eating it up - Brand Points Plus Canada

Vegan goes mainstream and foodservice operators are eating it up

What do Hank Aaron, Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla have in common? The tie that binds them is their vegetarian/vegan diet.

Our ancestors started eating meat about 2-½ million years ago — probably as scavengers, having stumbled upon a half-eaten carcass. Since then, we’ve been omnivorous — eating a mixed diet of meat and plant-based foods.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that consumption of meat was the key to our success as a species. Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London, estimates that the human brain grew three times in size after introducing meat into our diet. Our larger brains enabled higher cognitive abilities, which facilitated our ability to compete and propogate within hunter-gatherer social groups.

As CBC producer Kevin Ball opined in his podcast, The Matter of Meat, for humans “there was a correlation between IQ & BBQ.”

Plant by numbers

In the Autumn of 2018, Dalhousie University published an extensive report on the eating habits of Canadians. At that time, roughly 7 per cent of Canadians considered themselves vegetarians and roughly 2 per cent identified as vegans. More than half of these vegetarians/vegans were under the age of 35.

In addition, the study found:

  • Over six million Canadians reported dietary preferences which reduce or eliminate meat consumption
  • Fully one-third of Canadians were thinking of reducing their meat consumption over the next six months
  • The majority of Canadians had considered making an effort to reduce meat consumption

The report’s author, Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, has followed on with regular fieldwork over the last two years, to plot this trend. Based on the research conducted in January 2020, Dr. Charlebois estimates vegans now represent 2.5% of the population, and that over 16M Canadians could potentially be following a diet that restricts or eliminates meat consumption by 2025.

“…vegans now represent 2.5% of the population, and… over 16M Canadians could potentially be following a diet that restricts or eliminates meat consumption by 2025.”

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University’s

Online community

Increasingly, we live our lives online. Social media provides a powerful window into the collective zeitgeist.

According to Google Trends, over the last five years “Vegan” has been trending up as a web search topic, while “Vegetarian” has been relatively stable and reflecting less interest among consumers.

The Google Trends graphic displays interest relative to the highest point on the chart for Canada since 2015. Vegetarian has had a value of 25 relative to the peak value of Vegan, indicating about one-quarter the amount of search incidence. The data underscores the growth of Vegan, with particular strength in BC and Ontario.

Google Trends — Canadian Web Searches for “Vegan” and “Vegetarian”

Source: Google Trends

Pinterest Canada Account Director Ashley Shantz reports that more people than ever before are turning to Pinterest for well being and self-care, and that includes trying new lifestyles such as veganism. Pinterest searches for veganism in Canada were up +50% in June 2020 compared to the prior year.


“Veganuary” is a registered British charity encouraging consumers, at the beginning of each year in the month of January, to try a 30-day vegan plant-based diet. In 2020, over 400,000 consumers from nearly 200 countries signed up for the challenge, up from 250,000 in 2019. The highest participating countries were the U.K., U.S., and Germany. In 2018, 5,500 Canadians signed up for the challenge. This number rose to over 7,000 in 2019.

In the 2020 follow-up survey with participants, it was reported that the biggest challenge to sticking to their vegan diets during Veganuary was “eating out.” Given that nearly 75% of participants stated their intention to “continue with a vegan diet after (their) Veganuary pledge,” the opportunity for foodservice operators to expand vegan and plant-based offerings is clear.

Vegan diet Canada

Staking a claim

According to Technomic Canada’s Ignite Menu database, there has been a +10% increase in operators menuing plant-based items in Q2-2020 versus Q2-2019. Sophie Mir, associate editor at Technomic, reports that plant-based menu mentions increased by over 25% year-over-year.

The upscale BC-based chain, Earls, has embraced the vegan opportunity. Earls introduced a permanent, dedicated vegan menu in all its restaurants in 2018, including Spicy Tofu Tacos, a Crispy Tofu Zen Bowl, Avocado Toast, a Vegan Field Greens Salad, Vegan Hunan Kung Pao, and a Vegan Quinoa and Avocado Power Bowl.

Earls has also mirrored popular menu items, like its Dragon Roll, in a vegan-friendly version: The Green Dragon Roll – with yam, mango, and cucumber, topped with nori.

Where there’s fire

Increasingly, it appears, the pro-plant arguments are finding broader ground. As an operator, there is another very practical justification for meeting the emerging demand for vegan fare. Given the higher margins to be made on meat-free appetizers, sides, and centre-of-plate items, expanding your plant-based menu may add juice to both your top line sales and bottom line results.

While it’s likely that our long-ago ancestors initially started eating meat by accident, it is now, ironically, an evolved understanding and more informed sensibilities guiding us back to our herbivorous roots.

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