Arrival of vegan chains signals changing appetites in Alberta's capital

WATCH ABOVE: On Sept. 23, 2018, Julia Wong filed this report about Edmonton's thriving plant-based restaurant scene.

Alberta’s capital has been home to a handful of vegan restaurant options for a number of years and a wave of plant-based eateries that have recently opened in the city suggests Edmontonians’ appetites for foods free of animal products are growing at an unprecedented pace.

Now, the arrival of eateries that are part of larger plant-based chains lends further credence to that notion.

The Green Moustache Organic Café recently opened on Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue, marking its first Canadian location outside B.C.

Later this fall, the fast-growing Quebec-based Copper Branch brand will open on the same downtown street. Calgary and Edmonton will be the fast casual chain’s first locations west of Ontario — for now.

“We have, currently open, 25 locations — mostly in Quebec and Ontario,” says Andrew Infantino, Copper Branch’s marketing director. “We’re very excited to be opening our first couple of stores in Alberta and from there, we really do project more to open.

“I think people are just more and more searching for this option, a healthier option, a cleaner option and simply an option that they can trust. The real food revolution what we like to call it.”

A file photo of a Copper Branch location. The plant-based restaurant chain plans to open in Edmonton in the fall of 2018.

A file photo of a Copper Branch location. The plant-based restaurant chain plans to open in Edmonton in the fall of 2018.

COURTESY: Copper Branch

The Green Moustache offers a similar perspective in terms of what it hopes to offer Edmontonians, and its health-based approach is no accident according to the local owner and franchisee.

A lawyer by trade, Eva Chipiuk decided to open a Green Moustache location in Edmonton after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“After a personal battle with cancer, I understand that food is such an important part of health and I’m thrilled to bring healthy, healing food to the community,” Chipiuk said in a news release.

Despite a population that doesn’t come close to rivalling North America’s major urban centres, Edmonton’s plant-based food scene has been holding its own.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s vegan restaurant scene continues to grow

The Indonesian fare at Padmanadi, the raw food dishes at Noorish or the vegan pub grub at The Buckingham — just to name a few — all have been providing a plant-based alternative for the city’s vegetarians and vegans for years.

More recently, other restaurants such as the plant-based pizzeria Die Pie, the suburban plant-based joint Good Stock and many more have been adding to the growing list of options for people who don’t eat meat or animal products.

Prominent Edmonton food critics say they believe the proliferation of plant-based menus is a sign that even meat eaters are consuming animal-free dishes more often.

Watch below: In May 2016, Maya Paramitha from Padmanadi Vegetarian Restaurant dropped by Global News Morning Weekend Edmonton to cook some food.

“If you think about it, vegans make up a very small portion of the eating public,” says Liane Faulder, a food writer for the Edmonton Journal. “Dalhousie University did a study recently and noted that 2.3 per cent of Canadians call themselves vegan only just over seven per cent of Canadians call themselves vegetarians. But the same study found, interestingly, that 43 per cent of those who were surveyed said that they were really interested in more plant-based eating.

“I think a lot of people today are what you might call flexitarians. So they’re not going to eschew meat products. You know Albertans love their beef, but I think people are always looking to make healthy choices and plant-based is a healthy choice for sure.”

READ MORE: Most vegans and vegetarians in Canada under age 35: survey

Watch below: (From March 2018) Are more Canadians becoming vegetarians or vegans? Dave Squires speaks with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois about a new Dalhousie survey on eating habits.

Mary Bailey is the editor of the Edmonton-based Tomato Magazine and says the growing number of plant-based restaurants means the pressure is growing for their kitchens to perform in a market that’s drawing in non-vegan and vegetarian customers as well.

“I think people are starting to discover that food is fun and why not try different things,” she says.

“I just want to know if it’s really great food. You know, if it tastes great, if the textures are there… That’s what I’m looking at as opposed to, ‘I need to find a vegan meal.'”

Both Faulder and Bailey rave about a new eatery that just opened in downtown Edmonton last month, Kanu Cafè.

The restaurant is the first venture into Canada for plant-based celebrity chef and author Matthew Kenney.

He’s opened eateries in world cities like London, New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.

Watch below: (From Sept. 22, 2018) Kanu Café is a new plant-based restaurant in Edmonton. Kent Morrison spoke to the folks behind the eatery at the City Market Downtown.

“Edmonton has a scene that’s expanding to all different kinds of cuisine and I think plant-based is just one of those….there’s a real market for it too,” Faulder says.

“ was delicious and it was just hopping — so I think there’s a real market for this kind of eating.”

“We’re starting to see chefs with real cooking talent, no matter what they’re cooking,” Bailey says. “That was really obvious at Kanu.”

So will the Edmonton market reach a saturation point with further openings of plant-based restaurants?

“There’s definitely going to be enough room for another ,” Infantino says. “The fact that we’re a growing chain I think offers some excitement for the customers that do visit us.

“I believe there is tremendous opportunity. This is an industry that’s almost only at the cusp of growing.”

READ MORE: With mock meat on the rise, here’s how to survive on a vegan diet

Watch below: (From August 2018) Here is what you need to know about adopting a vegan diet.

It’s not just the plant-based restaurant industry that’s growing; even eateries that make their money off meat- and cheese-based menu items are beginning to see the value of offering vegan and vegetarian options.

Major pizza chains like Pizza 73 now offer dairy free cheese on their pies while burger chains aren’t exempt from the trend either; A&W only recently restocked its restaurants with its Beyond Meat burger that it had sold out of after introducing the item earlier in 2018.

“Certainly it’s trendy,” Faulder says. “I mean, if you look at plant-based eating and vegan eating in Europe say, I mean it’s just an enormous part of the eating market now… It’s getting to be more and more mainstream.

“But I think, especially among younger people, that there’s a real interest in eating healthy. Certainly plant-based eating gives you more fibre and less fat and that’s good for everybody.”

As for how the new plant-based chains may fare in Edmonton, Bailey says that at the end of the day, they face the same hurdles as independent eateries.

“I think smart people open restaurants where they think they’re going to get an audience and we have lots of everything else,” she says.

“You know, the last five to 10 years, things have just exploded on the restaurant scene here so I do think that there’s an appetite for different kinds of food, definitely,” Faulder says. “I think the marketplace will eventually feel a little bit squeezed. I was talking to one of the operators here a while back — the woman who owns Noorish — and she said she’s feeling the pressure of other vegan establishments here now.

“So it won’t be easy but I think the market can support it.”

Federal government also confident that plant-based businesses will pay off

The federal government has indicated it also sees major growth potential in plant-based foods, specifically plant-based proteins. In February, the so-called Protein Industries Supercluster was selected as part of the government’s $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

The Protein Industries Supercluster’s vision statement says the not-for-profit corporation wants “to position Canada globally as a leading source of high-quality plant protein and plant-based co-products, developed in a carbon neutral production environment, while substantially contributing to Canada’s economic growth and international trade balance.”

READ MORE: Business leaders believe protein supercluster will ‘turbo-charge’ agriculture investment

Watch below: (From February 2018) Protein Industries Canada aims to become a world leader in plant based proteins, bringing thousands of jobs to the Prairies.

The Liberal government’s investment into the supercluster is mostly concentrated in the Prairies and is geared towards making “Canada a leading source for plant proteins and, ultimately, feed the world.”

Industry Canada projects that over the next 10 years, the government’s investment into plant-based proteins will have a $4.5-billion impact on the country’s GDP and create more than 4,500 jobs.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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