A recent survey commissioned by Canada Beef of Canadian restaurant menus confirmed that Canadian beef remains strong in many categories, and pinpointed new opportunities to better promote it to restaurant diners.
Researchers randomly selected 100 menus from restaurant websites between February 16 and March 8, 2021. The menu selection provided a good representation of different restaurants based on region, type (independent restaurant vs. chain restaurant), cuisine type and service style (casual family, fast food, premium casual and fine dining).
The research process provided a perspective on the challenges the sector faced during the pandemic. During the survey period, some selected restaurants went out of business, rewrote their menus or changed pricing. Other restaurant websites went offline. Researchers also ran into complications around menu availability and pricing. In situations where a menu was not available, researchers used a menu from a similar restaurant as a substitute. When takeout prices were unavailable, researchers sourced the information from third-party delivery services.
Complications aside, the menu survey yielded several important takeaways for industry, said Michael Young, Canada Beef president.
“There is a clear opportunity to strategically brand and promote the benefits of Canadian beef to consumers and communicate the attributes of the Canadian Beef Advantage from gate-to-plate.”
In terms of menu offerings, beef and chicken vied for dominance in non-plant-based proteins, on dedicated lunch menus and dedicated take-out menus. Beef did slightly better on the lunch menus of chain restaurants, and chicken slightly better on the lunch menus of independent restaurants.
Beef, chicken and the “other” category (lamb, veal, etc.) were dominant in entrées for both chain and independent restaurants. Beef and fish/seafood were the most expensive main menu entrées, and both were significantly more expensive in independent restaurants than in chain restaurants.
The study also identified areas for improvement. The study noted that beef’s presence was weaker in the appetizer sections of main menus, although none of the four major proteins had a strong presence.
Menus did not often mention specific attributes, with independent restaurant menus less likely to promote attributes than chain restaurant menus. Husbandry-specific attributes (e.g. grass-fed, organic, etc.) were “almost negligible,” the study found.
Only a small proportion of restaurants referred to the Canadian origin of the beef they serve, the study noted.
This is an area of interest for Canada Beef, Young said. “Canada Beef is hardwired to be responsive and flexible to evolving industry needs,” he said. “During the pandemic, we adjusted to changes on the retail side, where we saw increased consumption of traditional items such as ground beef and grilling cuts, and the emergence of retail promotion of alternative cuts, provide consumers with new innovative ways to enjoy beef.”
The strong showing by beef in the menu survey results are comparable with recent Statistics Canada food consumption data. The consumption data showed that while all red meat and poultry consumption went down in 2020, beef consumption held its ground with a marginal gain.
Per capita beef consumption was up 0.3 per cent at 18 kg retail weight, and total beef consumption was up 1.5 per cent. Retail beef demand was up 5.5 per cent in 2020, the third-highest surge in recent history.