The EU voted on Friday against a ruling aimed to ban the use of words such as “burger” and “sausage” for plant-based products. Under the proposed law, words such as vegan burgers and vegan sausages would have had to be replaced by “vegan tubes” or “veggie discs.” These amendments were supposed to “prevent confusion” among consumers, the proposal said. A majority of EU lawmakers also voted on Friday for stricter rules on labelling of dairy substitutes, backing a ban on terms such as “milk-like” or “cheese-style” for plant-based products that contain no dairy ingredients.
I Thought This Was A Joke
“I’m glad lunacy has not prevailed on a potentially brainless ban on meat-related terms,” says Andy Shovel, cofounder of THIS, whose plant-based products are available in over 3,000 stores and restaurants in the U.K. since launching in June last year and is set to record revenue of £7 million in 2020. “When I first saw the proposed ban posted on my LinkedIn feed – I genuinely thought it was a joke, if the meat lobbyists are telling the truth, and consumers who get confused by the concept of ‘a plant-based sausage’ genuinely do exist – should they really be shopping unaccompanied?” Shovel wonders.
There Is No Butter In Peanut Butter
People opposing the controversial proposal argue consumers know what they are getting. The law “defied common sense,” says Jimmy Pierson, executive director at ProVeg, a leading international food awareness organization. “We all know full well that there is no butter in peanut butter and no cream in coconut cream, consumers know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase veggie burgers or veggie sausages. These proposals were purely about the protection of the meat and dairy industries,” he says.
Studies show consumers are “not confused by product names like veggie burgers or almond milk and understand the difference,” says impact investor Willem Blom of Plantbase, adding that laws like this are shifting our attention away from the real discussion which is “how are we going to make the European agriculture industry more sustainable? The adoption of plant-based products by European consumers plays a pivotal role in this transition,” Blom thinks.
In Europe, traditional consumption patterns are slowly shifting and meat and dairy consumption has reached its peak. According to an ING paper, retail sales of meat and dairy alternatives in Europe have grown by almost 10% per year between 2010 and 2020. However, it also shows that while the spotlight is definitely on plant-based products, the hard figures indicate that for the time being, meat and dairy remain the dominant protein source in Europe. The percentage of plant-based meat when compared to the total sales of protein products in Europe is still very small. According to ING, retail sales of meat alternatives will increase to €2.5 billion by 2025 while the market is set to increase to 1.3%.
Still Challenges Ahead
This law, if passed, would have imposed significant challenges even for the U.S. alternative-meat giants, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Impossible Foods, which is valued at more than $4 billion, is still facing a bumpy road ahead if it is to conquer the European market. Last year, it applied to start selling its plant-based burgers in the EU and its expected approval is still some way off. Impossible’s products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as soy protein and heme, a molecule that makes Impossible burgers “bleed” and taste like real meat. All products containing GMO under the EU law have to be approved.
Impossible Burgers contain heme, a genetically modified organism that makes Impossible burgers ″bleed″ and taste like real meat.
Impossible Burgers contain heme, a genetically modified organism that makes Impossible burgers “bleed” and taste like real meat. Impossible Foods
The rejection of the Friday proposal by EU lawmakers “preserves consumers’ ability to make choices based on transparency, facts, their own free will and what’s best for people and the planet. However, I’m sure this won’t be the last attempt by the livestock sector to hinder the competition” says Rachel Konrad Impossible Foods chief communications officer. Demand for Impossible products is increasing. In March, their flagship Impossible Burger was available in 150 U.S. grocery stores. Today it’s in more than 11,000 stores and it’s also rolling out in Asia.
Follow The Money
Investors seem to believe the volume of investment flooding into the plant-based food industry will only increase. “Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a huge increase in private equity and venture capital funds committing capital to the plant-based food scene. The growth of this industry is an unstoppable train,” says Matthew Glover Managing Director at Veg Capital, which provides early-stage capital to companies striving to replace the use of animals in the food system and is committed to giving all profits to charity.
“There’s a lot of room to grow and there are so many categories that will accelerate over the coming years, such as plant-based fish, eggs and cheese analogues,” Blom says. “With Plantbase we continue to invest in startups to fulfil these consumer needs. The plant-based food industry is a sustainable growth engine for European jobs that created new global unicorns such as Oatly,” Blom adds. It looks like the members of the European parliament think the same of the alternative-meat industry.
This story was first published for Forbes online here.