Plant-based proteins still more expensive amid soaring cost of meat

Plant-based proteins have many benefits, not least an often comparatively reduced toll on the planet and the environment, but does their pricing limit their accessibility?

A new report has found that plant-based proteins are still generally more expensive than meat products despite the soaring cost of much meat in recent months.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University wanted to find out if there’s still a price disparity among protein products. “With rising meat costs, we wanted to see if the reputation that they’re more costly is still founded,” said  Janet Music, research program coordinator at the lab, as quoted by Canadian Grocer.

“It turns out that even with meat prices rising through the roof, it’s still more expensive to eat [plant-based alternatives].”

In partnership with BetterCart Analytics, the study examined over one million discrete price data points across the country from Jan. 1 to March 31, assessing 55 products and their prices at stores operated by Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Walmart, and Save-on-Foods across 10 provinces.

The report looked at meat categories for which plant-based alternatives exist, and in all cases except one, plant-based products are more expensive. The exception was turkey, where vegetable-based alternatives are 12 per cent cheaper, at $3.20 versus $3.63.

The category in which there was the biggest difference in price between the plant-based option and the meat option was chicken nuggets, where the plant-based version was more than twice as costly (104 per cent more expensive) at $2.74 versus $1.34 for the meat version.

Meals and entrees are second (+102 per cent, or $3.13 versus $1.55), followed by burger patties (+71 per cent, or $2.84 versus $1.66), ground beef (+60 per cent, or $2.42 versus $1.51), fish (+54 per cent, or $2.77 versus $1.80) and Italian sausage (+39 per cent, or $2.02 versus $1.46).

The researchers admitted to being a little surprised by the findings after how much data there has been on the rising cost of meat.

“We’ve been talking about the rising cost of meat for at least eight months now, so you would think it must be evening out, but that’s not the case,” says Music. “In fact, in some categories, it’s much cheaper to buy animal proteins than vegetable proteins.”

The study also compared averages among provinces and found that the lowest meat price average in the country is in Newfoundland and Labrador ($1.74), followed by Manitoba ($1.79). In contrast, meat is the most expensive in P.E.I. ($1.91).

For comparable plant-based products, the most expensive province is Ontario ($2.69), while the most affordable are Newfoundland and Labrador ($2.21) and P.E.I. ($2.24).