Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And nowhere is that more true than in the meat, fish, poultry and dairy sectors, where a host of plant-based and lab-grown alt-dairy and alt-meat brands have emerged. But it seems the various farming lobbies have not taken kindly to this flattery, and are hell-bent on crushing those who dare to mimic its products.
We’ve seen farmers on the Continent pursue this approach. But as we report this week, it’s happening here too: the dairy lobby has sought new guidance to ban use of the word milk, for example – even with qualifying descriptors, as in oat milk or almond milk. Brands that have got round this with names like Mylk and M*lk also look vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the AHDB has published research suggesting shoppers are confused, with 50% “agreeing” that meat-free products shouldn’t use words like steak, bacon, sausage or burger, or similar words to that effect, like chick’n.
But trying to stop faux-meat and alt-dairy from employing the linguistic references of the categories they seek to mimic and complement is silly and wrong-headed.
With so little evidence of consumers accidentally purchasing plant-based products, it’s a waste of time and taxpayer money for Trading Standards officers already struggling to check in-store HFSS regulations, on top of other health and safety issues.
And for sure there is merit in creating separate bays and displays for vegetarians, vegans and those with food allergies and food intolerances, of which there is an increasing number. But faux names are important in flagging usage too.
It’s also important suppliers and retailers have the freedom to cross-merchandise alt-meat and alt-dairy products in conventional category fixtures, however, to encourage trial and consumption for environmental, health and other reasons.
It’s also notable that meat and dairy brands like Richmond and Cathedral City are enjoying success by branching out into plant-based. Not all are successful, like Heck’s diversion into meat-free sausages. But there’s lots of legs still in plant-based. And as an industry we should not cut them off.