Red meat continues to hold its own on restaurant menus

steak being cooked on fork with salt being sprinkled down
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By Morag McKenzie

Canadians have consistently decreased their red-meat consumption in recent years. In fact, Farm Credit Canada (FCC), which supports farmers across Canada, reports that since the 1980s, total red-meat consumption (in home and foodservice combined) has declined 38.4 per cent from 38.8 kg to a projected total of 23.9 kg in 2024.  

However, what they do not report is that red-meat consumption in restaurants and foodservice operations continues to be strong. 

So why is total red-meat consumption declining? While Statistics Canada reports almost 50 per cent of Canadians consume red meat or products containing red meat daily; others report that they are reducing or eliminating red meat entirely from their diet. Recent generational surveys reveal that 33 per cent of Baby Boomers and 29 per cent of millennials were working towards eating less meat or completely meat-free diets.

This reduction in meat consumption is primarily aimed at beef. Females aged 55 and over are most likely to avoid eating red meats, followed by females aged 18 to 34. The primary motives given for reducing or stopping beef consumption include financial, health, food safety and environmental impact. Canada’s aging population and increasing number of new Canadians have also contributed to this decline.

Meat consumption, and more specifically red-meat consumption is also declining due to soaring prices, which have increased by up to 30 per cent in recent years due to many factors, including the increased price of feed and fuel, inflation, labour and shipping costs.

“As incomes fall and prices rise… we expect in-home red-meat consumption to continue to decline as households cut back on more expensive meals,” the FCC report concludes.

In response, Canada Beef, an organization that represents beef farmers and ranchers across Canada, has created resources to help share information about beef with both foodservice professionals and consumers. 

“There have been significant changes since the 1980s around how beef is purchased, sold and merchandised,” says Shelby VanSickle, senior director, Channel Marketing, Canada Beef. “Guided by research, we have created the Canadian Beef Information Gateway, with a dedicated edition for the foodservices sector ( Here, operators can leverage videos, photographs and more, to learn how to purchase, merchandise, prepare and serve Canadian beef in a foodservice setting.” 

Here’s the beef

In foodservice operations across Canada, red-meat revenue grew eight per cent in 2023, above overall restaurant growth of six per cent. Red-meat consumption in restaurants represents 20 to 25 per cent of the total per-capita consumption in Canada. “Over the past five years, red meat in the foodservice sector has not seen the decline in consumption as it has in grocery and in-home,” explains Vince Sgabellone, foodservice industry analyst at Circana. “This growth has been led by hamburger consumption, which has grown five per cent annually.”

Hamburgers remain the second-most popular item sold in restaurants across Canada. “While the number of units sold has remained steady, portion size has moved down from 6oz to 5oz, perhaps a reflection of price pressure,” adds Sgabellone.

The Firkin Group of Pubs, located in Southwestern Ontario, has seen demand for red meat remain strong. “More than 20 per cent of our menu mix remains red-meat based, with the Firkin Burger ($20) remaining our top seller. Other top sellers are our Meatloaf ($21), Shepherd’s Pie ($19) and English Dip Sandwich ($21),” explains Dave Godfrey, executive chef, Firkin Group.

The growth in global cuisines has also contributed to the strength in red-meat revenues. “Mexican, Middle Eastern and other global cuisines have driven growth in red-meat consumption as they are an important component of many menu favourites,” adds Sgabellone.  

Driven by the growing Muslim population in Canada, another trend to watch for is the growth of Halal meats. “Leading QSR operations are looking at serving only Halal red meats in their operations,” Sgabellone comments.

A Premium Experience

Bison is a red meat that continues to grow in popularity, both in-house and in foodservice operations across Canada.  “Over the past five years, bison has grown 40 to 50 per cent in popularity. It is now sold in many large retailers, including Costco and Sobeys, and can be found featured in restaurants across the Canada,” explains Kelly Long, CEO of Noble Premium Bison, which has been supplying grass-fed Canadian bison to the foodservice industry since 2016.  

All Noble bison is grass fed, and raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. The meat is a darker red than beef due to its higher iron, B vitamins and Omega-3 content. Bison is also raised following re-generative ranching practices, which restores one of Canada’s most valuable nature resources — our grasslands.  “Re-generative agriculture builds soil health that improves agricultural land and ultimately sequesters carbon. Bison is naturally suited to re-generative grazing as it constantly move and skip over flowers and forbs, encouraging more diverse and healthy plant, insect and bee life,” explains Long.

Valued for how it is raised, nutrient-dense health benefits and sweet, rich taste, bison is available in many premium cuts, including the tomahawk ribeye, tenderloin bison steaks as well as cuts such as the flat iron, tri-tip, flank steak and burger.

As bison and other non-traditional red-meat consumption continues to grow, chefs across Canada are taking a second look at adding it to their menus.

Red-meat consumption by Albertans is amongst the highest across Canada. “While there is a trend to plant-based, flexitarian and even non-red meat options in the home, people come to restaurants to enjoy really great red meat,” says Scott Hergott, executive chef for the Banff Properties Pursuit, a group of 26 restaurants and adventure operations in Alberta.

Hergott has seen bison significantly increase in popularity, including the bison tomahawk and petite tender, which are both top sellers in their restaurants. “At Farm & Fire in Banff, Alta., 60 to 65 per cent of our revenue is from red meat, including bison. All our restaurants feature bison, including the striploin ($68) at the Sky Bistro and Columbia Ice Fields bison sirloin ($49).”

Hergott concludes, “Many customers will try a new meat such as bison for the first time in a restaurant, as they know we will prepare it to their specifications. Customers will pay a premium for bison for its taste, nutrient-dense value, texture and sustainability.”

Traceability is key

Today’s consumer is increasingly concerned with traceability and how the food they consume is farmed and raised. This has driven increased demand for red meat that is both hormone and antibiotic free — and raised in a free-range environment.

Hero Certified Burgers is a chain of more than 70 restaurants and virtual kitchens started by John Lettieri in 2003 that serves only 100-per-cent grain-fed Canadian Angus beef raised in a free-range environment and free from additional hormones, antibiotic and GMOs. “Hero Burger has partnered directly with Canadian ranchers that are committed to rearing their livestock to our highest standards.  We support the additional cost in handling cattle to these highest specifications and traceability,” says Lettieri.

Hero Certified Burger has experienced exponential growth since its inception. While it has diversified its menus to include plant-based, chicken and other menu options, 60 to 65 per cent of its overall revenue still comes from burgers and red-meat sales.  

However, continued price increases have put significant pressure profitability. “Due to increased volume, our overall business revenue has increased so we have generally been able to pass the exponential increase in beef prices to our customers and maintain franchise owner profitability,” explains Lettieri.  

Lettieri adds, “Consumers understand the value of clean, traceable beef. However, we do see they are not adding the extras as beef becomes a meal that they splurge on.”

Rising Prices

As beef prices continue to rise, it puts additional pressure on operators to ensure their menu and restaurant remains profitable and prices are affordable.

Creatively using off-cuts, trim and less-expensive cuts is one way operators are adjusting. To help, Canada Beef has created a series of videos and recipes to address each opportunity.  

“Trim products can be utilized as a primary beef ingredient or flavour enhancer in items such as beef chips,” says VanSickle. “Opportunity cuts such as top sirloin cap offer greater value, versatility and great taste. Innovative smaller portions such as Korean-style two-bite skewers are another way operators can balance providing customers a satisfying dining experience while maintaining profitable food costs.”

Some operators have shifted to making red meat a component of the dish, rather than its central focus. “I’m adding a Wagyu Beef Dumpling to the menu. Wagyu Beef will add satisfying flavour and cache to the menu item, but is only a portion of the item, making it more cost effective,” explains Godfrey. “I project demand for red meat in the foodservices sector to remain strong, profitable and thrive, so I will continue to explore underutilized and less expensive cuts, try new cooking techniques and utilize unique ingredients.” FH

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