According to The Good Food Institute, plant-based protein trumps vegan or vegetarian on food labels.
Credit: Photo: Beyond Meat

The U.S. News & World Report recently ranked two plant-forward diets—the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet—as the top diets of 2017, and choosing salad over steak has never felt more relevant.

Eating plant-based proteins—or meat-free alternatives to chicken, beef, and pork—seems trendier than ever, and Beyond Meat, a producer of plant-based burgers, chicken, and sausage, is a prime example of this. In grocery stores, you’ll likely find Beyond Meat’s products in the refrigerated section, alongside beef and chicken.  

Interestingly, a recent report estimated that 70% of Beyond Beef’s customers are also meat eaters. Given that the company’s revenue growth for 2017 was in the triple digits (mostly from its “Beyond Burger” patties), something about their strategy is clearly working.

Co-founder and executive director Bruce Friedrich of The Good Food Institute (GFI), a non-profit dedicated to creating a more sustainable food system through plant-based eating, offered a glimpse into the success of companies like Beyond Meat.

“Labeling a product ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ is taken to mean it’s only for vegans or vegetarians,” said Friedrich in a recent statement to FoodNavigator.

Instead, Friedrich believes the focus should be on the health benefits of the product. On behalf of the GFI, he recommended that companies avoid using the word “vegan” or “vegetarian” on food labels entirely.

As it turns out, Beyond Meat avoids using the term “vegan” on any of its products. In fact, you won’t even find the word in their mission statement. Additionally, a key part of the company’s marketing efforts focus on the health and environmental benefits of replacing animal protein with plant protein.

While some plant-based products, such as those from Beyond Meat, are labeled with a “v” to indicate they are vegan, Friedrich recommends removing this indication as well. He doesn’t worry about losing vegan shoppers—he believes they would find the products anyway.

“In terms of marketing, ‘plant-based protein’ seems to be the current consensus term for reaching non-vegetarians,” Friedrich stated. By turning the focus to “plant-based,” Friedrich believes companies and restaurants can appeal to a wider audience of health and environmentally-conscious shoppers.

A 2017 study by the London School of Economics further evidences the GFI’s recommendation. The study found the sales of vegetarian items on menus more than doubled when grouped with other meat options, as opposed to being in a category by themselves.

And it’s not just how plant-based foods are grouped on menus or sold in grocery stores—it’s also about the language used to market them. A recent study by Stanford University uncovered that vegetables with “indulgent labeling” led to more sales than those with plain labeling. Customers were much more likely to purchase “sweet, sizzlin’ green beans” than they were “basic green beans.” Coupled with the GFI’s recommendation, the study could prove useful for companies looking for ways to boost sales of plant-based food products.

So, what do we think about the GFI’s recommendation? It points to one very exciting trend—the way we talk about plant-based foods is changing, and an influx of plant-based proteins on the market is certainly a step in the right direction.

And whether it’s a plant-based burger patty or just a simple green salad, we fully support a plant-forward diet. It’s about eating more fiber, sticking to foods with “good” polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and getting more of your protein from plant-based sources. It also comes with a slew of environmental benefits, including reducing your carbon footprint. For those reasons, we think making an argument against plant-based foods of any kind is tough—even for the staunchest meat eater.