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Plant-based protein companies poised to expand products, distribution next year

VANCOUVER - When A&W started serving Beyond Meat veggie burgers at its restaurants, the fast-food chain offered many patrons their first bite of the much touted, celebrity backed plant-based patty.
 
In the year and a half since, Canadians continued searching for plant-based options at home and on the go.By the time A&W added a plant-based nugget in December, many fast-food chains — even long-time holdout McDonald's Canada — boasted a trendy vegetarian menu item, too.
 
As restaurants jumped on the plant-based protein craze this past year, the products also proliferated on grocery store shelves.
 
Earlier this month, Beyond Meat announced grocers across the country would start stocking its Beyond beef product, which mimics ground beef. It launched its burgers in the summer and they're now sold at more than 4,000 stores in the country.
 
Lightlife, meanwhile, boasts seven plant-based protein products with national distribution in Canada, and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. makes about four that are sold in many parts of the country. Both brands belong to Chicago-based Greenleaf Foods SPC, a wholly-owned, independent subsidiary of Mississauga, Ont.-based Maple Leaf Foods.
 
Kicking off the trend, Health Canada revealed a new food guide in January recommending people "choose protein foods that come from plants more often." It minimized meat's dominant position in the previous iteration and put the meat industry on the defensive for their share of consumer plates.
 
As interest in alternative protein grew, backlash bubbled.
 
But the folks leading major plant-based manufacturers say consumers want their products and plan to add more varieties and sales points, create tastier options and lower their prices to beat out bargain meat.
 
A&W sparked a consumer frenzy when it debut the company's veggie burger in July 2018. The chain temporarily sold out of the patties, having under-estimated people's appetites.
 
That sales spike wasn't a flash in the pan, either. Demand "stayed remarkably stable" since that temporary shortage, said chief executive Susan Senecal.
 
A&W added a new veggie option this month — Lightlife nuggets. Only its Ontario and B.C. restaurants stock the chicken-nugget imitation, and A&W expects to sell out by the new year. Still, in a sign of the industry's strength, the company hopes eventually to offer the nuggets nationwide.
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