Appetites growing for flexitarian diets and edibles

Research by the University of Guelph and Bob's Your Uncle identifies the impact of this year's food trends.
Food Trends

The rise of flexitarian diets, a growing divide between food and farm prices and a booming cannabis edibles market are among the trends Canadians can expect to see this year, according to a new report by the University of Guelph prepared in partnership with Toronto agency Bob’s Your Uncle.

The agency recently announced a partnership with the university’s Ontario Agricultural College. In addition to jointly publishing an annual food trends report, the partnership aims to provide Bob’s clients with food trend insights and raise awareness of the University of Guelph’s expertise in food chain innovation, production and marketing.

The trends identified in the 2019 report include an increase in the number of Canadians adopting flexitarian diets. While vegans and vegetarians continue to dominate most of the conversation, the number of flexitarians is growing rapidly: nearly 85% of Canadians claim to eat at least one vegetarian meal per month, and almost 50% do so at least once a week.

This pull towards conscious consumption among a larger swath of the population – only 7% to 8% of Canadians are vegetarian or vegan – could have a “profound impact” on the on the quantity and types of meat consumed and fuel growth in protein alternatives, such as plant-based ingredients and insects, according to the report. Moreover, the authors predict that premium cuts could be favoured over staples like ground beef, as people choose to eat less meat.

The trends report also finds a growing divide between the food prices paid in store and at the farm level. Following a period of record high levels of agricultural commodity prices between 2008 and 2014, prices have dropped to “levels that prompted farm protests in the early part of this century,” and Canadian farm income is expected to fall this year.

Nevertheless, consumers are expected to be more or less spared from farmers’ troubles. The report notes that farmers’ share of the food dollar hovers around 20% (or 50% for less processed foods and 2% for corn, which is used as a sweetener). As a result, prices of many commodities will have “relatively little impact on retail prices.” Rather, farmers’ share will continue to fall as people choose to eat out more frequently rather than prepare food at home.

Finally, the anticipated legalization of cannabis edibles later this year will fuel growth in the burgeoning market by delivering new opportunities across various categories, including health foods, supplements, snack foods, packaged meals, beverages, restaurants and tourism. Consumers have shown interest in both intoxicating and non-psychoactive CBD-based products, according to the report.

Overall, a recent report from Deloitte pegged Canada’s total cannabis marketing (including illegal and medical sales) at an estimated $7 billion for the year, putting it on part with the country’s wine market ($7 billion in 2016-2017) and not far behind the beer market ($9 billion in 2016-2017).

In spite of this anticipated growth, there remains a number of hurdles. Companies will need to learn to effectively dose products, as edibles can more easily lead to overconsumption. Furthermore, they will need to learn how to navigate a fairly cumbersome regulatory requirements, as the legal cannabis market is subject to three separate pieces of legislation.