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Dittmer: Good news and potential good news

Free Market Reflections with Steve Dittmer

There is good news, possibly good news and more good news if you favour the Conservative party.

First, the best good news. Technomic, one of the best and most respected food survey firms in the U.S. also tracks Canadian food trends. It recently released data showing that more Canadians are ordering burgers when they eat out. Of Canadian consumers who eat burgers, 70 per cent of them typically ate a fast food burger at least once a month this year, up from 66 per cent in 2017.

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Technomic points out that as the burger category expands, “spicier and bolder flavours” will be important to differentiate one restaurant’s burger from another.

If you follow the restaurant industry closely, know that one of the big battlefields currently involves delivery. There’s the fight for many chains and independents on whether to do delivery, what third-party service to use if you use one and whether to establish your own delivery capability. Shoppers, especially younger ones, are so used to ordering things online or by smartphone, that delivery is (perhaps) the next big thing.

Competing here means making sure your product is delivered hot and tasty, regardless of how suited to delivery your menu is. Then there’s the question of how to pay the delivery service and how much, often by a percentage of the order total. The big question: Will my restaurant have any money left over after all this for profit?

So some of Technomic’s questions relate to delivery: for example, 41 per cent of burger consumers were concerned about the quality and freshness of delivered burger orders.

Then there’s the millennial question: 42 per cent of 18- to 34-year-old burger customers expect restaurants to offer at least one plant-based burger option.

Down here, the initial interest in fake-meat non-burger burgers has been high. My personal definition excludes anything but beef in a “burger,” i.e. there is no such thing as a turkey burger or veggie burger and an impossible burger is not possible. The vats they brew these products in have had a hard time keeping up. We are inquiring of our sources to see if Technomic or anyone has data on what the reorder rate is on these fake meat products. How many people are becoming regular eaters of such things?

The optimistic view is that it keeps some people coming in to burger restaurants that might not otherwise be there. And the aroma of real burgers might be enough to eventually get them back. I don’t know if these things — talk about Frankenfood — smell like real meat but I find it hard to believe they can duplicate that chemistry without the fat and juices that are in meat.

Sorry, I haven’t yet summoned enough nerve to try one yet. When I go in to a burger place, it means I’m hungry. That means I am not interested in something brewed in a giant vat. When I want something out of a giant vat, I want bourbon or Canadian whiskey (yes, I am a fan of the latter, too), not some kind of protein fakery.

It boggles the mind that the young folks who scream “natural” food, few ingredients and traditional farming and ranching methods will accept something that requires weeks and dozens of complicated processing steps to produce something that is not natural, is definitely marketed as imitation something and is natural only insofar as it takes some edible things and processes and tortures them at great lengths to produce a patty.

But I digress.

Politically speaking, those of you who are not Liberal party stalwarts were handed another chink in your prime minister’s political armour with his latest scandal involving evidently overdeveloped drama talents. That, added to his other scandal, could change your government very soon. We aren’t guessing that will affect the CUSMA ratification, even though it was his party that negotiated it. Down here, even Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caught saying that ratifying the treaty isn’t about handing President Trump a victory, it’s about doing something for the American people. Gasp!

The rest of the good, and good news with reservation, involves the U.S. and Japan likely reaching agreement to get U.S. tariffs in line with the CPTPP levels Canadian beef enjoys. With the lower tariffs, your beef exports to Japan were up 62 per cent through the first half, according to government data. We have been figuring the Japanese consumer’s demand for U.S. grain-fed beef would jump if the agreement materializes, given a roughly 11 per cent price drop from what they had been paying. While your price advantage would go away with a Japan-U.S. agreement, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s John Masswohl sees the potential for a two-way win for Canadian cattle producers: continuing to sell more Canadian beef directly to Japan and selling more beef to the U.S. for Americans to sell to Japan.

Win/win.

About the author

Contributor

Steve Dittmer is the CEO of Agribusiness Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group promoting free market principles throughout the food chain. He can be reached at [email protected]

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