By Dana McCauley

Most often, I find myself talking about how a handful of long term macro trends are transforming with the times: convenience, customization and healthful eating are all trends that have been evolving over the course of my more than twenty years as a food trend analyst. Add to my regular list a handful of unique yearly fun facts such as what flavours are emerging as new favourites and the one or two whacky eating fads which are catching on in small pockets of the population, and you have a pretty predictable outline for the presentations and articles I usually create.

Until this year. In 2019 we are at a major tipping point in the food industry with two key disruptive trends making the food and beverage community an exciting place to work! Research and Development teams are very busy learning about new science and new ingredients; plant based eating interest is growing quickly and the new regulatory frame work for cannabis edibles has finally been released with a launch date for products into the marketplace of October 17, 2019 . So, instead of explaining how fermented foods are trending up or how souping is the new juicing, I’m going to do a deeper dive into these two disruptive topics so that you are ready for the big waves of change swelling on the horizon.

Plant Based Protein Mainstreams

While not all Canadians are embracing plant based proteins over traditional meats, eggs and dairy products, there is certainly a much broader acceptance of this trend amongst society. In fact, the very name plant based proteins has been coined because this trend is new and different from the narrow vegan and vegetarian designations commonly used in the past. Plant based protein enthusiasts are just as likely to own leather couches as meat eaters and they are not often motivated by political and ethical feelings about animal welfare. Instead, this new cohort is concerned about health, sustainability and, in some cases, cost considerations.

Given that this new wave of plant aficionados is so different, restaurateurs and caterers are needing to get their heads around a whole new diner as they plan menus for their guests. Likewise retail buyers are under increasing pressure to keep up with innovations in this category but to choose products with broad consumer appeal to prevent shelves from groaning under the strain of the many new plant based protein products which seem to be launched every day. Consider how the non-dairy milk section has grown: formerly home to soy and almond based beverages, today it contains cashew, oats, pea protein and even bio-identical milk derived from stem cells as well.

With Canada’s Food Guide now emphasizing that we all eat more beans, tofu and other non-animal proteins, expect this trend to continue to gain momentum. Likewise, expect to hear more stories in the news about how innovative food science solutions for the demand for better meat substitutes are flummoxing regulators. Are plant based patties that look and taste like meat okay to label as burgers and be sold in the meat section of the grocery store? Are meat substitutes made from stem cells actually meat or something else entirely? These nomenclature questions are important and policy makers will need to pick up the pace to keep up with ingenious food scientists who are unveiling new technologies in this field quickly.

Cannabis Edibles
With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, comes a whole new category to the food sector. The Canadian government recently revealed the guidelines manufacturers and vendors will have to follow when they make and sell these health and recreational products after October 17 of this year; however, innovation on this platform has been going on underground for some time as evidenced by the mergers and acquisitions of cannabis companies with traditional food and beverage companies.
With packaging rules that are more similar to cigarettes than to retail food products, cannabis edibles will be sold through provincial cannabis retailers and will need to include a new label icon that clearly shows consumers that the product contains cannabis. While many of the guidelines (such as the fact that products are to be shelf stable, in child proof packaging and can’t contain alcohol) are very clear, other rules are open for interpretation. For instance, the ban on flavours that appeal to children seems very vague and will likely lead to many challenges and long discussions.
While the domestic market for cannabis edibles is expected to be significant, it’s the preparedness for exporting that could have the biggest impact on the Canadian economy. As more jurisdictions around the world legalize cannabis, our maturing manufacturing sector is poised to make Canada a leading source for trusted, safe cannabis. Who knows, in a few years, perhaps cannabis will join maple syrup and smoked salmon as iconic Canadian food products?

This article originally appeard in Chef & Co Magazine