Call it by its name: A plea to cherish the brave brands that accelerate the plant protein transition

It’s Dutch Food Week this week. This means all eyes are on (innovation) in the Dutch food sector for 7 days straight. One area where our global food sector is heading up against is the shift to a more plant-based diet. This shift is urgently needed to reach the climate goals we have set. Luckily, more and more brands take up the challenge to steer the transition, by enabling the mainstream consumer to switch their loved, known, products to more sustainable, also loved alternatives. Yet, while there is little time to lose when it comes to increase sustainable diets, somehow, we got stuck discussing the naming of these food products are allowed to have. I completely agree to provide consumers with more clarity and transparency, but it seems to me that we are losing focus on what really matters here.

Plant-based naming and labelling under pressure The plant-based food market is booming in Europe and predicted to grow further in the coming years. The market is expected to increase to 2.4bn euros in 2025, from 1.5bn euros in 2018.

On the 20th of October the European Parliament will vote on the proposed ban on the use of ‘meatish’ and ‘dairyish’ names for plant-based products. This could ban the widely accepted and commonly used terms, such as ‘veggie burger,’ or ‘plant-based steak’. This while a recent survey by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) demonstrates that EU consumers are overwhelmingly in favor of the use of meat-related terms for plant-based foods. The report shows that more than 68% of consumers support ‘meaty’ names for plant-based food products, as long as the products are transparently clearly labelled as plant-based or vegetarian. This because they then recognize the product they are looking for.

Brands respond bravely Just as bravely as plant-based brands are picking up the challenge to lead the protein transition, they are responding to this news. When Abbot Kinney’s received a letter that they should not label their product as word yoghurt, they quickly responded that they themselves don’t want to carry that label either. They stated:

“The name yoghurt does not suit us. As our yog does not hurt.  Because, we care about our environment, health, climate agreement, agricultural land, gut, animal welfare, rain forests and planet. So, we keep the yog, and skip the ‘hurt’.”

The Vegetarische Slager responded this week stating that products have all types of names that are not to be taken literally in general. Think ‘chicken fingers’ and the Dutch dish ‘Slavink’. Online people supported the brands’ message by sharing an Instagram message with ‘I am not confused’ and tagging the European Parliament.

What’s in a name: for better labeling let’s focus on health and sustainability. The thing about this discussion is that it focuses on providing clarity where consumers are not lacking any. Not the name of a product and where it is located in the supermarket isles is confusing for consumers, but what the product consists of, how and by whom it is made and what nutritional quality of food is. Much is happening here, with the Nutri-score for instance, but at a brand level there are more and endless opportunities to communicate better and more transparently on food products. I believe this is what we should all focus on. Not just for plant-based brands but all food brands in general.

My hope is that we can provide space for innovative brands to challenge the status quo and move away from having semantic discussions on the naming of products. I cannot help but think what would be next: alcohol free beer becomes a hop-drink? I hope we will focus on what really matters: providing consumers with transparent, healthy and sustainable food products. I would love to hear: what do you think?