Vegetarian dining in Canada - a rising trend

August 30 2013

Canadian restaurants are seeing a significant increase in demand for vegetarian dining options that could lead many eateries to make new additions to their menus in the months to come.

As an ingredient, vegetables are such a dietary essential that they are unlikely to ever go out of fashion, but there is mounting evidence that appetites for predominantly veggie-based dishes are currently seeing a significant increase at the moment.

According to official government statistics, 40.6 per cent of Canadians aged 12 years and older -  the equivalent of 11.3 million people - consumed fruit and vegetables five or more times per day in 2012.

Though consumption rates experienced a slight dip in 2010 and 2011, there is evidence that tastes have changed in the last year or so, with vegetarian items becoming an increasingly common fixture of menus.

Data from consultancy firm Technomic's MenuMonitor database showed that the incidence of vegetarian menu items jumped by a significant 22 per cent margin between the first quarters of 2012 and 2013, while NPD Group research specific to the Canadian quick service restaurant industry show that servings of non-fried vegetables have risen by ten to 13 per cent this year.

Meanwhile, a recent study by Environics Research Group found that 76 per cent of Canadians feel they should include more veggies in their diet and 71 per cent crave vegetable-only choices at least some of the time - even if they do not consider themselves to be vegetarians.

It is likely that a major factor behind this trend is the growing awareness among Canadians of the need to eat healthily, with fruits and vegetables being an important source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

As such, many people are being tempted by the benefits of vegetarian diets, which the Heart & Stroke Foundation notes often have lower levels of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than many meat-based diets, as well as higher intakes of fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.

With this in mind, consumers across the country are actively seeking out dishes containing nutritious ingredients such as vegetables, fruit, grain products, milk and meat alternatives such as beans, soy, nuts and seeds, but they are often disappointed by what they find.

Of those polled by the Environics Research Group, 51 per cent say they are unsatisfied with meatless options currently available at restaurants, describing them in harsh terms such as "fairly limited" and "terrible".

As such, there could be a significant market niche for restaurants that are prepared to go the extra mile and develop vegetarian dishes that tantalize the taste buds - something fast food giant McDonald's recently realized, prompting it to launch new veggie-based Signature McWrap menu items.

Technomic's senior business development associate Jessica Cravero said this could be a particularly productive strategy if these customers are also provided with customization options, as the ability to craft their own vegetarian dishes can help to drive repeat business.

With appetites for vegetables showing no signs of diminishing any time soon, the potential rewards should be clear and easily attainable for any restaurants with enough foresight and creativity to take full advantage.