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ELLIOTT: Tofu is trending

Wendy Elliott. File
Wendy Elliott. File - SaltWire Network

The guru of food, Sylvain Charlebois, had some good news last week for the family-operated firm, Acadiana Soy Products, in Grand Pre. Anna Anderson leads the tofu making.

According to Charlebois, there are both fads and trends in the food realm. He said, for example, that charcoal pizza is a sexy urban menu item that is only a fad, but tofu is trending.

A professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, he suggested that there is a shortage of tofu every January because Canadians make New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier. But this year there is a greater shortage.

In fact, Charlebois looked recently in two Halifax grocery stores and couldn’t find any tofu for sale. That might be why the bankers who are investing in two plant expansions in Ontario and Quebec have decided the tofu market has growth potential.

Charlebois stood in front of a conference room full of farmers last week to offer insights on shifting consumer expectations. Pointing to a diagram of the new Canada Food Guide, he said, “you should be having a party. Half of it is you.”

For members of Horticulture Nova Scotia, who met in Greenwich, the guide validates all the vegetables and fruit they tend during long, hot summers. Charlebois called the framework a very important message backed up by science.

He told provincial agriculture minister Keith Coldwell he ought to feel relieved because there should be growth in external markets for Nova Scotia farmers, but Charlebois warned that our farmers need to look to Europe to capture a sense of the coming food trends.

He contends that what is termed a plant-based narrative is overtaking the world. Half jokingly, Charlebois said we’ll be eating a hamburger a week by 2050. He even described standing in line at the new Vegan Butcher in Halifax recently when only two of the 20 people in line claimed to be vegan.

As an article in The Lancet late last year pointed out “the climate impact of livestock rearing, and the nutritional and health issues caused by meat have become a pressing concern.” Two reasons to make non-meat eating attractive.

American statistics do indicate that spending on vegetables has gone up four to six per cent in less than a decade. Farmers also have to contend with an increase in people eating in restaurants rather than cooking at home. “Restaurants are winning the battle of the food dollar,” Charlebois said.

His numbers suggest almost 40 per cent of Canadian consumers 38 years old and under eat out at least once or twice a week. I’m older than that and I fall into the expediency trap.

What most of us don’t know is that growers get 22 cents of every dollar spent in grocery stores, but they only receive four cents of every dollar spent in restaurants. Currently, 35 per cent of meals in Canada are purchased at restaurants and that figure is likely to increase to 50 per cent by 2035. Today, Charlebois added, food choices involve sheer time to spend in the kitchen and having the skills to cook.

Farm gate marketing and more value-added products that can capitalize on convenience are important, he said. I think the Randsland salad bags are one really good example of that trend.

Food security is also a concern for someone like Charlebois. Hunger is a real thing, he said, and Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.

We live in a province where the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives has determined that rural Nova Scotians need over $17 an hour in wages to keep a roof over their heads, while minimum wage is $10.70. Many of us can’t afford to eat out and yet the average Canadian family will pay about $400 more for groceries alone this year.

So many reasons to explain why we now have a World Vegan Day to celebrate and consumers are fast embracing plant proteins. Demand and, perhaps weather, will help push vegetable prices higher this year. Yay tofu!

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