The meat and dairy industry has used both state laws and advertising blitzes to burnish its reputation and whet consumer appetites for its products for decades, but who can buy headlines like those fawning over mock and fake meats? True, the average consumer is not and may never be a vegetarian, but the combination of health, environmental, and ethical concerns that first brought tofu to the dietary zeitgeist is prompting more of us to occasionally partake in protein alternatives. Appealing to state legislatures, the meat and dairy industry has also tried legal protections: food libel laws, bans on exposés of farms and meat plants, and prohibitions on alleged deceptive claims made by calling substitutes “meat” or “milk.”
But is this all enough? Nearly 250 years after Benjamin Franklin described tofu in a letter to an American botanist, market studies suggest that tofu and its fellow foods are poised to hold and grow their spots in physical and virtual shopping carts. And though most of us might steer clear of a product like Soylent, we’ll happily take a test bite of an Impossible Burger. In fact, many will be doing so at Carl’s Jr, White Castle, and now Burger King locations. If the new substitutes are as good as advertised, consumers may be willing to look “Beyond” ingredient names like “pea protein isolate.”
Proponents of the paleo diet aside, the meat and dairy industry will have to find ways to compete in a different marketplace. One-percent, two-percent, nonfat, lactose-free and whole milk will have to find ways to stay ahead of a seemingly endless list of plant milks. Meats will have to sound trendier than substitutes with zippy names like “Beyond” and “Impossible.” Beef, in particular, may have to find a way to allay environmental and health concerns of some consumers.
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