TORONTO – Plant-based proteins are catching on in Canada, but meat remains the first choice for many, market research firm Mintel said.

A preference for meat was the top reason Canadian consumers gave for not eating meat alternatives, Mintel found, while 42 percent of respondents reported not liking the taste of meat alternatives. One in five consumers named price as a barrier to trying meat alternatives, saying the products are too expensive.

Despite these challenges, growing numbers of Canadians are embracing alternative proteins with 53 percent of Canadian consumers reporting they eat meat alternatives including 18 percent who say they eat them at least a few times a week, according to Mintel research.

The most common meatless items Canadian consumers eat include meatless burgers (34 percent) and meatless poultry (32 percent). But 27 percent of Canadians say they have eaten meatless hot dogs, meatless deli slices (26 percent) and meatless bacon (23 percent) which indicates other meat alternatives are gaining traction among Canadian consumers.

Interestingly, consumers who buy meat alternatives want the products to resemble meat. Mintel reported 31 percent of consumers look for meat-like flavors and one quarter, or 24 percent, look for meat-like textures when purchasing meat alternatives. Gregoire said manufacturers of alternative meat products have significant room to improve consumer perceptions of meat alternatives.

“For those who don’t eat meat alternatives, blurring the line between meat and meat alternatives is crucial to winning over new converts,” said Joel Gregoire, associate director, Canada Food and Drink Reports, at Mintel, adding that “…Meat alternatives that are indistinguishable from ‘real meat’ stand the best chance of realizing the category’s potential.

Protein content ranked high among Canadian consumers who reported buying meat alternatives with 40 percent of respondents identifying protein content as an important quality when buying meat alternatives.

Still, traditional sources of protein such as eggs (86 percent), nuts (76 percent), dairy-based offerings (75 percent) and beans (71 percent), remain go-tos for protein-conscious Canadian consumers. But interest in more exotic proteins presents an opportunity for manufacturers to gain traction among consumers, according to Mintel. While respondents said they don’t currently consume them, 21 percent said they are interested in trying pea protein, 26 percent wanted to try spirulina and 12 percent expressed interest in insects (e.g. cricket powder).

“As demand for protein in foods outside of meat and other animal-based products grows, the spectrum of proteins that consumers are interested in, or at least willing to eat, appears to be broadening, with many citing interest in emerging ‘buzz-worthy’ proteins ranging from insects to algae,” Gregoire noted.