Meat Industry Pushing Back Against Plant-Based Alternatives

Unless this is your first rodeo, you knew it was coming.

“A food war is raging among cattle ranchers and dairy farmers who are demanding plant-based producers stop labeling their products as meat and milk as they compete with companies like Beyond MeatImpossible Foods and milk alternatives at supermarkets,” Jeanette Settembre writes for Fox Business.



“Sales of plant-based alternatives to meat have increased 8% since August of this year, while chicken, pork and beef sales stayed stagnant, according to Nielsen data as reported by The Wall Street Journal. And lobbying groups for beef producers are calling out some plant-based producers’ marketing tactics.”

They’re also going on the offensive.

“Trade groups representing meat and milk producers said Monday they are ramping up marketing to underscore the difference between their cattle-made products and new rivals made from soy, almonds and peas. Plant-based replacements make up just 1% of the U.S. meat market by volume, Nielsen said,” the WSJ’s Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge report.

“‘We want to be out there telling the truth,’ Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said at The Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum in New York.

“That association and other groups also want legal limits on the ability of plant-based producers to call their products milk or meat. This year 45 bills have been introduced in 27 states that seek to police the labeling of plant-based products and cell-cultured meats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,” Haddon and Bunge continue.

“Call it the backlash against the fast rise of meatless meat,” Kelsey Piper writes for Vox.

“For instance, the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle both criticized Beyond and Impossible products, calling them too highly processed. Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long called on Americans to eat less meat, criticized ‘the new higher-tech vegan meats’ for not addressing 'resource use and hyperprocessing' (though he has hailed them in the past). His website, Heated, has also given plant-based meats some favorable coverage,  but recently wrote nostalgically that ‘not so long ago … Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.’ Meanwhile, articles have questioned the health impacts of the products.”

And over on (614), Regina Fox taste-tests veggie varieties against the real thing in four of the more prominent burger joints in Columbus, Ohio.

She’s got the bona fides as an informed judge of both. “I raised Holstein dairy feeders growing up and fell in love with the cows and the process year after year. I worked hard to nourish, groom, and train them to be fit for show, but I worked harder to push the thought of them becoming steaks out of my mind. In hindsight, I realize I had an important job: to ethically and responsibly raise beef to be processed and consumed,” she writes. 

But now she’s an omnivore who is cognizant of “the importance of introducing plant-based proteins into our diets to safeguard the future of our planet.”

In short, Fox concludes that the plant-based varieties stack up quite well against their beef counterparts in all four establishments: Northstar, White Castle, Burger King and Third & Hollywood.

“The surge of fast food restaurants serving Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat is the kind of milestone that indicates it’s a long-term trend and not a fad; that plant-based meat alternatives are here to stay,” Rachel Cernansky writes for Supermarket News.

“Interestingly, dietary restrictions are not a top reason that people are trying these products -- nearly half of meat alternative buyers don’t have any household members avoiding meat, and only 30% have a vegetarian or vegan in the house. Instead, the key drivers are health and curiosity. Environmental and ethical concerns were also a factor, but more among vegans and vegetarians than the group as a whole.

“Word of mouth is crucial. About 40% of buyers heard about plant-based meats from friends or family, rather than from advertising. In-store experiences are the second-highest source for consumers, with 34% hearing about them through in-store displays or seeing it on the shelf,” Cernansky continues.

Word of tweet must factor in, too. For example:  “When I'm bored,” Philadelphia sports anchor @duciswild tells his 14.2K followers, “I like to go to Burger King and order that plant-based burger, with ‘no veggies and extra bacon’ to see if anyone catches the irony.”

They may, but one suspects that’s little comfort to the members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

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