The past year has seen the explosion of plant-based meat products, but one expert believes 2020 is the year these companies will refine their recipes, while others bring even more far-fetched meat alternatives to market.
CTVNews.ca spoke with Sylvain Charlebois, a business professor at Dalhousie University who specializes in the food industry, to discuss what new products Canadians can expect to be chowing down on in the coming year.
BETTER BEYOND MEAT
Vegan-friendly meat alternatives exploded in 2019 due to how closely they resembled the taste and texture of the real thing, with Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger being at the forefront of the industry.
Beyond Meat had the most successful IPO in nearly 20 years and earned a US$4-billion valuation, but despite its successes, critics of the product say these vegan burgers have added sodium and other chemicals that you just wouldn’t find in beef.
Charlebois expects that to change in 2020.
“Instead of seeing 27 natural ingredients, we are expecting products to actually become more naturalized with fewer than 15 ingredients, so they’ll be healthier and likely cheaper as well,” he said.
These burgers can already be found at Tim Hortons, A&W, Burger King and Harvey’s, but Charlebois said McDonald’s is expected to join the fray in 2020.
“If they do go plant-based, that would be a massive jolt to the plant-based folks,” he said. “Beyond Meat is not big enough to support McDonald’s so it will be interesting to see exactly what McDonald’s will do with Beyond Meat and the product they’re selling right now.”
McDonald’s is currently testing plant-based burgers in Ontario as part of a 12-week pilot project, after which they’ll decide whether to pursue the products.
"Meat sales are down $165 million in 2019 and so that wealth is being transferred over to plant-based products," Charlebois told CTV'S Your Morning.
"Tofu sales are up 25 per cent in one year and so these trends are going to continue. People are not moving away from meat, but they're buying less of it and they're buying more plant-based products."
In October, cannabis edibles officially became legal, though the first products won’t be given regulatory approval until the middle of December.
Still, some don’t expect the products to be readily available until the New Year.
"I don't think anybody in Alberta is going to see chocolate edibles under the tree or anywhere on the shelves probably until January,” Brad Churchill, founder of Choklat, a company that plans to create cannabis-infused treats, told CTV Calgary in October.
“The reason is the process that companies have to go through.”
Charlebois believes these products will be incredibly popular once they hit the market.
“More people that have been smoking -- inhaling -- cannabis will likely try the edible version of cannabis as legal edibles roll out,” he said.
BUYING FOOD MADE EASIER
In 2019, phone applications made buying food easier and it’s expected to become even easier in the coming months.
In late October, Sobeys launched a “smart cart” at one of their locations in Oakville, Ont. as part of a pilot project. These carts are capable day identifying the items in your cart and charging you for them on the spot.
Charlebois said these carts are “just the beginning” of what’s to come for grocery stores.
“We are expecting grocers to empower customers in their stores in 2020 to use A.I. as much as possible,” he said.
In 2019, we also saw the growth of food delivery apps, like Uber Eats, DoorDash, SkipTheDishes and Foodora, which made ordering meals as easy as the touch of a button. Charlebois expects this growth to continue in 2020.
“All of the companies are expected to do very well in 2020,” he said. “They did well in 2019, but that market will continue to expand.”
With the growth of these apps comes the growth of so-called “ghost kitchens,” which are essentially industrial kitchens that rely on food-delivery apps to distribute their meals, Charlebois explained.
These kitchens are advantageous for business owners because the staffing is limited.
“More and more, these ghost kitchens aren’t necessarily employing anybody,” he said. “You can just have a bunch of robots making the same meal over and over again.”
Apps that tell users about products that are about to expire could also be a trend in 2020.
"Most grocers have an app you can download and you can bid on products and you can save 25 to 60 per cent," Charlebois said.
"We are expecting Canadians to want to reduce their food waste and save money."
The next stage of meat alternatives appears to be lab-grown foods, which Charlebois said could be primed to hit the market in 2020.
Lab-grown meats or “cultured” meats are produced by taking the stem cells of an animal and placing them in a nutrient-rich solution. The cells reproduce over time to form the meat.
“We do expect 2020 to be the first year in which customers will be able choose a food product that wasn’t made out of a plant or an animal,” Charlebois said.
“Investors are pushing for this and most of the money is non-(agricultural) money and they’re really motivated to provide food products that are different.”
While Beyond Meat and other plant-based food companies faced backlash over labelling their products “meat,” Charlebois said these lab-grown options might further complicate the market.
Other lab-grown foods that could hit the Canadian market in 2020 are lab-produced coffee that mimics the coffee bean at a molecular level and lab-made ice cream, which uses whey protein made from genetically modified yeast.
“Here in Canada, I don’t think you’d be allowed to call it ice cream because of our rules, but it’s the same process” Charlebois said. They are actually making dairy proteins in a lab and try to reproduce the taste of ice cream.”
Charlebois said that consumers are moving away from dairy, particularly milk.
"More and more people are looking at alternatives like almonld milk and oat milk," he said.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fruit and vegetables are also becoming more popular, Charlebois claims.
"Sales are up. Even though we've heard recalls, alerts, it hasn't discouraged Canadians," he said.
"The new Food Guide, which was presented about a year ago, is encouraging Canadians to eat more produce and they are."
RISING COST OF FOOD
With the cost of groceries expected to rise in 2020, Charlebois said customers will likely spend a little bit more strategizin before going to the grocery store.
"They'll look at flyers, they'll use coupons, they'll try to educate themselves in terms of how much things cost," he said.
"Carrots, for example, might be more expensive in January than in June."