There has never been a better time to ‘eat your veggies’ than right now. Alberta has seen a surge in plant-based menus and food offerings in recent years, which is in line with nation-wide demand for plant-based products. According to research by Nielsen from December 2019, sales of plant-based foods grew by 16% annually, to a market value of $500 million. Nielsen analytics also indicate that sales of meat alternatives in Canada increased 52% during the beginning of the pandemic compared to a 30% increase in fresh meat products.
Although animal meat consumption still outweighs that of plant-based meat alternatives, as research into plant-based recipes and options improves, so does the quality and diversity in product offerings.
V Burger, a fast casual plant-based concept opened in Calgary in July 2020, offering a fully plant-based menu with an emphasis on burgers and ice cream creations. The team at V Burger led by Executive Chef Andrea Harling spent a year and a half researching and testing recipes, developing most of their ingredients including the much-lauded plant-based ice cream and burger patties.
“It was fun learning the ins and outs of the recipes, and we feel like we are a better brand because of it. We take a lot of pride in the quality of our food,” says Harling.
V Burger has had a strong fanbase since its opening, and Harling associates the high demand with the quality of their food and several other reasons, “it tells us that people want 100% plant based options, and that we have created a place that people can come and enjoy a good burger and ice cream knowing they are making a great choice for the environment, animal welfare and their overall health.”
The rising popularity of plant-based foods seems to coincide with the increased shift globally towards ethical commerce, social values, and technology.
Increased Awareness and Advocacy
Vegetarian dining used to be unfairly associated with bland tofu dishes for the hippie crowd. With increased coverage from social and mainstream media including advocacy from athletes and celebrities for the delicious attributes and health benefits of a plant-based diet, the stigma around vegan cuisine is shifting. Increased exposure and information have created better awareness for plant-based dining and where to find it.
Padmanadi is a 20-year Edmonton institution that has built a strong following for its hospitality and vegan Asian comfort foods. Maya Paramithi whose family owns Padmanadi notes an evolution in customer awareness of vegetarian foods over the years, “We’ve had a booth at the Taste of Edmonton for 14 years, a number of years ago people might ask ‘If this isn’t chicken, what is it?’ and now customers stopping at our booth are not asking.”
Paramithi also credits social media and technology with furthering general awareness of vegetarian dishes and have made it easier for plant-based restaurants to capture new customers and promote their offerings.
Health Benefits and Nutrition
Undoubtedly, incorporating more vegetables and fruit into your diet comes with a myriad of health benefits. In a time where dietary restrictions or sensitivities are prevalent, plant-based alternatives offer options for those who aren’t able to consume dairy or animal products.
Allison Landin owner of Truffula, a tree nut creamery in Edmonton started culturing cashews as part of a gut-healing protocol to heal from an auto-immune condition. Landin was excited to learn about culturing nut-based cheese and the nourishment and benefits that come with it.
Launched in 2013, Truffula’s cultured nut products and grain free crispbreads are now available in retail locations all across Alberta. “There has been a huge upsurge in people adopting a plant-based diet for both health and ethical reasons,” says Landin.
Mondays Plant Café in Bridgeland Calgary serves a vibrant and nutritious plant-based menu. “We focus on vegan cuisine for the health aspect first and foremost, but we also feel strongly that it is an ethical way to eat, and leaves the smallest impact on our environment,” says co-owner Ali Magee who adds that they have seen new customers come into their café “who are ‘trying to eat more plants’ every day.”
Ecological and Ethical Impacts
The positive impact to our planet of eating more vegetables and less animal products has been touted widely. Along with animal welfare, sustainability of our food system and climate impacts are growing considerations. Being ecologically responsible requires significant effort and restaurants who are committed to sourcing responsibly and ethically are often spending more time and money to live this value.
The Coup has been offering globally inspired vegetarian fare in Calgary for over 16 years and has maintained their commitment to ecological responsibility and sustainability during this time. This commitment is also aligned with the values of their sister restaurants – “The Dandelion by Nourish Bistro” in Calgary and “Nourish Bistro” in Banff.
Vice President Operations, Ted Ainsworth describes their philosophy as a “commitment to not just a specific diet, but also to being a business that is ecologically responsible.” Ainsworth notes that their team has proudly adhered to their values and brand even during the challenges of the pandemic. To ensure their commitment to local and sustainable practices, the chef spends a significant portion of their day on sourcing.
The Allium, a co-operatively owned plant-based restaurant in Calgary has an ethics-driven philosophy that not only includes being conscious of our ecosystem, but also extends to providing an equitable and fulfilling work environment. The Allium’s collective ownership model affords their members an opportunity to buy into the co-operative to share in the ownership of the restaurants. Its model also provides flexibility for co-operative members to pursue other interests.
Serving elevated plant-based dishes in a relaxed atmosphere, The Allium’s focus on plant-based dining and sourcing practices also aligns with its ethics. “Our customers are excited by the creativity and flavours in our dishes,” says Jared Blustein, one of the owners of The Allium and adds, “we have found that people want to be healthier and more conscious of the impact they have on our planet.”
Increased Accessibility and Diversity of Options
With more research and investment into plant-based products, accessibility to vegetarian or vegan options has improved, along with the quality and diversity of those products. There has also been a sharp increase in the retail market for vegetarian or vegan friendly alternatives for foods commonly made with animal products.
Community Natural Foods has been in business since 1977. Marketing Manager Beth Potter says, “Plant based has always been a big part of our business. For years the vegan and vegetarian diet was associated with good health and longevity. Today it is also celebrated for its benefits to the planet.”
Potter notes that they have seen a definite lift in demand for plant-based cuisine and attributes this to, “increased awareness of the environmental impact of traditional meat-based diets” and more demand for affordable protein sources.
Current trends in plant-based products are alternatives for seafood and dairy ingredients. Community Natural Foods carries a variety of plant-based dairy options and has also started carrying a vegan smoked “salmon” made from marinated carrots by the company Save Da Sea which is great on a bagel with plant-based cheese or avocado.
Plant-based alternatives can often make it less daunting to incorporate more plants into one’s diet. Maya Paramithi of Padmanadi also noted that plant-based meat products often provide familiarity to their customers and helps them understand what they can expect in terms of the flavour and texture of dishes making it more approachable, “Transitioning to a new diet can be hard. Some customers might be trying to address health concerns by eating more vegetables and less meat. Having plant-based alternatives can give these customers comfort by providing something they can relate with.”
Availability of Convenient and Delicious Options
There are now more fast, convenient, and affordable options that are plant-based, making it easy to grab an energy rich vegetarian meal to go. There also seems to be more businesses dedicated to highlighting the delicious flavours that can come from cooking and seasoning plant-based cuisine well.
Garbanzo’s is a new pop-up concept in Calgary, started in April 2021 by chef Alec Fraser. Through his travels, Fraser encountered fast-casual vegetarian food that was indulgent and satisfying with flavours that he would crave after. Garbanzo’s plant-based menu focuses on playful comfort foods that have that crave-ability factor and are fast and convenient.
The signature house-made pita bread is soft and pillowy, making it a deliciously convenient vehicle for Garbanzo’s popular falafel wrap. The pita bread is also served alongside fresh vegetables for the bowls of dip.
“I didn’t originally mean to make the menu fully vegan. When I was developing the recipes, I knew I wanted to highlight plant-based ingredients and make the best tasting dishes. The fact that our menu ended up being vegan goes to show that if you’re using the ingredients well, plant-based dishes can be really flavourful and delicious.”
Fraser notes that his customer base is varied and includes folks who are vegans and customers who stopped in because they had heard from friends about the delicious dishes.
In the 5 years since opening their first location in Edmonton, fast casual concept KB&Co. has expanded to five franchise locations across Alberta and British Columbia offering customers a menu that is convenient for those on the go.
“Everything is made from scratch in store locally using whole non-processed ingredients and we commit to using organic ingredients where possible,” says Lindsay Whyte, franchisee of the Calgary location who was drawn to this concept because of its corporate culture and focus on providing casual and conscious eats. “We also have a selection of fresh baking produced at each store with many gluten free options. Our focus is serving, fresh, high quality and delicious plant-based menu items. Regardless of where you are on your food journey, we want you to feel welcome at KB&Co. and that there is something on the menu you will love.”
Whether you have adopted a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or are looking to add more plants into your diet, Alberta now has a great roster of plant-based options.