France pauses ban on ‘meaty’ labels for plant-based products
The French Conseil d’État (Council of State) has agreed to delay the adoption of its ban preventing plant-based products made and sold within the country from using typically ‘meaty’ words in their name.
Earlier this month, France’s government published a decree stating that from 1 October, terminology such as ‘steak’, ‘sausage’ and ‘bacon’ were not to be used by plant-based products.
Following a petition from plant-based and alternative protein association Protéines France, the country’s highest administrative court has granted a reprieve from the incoming law.
Protéines France, which includes high profile companies like Ÿnsect and Nestlé, argued that there was simply not enough time for plant-based food companies and products to make the changes required to their branding and marketing.
Guillaume Hannotin, Lawyer for the group, told Le Monde: “The Council of State has accepted our plea based on the impossibility for vegetable foodstuffs to leave the lexical field which comes close or far from meat.”
France is the latest country to ban plant-based products from using ‘meaty’ labels
Plant-based products sold in France will soon have to undergo a label-change, following a new official ordinance which bans the use of words like “steak” and “sausage”.
According to the decree, from 1 October “it will not be possible to use sector-specific terminology traditionally associated with meat and fish to designate products that do not belong to the animal world and which, in essence, are not comparable”.
In the first instance, the new rule will only apply to products made and sold in France. However, some farming and meat industry groups like the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles [National Federation of Farmers’ Unions] hope it will eventually be extended to the rest of the EU.
The bloc has been considering the issue for several years and terms like “milk”, “butter” and “cheese” were already banned by the European Court of Justice in 2017.
France is only the latest country to take issue with plant-based brands adopting traditionally “meaty” names for their products.
South Africa ruled with immediate effect last month that meat-related terms must be removed from plant-based product packaging. Manufacturers who do not cooperate risk being banned from selling their products completely.
The decision in both countries has drawn criticism from plant-based brands, not least because of the justification that animal-free products using these labels could confuse consumers.
Andy Shovel, Co-Founder of THIS, told Food Matters Live: “The only people confused in this are the people passing these laws. It’s patronising to consumers to suggest they need clarity on a plant-based sausage being plant-based and the only way to do this is to not let them see the term sausage.”
Plant-based companies utilise meat-associated names for their products mainly as a means of describing what consumers can expect from them.
As Costas Michalia, Marketer and Group Strategic Director at marketing and creative agency Fiora, tells Food Matters Live: “It’s a lot easier to say ‘plant-based chicken nuggets’ than ‘plant-based nugget shapes that are reflective of the taste profile of chicken’.”
Fara Darvill, Growth Director at branding studio Design By Structure, adds: “It is understandable that new brands launching into the market will use terminology that consumers are familiar with to encourage a trial purchase.
“Purchase behaviour is hard to disrupt, it’s ingrained and to make someone try something new or different is a difficult task, especially when you are asking people to move category – from meat to plant-based.”
Without this linguistic shorthand, just how plant-based brands will navigate their marketing and branding in these countries remains to be seen.
While it might be a struggle for some brands, Managing Director of design and branding studio Robot Food, David Timothy, says there could be a hidden blessing in plant-based brands being made to distance themselves from meat.
“Plant-based brands don’t need to win over the veggies and the vegans – they’re already on side,” he explains. “The real opportunity for growth is within the mainstream market, targeting the environmental and health conscious meat eaters and flexitarians who are looking to make a positive change.
“Typically the ‘meat substitute’ approach has been the easiest way to connect with this audience. And ‘meaty names’ have worked well as a shortcut to communicate that ‘direct swap’ and gain mainstream acceptance. But as the market has become more saturated, this approach has started to seem lazy and disingenuous. So the real challenge brands face is how they can creatively communicate their proposition and change behaviour in a way that’s ownable to them.”
Whatever route brands in these countries go down in the future, THIS’s Andy Shovel says ultimately it is a shame so many governments are acting in a way that seemingly discourages the uptake of plant-based products. “The demand for plant-based products will continue to grow in these countries, whether the meat lobbies like it or not,” he says. “And it’s a shame we’re seeing more examples of governments ignoring how meat-alternatives could support their own environmental and health policies.”