Punching your restaurant order into an iPad. Choosing lentils over steak. Searching for the “antibiotic-free” label on meat.

These are among the dining and grocery shopping choices more Canadians will make in 2018, according to a new University of Guelph food trends report.

The Food Focus 2018 report forecasts major issues that will shape the industry next year.

“Consumers’ preference and perceptions are definitely driving the significant changes to our food system for the coming year,” said Prof. Mike von Massow, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (FARE). He wrote the report along with FARE professor Alfons Weersink and Bruce McAdams, School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.

One of the most significant changes will be consumers eating less meat and looking for alternative proteins – including pulses, soya burgers, even cricket flour — in grocery stores and restaurants, said von Massow.

“About 43 per cent of Canadians say they are planning to get more plant-based proteins into their diet, which is higher than the U.S. and the global average,” he said.

“Top-end restaurants used to serve us steak and potatoes, but now they will have lentil dishes and other plant-based proteins. They will market them as healthy and a new experience from what we would get at home.”

How restaurants market their menu options will affect consumers’ grocery shopping, he added.

“McDonald’s and Tim Hortons raised the profile of chicken welfare and cage-free eggs, and A&W highlighted their use of antibiotic-free meat. These marketing strategies have had a direct impact on how we view food.”

Antibiotic-free meat is another anticipated change in our food choice for 2018. Despite more discussion of reducing and even banning antibiotic use in food animals, von Massow said, antibiotics are important for animal health.

“Some companies have committed to ‘raised without antibiotics’ protocols, but this may not always be possible. This approach could prevent a sick animal from receiving treatment or lead to more animals being euthanized.

“It could also create a two-tier food system, where the animals that do get sick and need antibiotics are placed into another supply chain. We need to find a middle ground.”

Prof. Mike von Massow

The report predicts a continued drop in meal preparation at home. Canadians spend $80 billion annually in restaurants, or almost 30 per cent of our food dollar.

More consumers will buy meal kits and use food delivery services such as Skip the Dishes, said von Massow. Grocery stores will compete through “click and collect” services that allow consumers to order online and pick up orders at the store.

Food purchases will become increasingly automated as grocery stores and restaurants cope with the pending minimum wage increase in Ontario. A majority of employees in this sector earn minimum wage or close to it, said von Massow.

“We will see a reduction in staff. This could result in shorter store hours, more self-checkouts and customers ordering from iPads at their table rather than having actual servers.”

Look for more specialty food stores and greater product variety on store shelves, said von Massow. “Consumers are paying even more attention to food, and it’s causing even more fragmentation from low-sodium and gluten-free to local, organic and ethical food.”

Grocery store purchases will be further affected by fluctuating food prices.

“Since 2010, the largest annual increase was 3.7 per cent, which happened in 2011 and 2015 largely driven by severe weather and a falling Canadian dollar.”

While we won’t likely see such a price surge in 2018, he said, expect more monthly price volatility in food imports from parts of the southern United States and the Caribbean affected by extreme weather including droughts and hurricanes.

Prof. Mike von Massow