As the price of meat rises amid soaring inflation, Canadians looking for cheaper options won't find them in plant-based alternatives.
A new study from Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab and BetterCart Analytics compared the prices of animal protein products, such as bacon, ground beef and chicken nuggets, to the cost of their plant-based alternatives. The report found that the vegetable-based products were on average 38 per cent more expensive than the animal original.
"Given what has happened with meat prices as of late, I was expecting the gap to narrow quite significantly, but that hasn't happened," Sylvain Charlebois, the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said in an interview.
The category with the biggest price difference is chicken nuggets, with the plant-based alternative costing 104 per cent more on average than the meat product. Meals and entrees were next, with plant-based products costing 102 per cent more, followed by burger patties (71 per cent more), and ground beef (60 per cent more). Turkey was the lone category where the plant-based alternative was 12 per cent cheaper than the meat option.
The province with the biggest price gap between animal and plant-based products is Ontario (84 cents per 100 grams), followed by Saskatchewan (69 cents per 100 grams). Ontario was also the most expensive province when it came to the cost of plant-based alternatives, while the cheapest place to buy such products is Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.
The study did not compare animal products such as dairy and other vegetable protein options, such as tofu, chickpeas and lentils, saying that "comparisons were not possible."
The study comes as Canadians grapple with inflation that has been running hot, with consumer prices rising 6.7 per cent year-over-year overall in March, according to Statistics Canada. Groceries jumped 8.7 per cent year-over-year in March, while meat prices soared 10.5 per cent from last year.
Rising prices are putting the squeeze on spending habits and forcing a majority of Canadians to cut back to just the necessities, a Yahoo/Maru poll found. That will put additional pressure on pricing for companies offering plant-based alternatives.
"In a high-inflation environment, you are dealing with a highly frugal customer who is looking for any excuse to trade down to a cheaper product," Charlebois said.
"That is not what they are offering right now... Frankly, if these products remain at a very high price, I'm not sure the category will survive in retail."
It may be years before shoppers will be able to turn to plant-based products as an alternative that costs as much as meat, let alone less. Beyond Meat's (BYND) chief executive Ethan Brown said on the company's most recent conference call with analysts that the plant-based meat producer expects to achieve the goal of price parity with animal proteins "with at least one category within the next two-and-a-half years." Beyond Meat is seeking to lower prices by cutting manufacturing costs and solidifying its supply chain while maintaining quality of ingredients. The company's stock is down nearly 40 per cent this year.
"Companies will have to figure out ways to reduce their costs," Charlebois said.
The study used machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze more than one million price data points across the country from Jan. 1 to March 31. A total of 55 different products were included, with prices taken from stores operated by Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Walmart and Save-on-Foods across 10 provinces. Comparisons were made based on prices per 100 gram of product.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.