Does chicken by any other name taste like, well, chicken?
Consumers might just be asking themselves that question. A survey conducted by the National Chicken Council shows that one in five Americans have purchased meat, only to later discover they accidently purchased a plant-based product. About three quarters of those surveyed, including vegetarians and vegans, thought the term “meat” should only be used to describe animal products.
The debate over what to call plant-based and meat alternatives isn’t new. In the last couple years, the labeling issue was complicated by the introduction of cell-based meat products, an approach that uses animal cells to produce actual meat. The question is how marketers differentiate these products without using words that stigmatize them (ie. faux meat).
And for all the people who brushed these concerns aside, at least we now have data to suggest it is confusing.
NCC is using the survey results to support its request for clearer labeling requirements. It’s asked the FDA and USDA to publish better guidance on naming plant-based products. And it wants to see the federal agencies actually enforce labeling laws, including under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.
NCC’s survey also showed that the vast majority of shoppers prefer that these products are completely separate in the grocery store. Vegans and vegetarians responded most favorably to the suggestion, though that’s probably because they don’t want to see the actual meat.
I’m not sure the complete separation of meat, plant-based meat, and cell-based meat is warranted. But getting clear guidance from USDA and FDA on terminology, labels, and marketing would certainly be nice. Sometimes it can be tough to decipher the origin of certain products, unless a savvy customer is familiar with the brands selling the products (and other than food bloggers, who has time for that?).
As new products and types of meat alternatives are introduced into the marketplace, this debate isn’t ending any time soon.