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More than half of Canadians willing to cut back on meat: Study

Younger consumers in particular are committing to meatless diets

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The trend toward meatless meals continues to gain steam.

In a recent Dalhousie University survey of more than 1,000 Canadians, 51% of respondents said they are willing to reduce their meat consumption. Nearly 24% said they probably will reduce their meat consumption in the next six months; and 8.5% said they fully intend to reduce their meat consumption in the next six months.

“These are significant numbers when you think of the potential volume [of meat products],” says study co-author Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

While 48.5% of Canadians eat meat daily and 40% eat it once or twice a week, “there are factors that are creeping up that are affecting consumer behaviour, such as health, the environment and animal welfare,” says Charlebois.

The study estimates that more than 6.4 million Canadians follow a diet that reduces or eliminates meat consumption. Some examples are vegetarian (2.1%), vegan (1.1%) and flexitarian (10.2%)—a diet that’s mainly vegetarian but occasionally includes meat and fish. Forty-two percent of flexitarians are baby boomers and 63% of vegans are under the age of 38.

“When you look at veganism and vegetarianism, it’s the younger crowd that is really pushing the agenda,” says Charlebois. “The plant-based narrative is really speaking to the younger generation—both Gen Z and millennials.”

However, there are still a lot of meat lovers in Canada: 54% of respondents agreed that to eat meat is one of the great pleasures in life, with men more likely to agree than women. Seventy-four percent agreed they love meals with meat, with younger and more educated respondents less likely agree. And 62% said they’re big fans of meat in general, with men who are less educated more likely to agree.

What’s the meat industry to do in an increasingly plant-based world? Charlebois said his message is simple: “befriend the enemy” and combine meat products with plant-based ingredients. “Co-existing with other products is something you’re going to have to think about instead of just looking at beef or pork or chicken in isolation,” he says.

“Since the horse is out of the barn and people are thinking about protein alternatives, you may want to say ‘a meatloaf with beef and lentils is okay.’ It’s about that marriage between plant-based and meat consumption. The study shows there still are a lot of people who want to enjoy meat, but there are certainly lots of questions being asked right now about how sustainable our way of life actually is.”

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