February 22, 2020

Winnipeg
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Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Meatless goes mainstream

Winnipeg restaurants, retailers respond to customers' environmental, health concerns with plant-based choices on menus, store shelves

Over a snack of fried zucchini sticks and vegan ranch dip at the Fairmont Hotel’s VG Restaurant & Lounge, the server explains it was customer demand that inspired the creation of its plant-based menu, which also includes vegan pho and grilled "cheese."

Where to go

The list of vegan-friendly businesses in Winnipeg is continuing to grow. Here are some of them:

Roughage Eatery

Oh Doughnuts

Bernstein's Deli

Leopold's Taverns

The list of vegan-friendly businesses in Winnipeg is continuing to grow. Here are some of them:

Roughage Eatery

Oh Doughnuts

Bernstein's Deli

Leopold's Taverns

Vita Health

Cocobeans Bakeshop & Cafe

Acorn Cafe

Harman's Cafe

Delicious Vegetarian Restaurant

Affinity Garden Restaurant

Rebel Pizza

Eiffel Tower Pastry Shop

Organic Planet

Charisma Of India

Chaeban Ice Cream

Earls

Sweet as Sinnamon

Little Pizza Heaven

Clay Oven

Chaise Cafe

Thai Express

Cinnaholic

Le Monkey Bar

It’s a demand that is growing quickly in Winnipeg, being driven by increasing concerns for the environment, animal welfare and human health.

"You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the recent increase in plant-based products for sale in Canada," says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, noting that in 2019, meat sales at retail stores dropped $175 million nationally, while tofu sales jumped 25 per cent.

VG is one of many Winnipeg restaurants that is catering to customers who are meat- and dairy-free, or reducing their consumption of animal products.

At Fionn MacCool’s pubs, located on Grant and Regent avenues, general manager Jay Kilgour created his own pub-inspired plant-based menu last summer, with items such as soy-based Phish and Chips and Waffle’d Up Ch’Ken Fingers.

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A vegan friendly Caesar salad is topped with crispy chickpeas, capers and nooch at The Roost Social Club, which features a primarily plant-based menu full of vegan and vegetarian dishes.</p></p>

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A vegan friendly Caesar salad is topped with crispy chickpeas, capers and nooch at The Roost Social Club, which features a primarily plant-based menu full of vegan and vegetarian dishes.

The menu has been great for business, he says.

"Look at the success of our cauliflower night," Kilgour says, referring to fried cauliflower bites in a variety of sauces, sold at half-price on Mondays (and with partial proceeds going to Kismet Creek farm sanctuary near Steinbach). "It’s outselling the (chicken) wings two to one."

Fast-food chains including A&W and Subway have added plant-based items, partnering with pioneering plant-protein brand Beyond Meat, and both are seeing an uptick in sales.

Pita Pit franchise owner Darin Gentes says its black bean pita has become a customer favourite. "It was supposed to be a limited-time offer, but was so popular, we kept it," he says.

As a result, Gentes says he is seeing a wider customer base and increased business at his three Winnipeg locations on Regent Avenue, Ellice Avenue and Sterling Lyon Parkway.

Helen Staines, owner of Decadence Chocolate in Wolseley, says she’s seen a surge in sales by labelling her dark chocolate as vegan and altering other items to remove animal-derived ingredients.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Pub-inspired plant-based menu options at Fionn MacCool’s Crossroads and Grant Park restaurants have been great for business since their introduction last summer.</p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Pub-inspired plant-based menu options at Fionn MacCool’s Crossroads and Grant Park restaurants have been great for business since their introduction last summer.

"Dark chocolate is naturally vegan," she says, "so we decided to mark the labels so it was easy for vegans to spot. I then realized we could easily tweak a few recipes, exchanging butter for the vegan alternative or cocoa butter easily without losing quality." She now has a dedicated range of vegan treats.

Paolo DeLuca, manager of DeLuca’s South Landing in Oak Bluff, says it was consumer demand that moved him to start carrying specialty plant-based products in his market, including popular cashew-based cheeses, dips and desserts. He says he now has a loyal following of customers seeking vegan items.

DeLuca’s on Portage Avenue will also, for the first time, host vegetarian cooking classes in March, citing customer demand.

At least a third of the menu at The Roost on Corydon Avenue is strictly plant-based, says co-owner Elsa Taylor, adding she was motivated by a desire to keep up with the times and do right by the world.

"I believe culturally we are moving toward a plant-based lifestyle, and I think it’s important for many reasons," she says. "The environment and ethical aspects of veganism would be high on that list."

While Kilgour admits his original incentive to create the plant-based menu at Fionn’s — which is now piquing the interest of other franchise owners in the national chain — was sales, it’s about more than that now.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Fionn MacCool’s kitchen manager Dennis Burnett (left) and owner Jay Kilgour show off some of the many plant based, meat-like products on the menu at the restaurant.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Fionn MacCool’s kitchen manager Dennis Burnett (left) and owner Jay Kilgour show off some of the many plant based, meat-like products on the menu at the restaurant.

"The driving factor for me is environmental. The planet is burning down around us, and you can affect that in a small way just with a meal choice. When you’re looking at a meal, if there is a plant-based alternative, why not choose it?" he says. "And we’ve found that our guests are choosing that, too."

Kilgour says he’s cut down on his own meat consumption by half, and the one-time hunter didn’t renew his licence this year.

"I just don’t need to do that," he says.

He’s not the only one having a change of heart.

A survey led by Charlebois last year found that 6.5 million Canadians, or nearly 20 per cent of the population, are either eating less meat or cutting it out entirely, while another recent survey by Canadian company Research Co. found nearly 30 per cent of Canadians are opposed to hunting animals for food.

"Some Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned with the environmental impact of animal agriculture, the ethics of eating animals, and possible health risks associated with consuming animal products," Charlebois says.

"It’s not a surprise that more Winnipeg consumers are seeking plant-based alternatives, and that Winnipeg businesses are ready to serve them."

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg writer, animal advocate and plant-based food expert.

jessicLSR@outlook.com

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