By Meline Beach
Meatless Mondays have expanded throughout the week and across every meal occasion as more consumers incorporate plant-based proteins in their daily diet over traditional animal proteins such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy – be it for food sensitivity concerns, sustainable environmental reasons or animal welfare considerations.
The term is called “flextarians” and they account for nearly 20 per cent of the population – that’s 6.5 million Canadians according to a survey conducted by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph as part of a 2018 study examining the awareness of Canada’s Food Guide. There’s also another almost three million Canadians who identify themselves as either vegan or vegetarian.
While plant-based eating may be most common among younger generations, industry indicates that this interest is not a trend but a lifestyle change that is not exclusive to millennials. If c-stores want to attract these consumers, they will need to be nimble and adapt their foodservice offering with more meatless proteins in order to stay competitive.
Some c-stores have been offering a varied foodservice program for quite some time, while others have kept it limited to roller dogs and pizza slices. Once upon a time, plant-based products might have been considered a risky purchase; however, today, manufacturers have invested significant resources to perfect the flavour and texture of their product offering.
MEATLESS FAST FACTS
- 16 per cent of consumers regularly use plant-based alternatives such as almond milk, tofu, and veggie burgers; 89 per cent of these consumers do not consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.
- Millennials and Gen Zs have grown up with plant-based alternatives from an early age and expect these products to be available when they want them.
- Plant-based dairy items like cheese could be the next growth area as well other meat alternatives, like chicken.
Sol Cuisine, a leading provider of plant-based alternatives based in Toronto, Ontario, has been offering natural vegan foodservice products since 1980. While the demand from consumers is exploding, Sol Foods President Dror Balshine states that growth in the category is based mostly on branded frozen foods in c-stores and that the C&G channel is underdeveloped when it comes to fresh plant-based foodservice options.
“With the exception of our fresh organic tofu, our retail and foodservice products are currently sold as frozen, packaged goods,” says Balshine. “In order to be successful in this channel, we must maintain our quality while incorporating simplified preparation and increased convenience for the grab-and-go market with fresh plant-based proteins for time-starved consumers with busier lifestyles.”
C-stores will need to think outside the freezer to grab the attention and the appetite of consumers who prefer meatless options on the go.
“Demand for meat alternatives is on the rise across the board and is driving category growth,” says Rima Rabba, marketing manager at Rabba Fine Foods. “Even meat eaters are looking for a healthier, eco-friendly, tasteful option. We work hard to ensure that our customers can enjoy vegan and plant-based options across all departments in our markets.”
The food industry has taken note of the increased interest and consumption habits in vegetarian foods, and has dozens of plant-based products in the last couple of years. Some plant-based products are “meat copies” in creating a sensory attribute of popular animal-based meat products, while others stay true to their natural ingredients, for example, soy, beets, beans and peas.
Rabba Fine Foods offers a wide assortment of plant-based proteins, including dips, soups, meat alternatives and desserts. Its frozen meat alternatives include Morning Star burgers that range in ingredients from chickpeas to black beans and veggies. Its fresh options are available in the produce section and include the Yves line – mock meats made from soy protein. Fresh, made-in-store falafel balls are a customer favourite and consumed in a sandwich or on its own, with Rabba’s hummus.
Meatless options are also available at Mr. Sub Express locations in the C&G channel across Canada – the majority of which are located in Ontario. These include mighty meatless subs, tex-mex black bean bites and gardein meatless meatballs.
“Our meatless products have been extremely well received and as a result, will be permanent items on the Mr. Sub menu,” says Karen Weldman, vice-president of new business development for Express Brands. “The products taste comparable to meat, where intended, and have been praised for their bold flavours.”
Even 7-Eleven Canada launched its Beyond Meat Pizza earlier this year. According to its August 2019 press release, Beyond Meat-lovers can enjoy the Beyond Sausage and Roasted Veggie Pizza featuring 100 per cent plant-based Italian Sausage Crumbles in select 7-Eleven locations in the Greater Toronto Area.
Sol Cuisine’s plant-based burgers and plant-based chicken products are the most popular of their products. Their Ancient Grains Chik’n Tenders have a taste and texture some say is superior to real chicken tenders. As the category evolves, the company has recently seen a spike in demand for more ‘veg-forward’ items such as black bean or beet-based burgers.
“With a growing focus on alternative sources of proteins, Sol Cuisine is continually expanding its product line to offer high quality plant-based options that satisfy customer needs, with the goal of making them widely available across Canada, including C&G,” says Balshine.
Vegan or vegetarian, plant-based proteins are intended to be easy to implement in a c-store foodservice setting; it doesn’t require special training, additional labour, equipment or preparation time.
“Plant-based meats are easy and delicious,” says Rabba. “Whether it’s Yves Deli Slices, Yves Ground Round or Morning Star Burgers, you can place it between bread and call it a sandwich, treat it like ground beef without the risk of raw meat or grill it for the barbecue aroma.”
Plant-based proteins hold up as well as animal proteins, and the taste is a personal experience.
At Mr. Sub locations, plant-based proteins are considered a premium product at a retail price point. However, many retailers have been able to keep the price comparable to their meat counterparts based on product availability, variety and accessibility.
“These products are no longer limited to a handful of small to medium manufacturers producing for health food stores and niche markets,” says Rabba. “Industry leaders have now caught wind to the lucrative opportunities in plant-based products. The growth is directly influenced by economies of scale.”
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, she provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at