UNITED KINGDOM, Crawley. New research has revealed fresh insights in the debate about the naming of vegetarian products. Here Steve Harman, Account Director at Ingredient Communications, explores what it means for food ingredient companies.
The UK isn’t the only place where vegetarian or vegan products with meat or dairy-related names are the subject of controversy. Elsewhere, they’re being banned. In 2017, the European Court of Justice prohibited the use of names such as milk, butter and cheese for non-dairy products. Last year, France passed legislation preventing vegetarian products from being labelled in the same way as traditional animal products. And in the US, companies in Missouri are now banned from “misrepresenting a product as meat” if it doesn’t come from livestock or poultry.
Much of this is being driven by a meat industry backlash the against the huge growth in popularity of plant-based diets. The politician who proposed the French ban is a former cattle farmer and the Missouri law was supported by the state’s Cattlemen’s Association.
Ingredient Communications, with help from expert pollsters Surveygoo, set out to explore attitudes to the naming of meat-free products. They surveyed nearly 1,000 people (499 in the UK and 484 in the US), including vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and meat-eaters. Across all groups, 25% of respondents said manufacturers of vegetarian products should not be permitted to use meat-related names like sausage, burger or steak.
Vegetarians were the least likely to disapprove of meat-related names, with only 18% supporting a ban. However, vegans had a very different perspective. They were even more likely than meat-eaters to oppose meat-free products using meat-related names, with one in three supporting a ban. They were also the group least likely to buy a meat-free product if it was labelled with a word such as sausage, burger or steak. Many vegans are more passionately anti-meat than vegetarians – to the point that they reject products that look or taste like it.
What is the bottom line of the whole study? Perhaps it’s that companies should never forget that there’s always a political aspect to food ― everything they make will end up in a product that, in some small way, will define someone’s identity. That could mean companies are never far away from a PR controversy.