case studies details | Should meat-free products have meaty names?

Should meat-free products have meaty names?

10 Jun 2019

New research has raised interesting questions about the way in which meat-free products are labelled and whether or not new legislation will govern this in the future.

According to a study by PR agency Ingredient Communications on almost 1,000 people (including vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and meat-eaters), 25 per cent said they believe the manufacturers of vegetarian products should not be allowed to use names like sausages and steak that are typically associated with meat.

Interestingly, vegetarians were least likely to disapprove of meat-related names, but vegans were even more likely than meat-eaters to support a ban on such monikers.

Vegans were also the group least likely to buy a meat-free product if it was labelled with a meat-associated word, the poll found.

In France, an amendment to the nation's agricultural bill recently prohibited any product largely based on non-animal ingredients from being labelled like a meat-based product, resulting in terms such as 'soy sausage' and 'bacon-flavoured' being outlawed.

A European Court of Justice ruling in June 2017 also saw a ban on dairy product names for non-dairy products, such as 'vegan cheese', while in the US state of Missouri, companies are no longer allowed to misrepresent a product as meat if it doesn't come from livestock or poultry.

The argument for legislation is that consumers might be confused by the products available and could be misled into thinking something is meat when it isn't.

Growing demand for meat-free products

There has been a boom in demand for meat-free alternatives across the globe in recent times, partly driven by a huge shift towards veganism this year alone.

According to Mintel, UK sales of meat-free foods increased by 22% between 2013 and 2018. Kantar Worldpanel states that the UK market for meat-free is currently between £250 million and £300 million a year, with research suggesting worldwide demand may have grown 8.4 per cent between 2015 and 2020.

Based on supermarket sales, Britain consumed more than 150 million more meat-free dinners in 2018 than in 2017, with two-thirds of consumers now buying 'free-from' products. One in six food products launched in the UK in 2018 had a vegan or ‘no animal’ ingredients claim.

Today, one per cent of households include a vegan, five per cent have a vegetarian and ten per cent have flexitarians.

Many are motivated by health concerns, ethics and the rising cost of meat, but others are tempted by ease of use and the ability to save time in preparation.

It isn't just vegetarians and vegans, though, as the biggest share of meat alternatives actually comes from 'carnivores' simply seeking to reduce as opposed to eliminate their meat intake. These consumers are known as ‘flexitarians’ and their motivations to reduce meat or dairy consumption are driven by health, environmental and ethical reasons.

In many countries, some of the biggest producers of meat-free products are meat processors because they want to keep up with demand, but also because consumers tend to want products that are more like meat, not less.

Could meaty labels be helpful?

Although some seem offended by meat-style labels for meat-free products, there is an argument that it is actually helpful. Writing in The Conversation, researcher Malte Rodl from the University of Manchester reported that descriptive terms such as 'steak' helped brands to create expectations about the smell, taste and texture of products for consumers.

Similarly, food blogger Kathy Patalsky told The Alternative that meaty names can help consumers understand what to do with products, particularly if they are new or the people themselves are new to meat-free.

"Most mainstream home-chefs wouldn't know what to do with a soy-grain-pea patty or quinoa nugget. But they sure know what to do with crispy tenders and beefless tips," she pointed out.

Whether meaty names are helpful or not for consumers is clearly going to be a key concern for food companies going forward, particularly as attitudes change and new generations show different opinions than their predecessors.

It remains to be seen if legislation will be necessary to govern this.

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