The overpowering plant-based narrative is clearly helping lentils, chickpeas and soya win the proteins wars.
With the publication of the new food guide, Canada has officially ended its state-endorsed fascination for animal proteins, which had lasted more than 70 years. Let’s face it, the change was necessary. The guide is now more urban and has democratized the notion of protein consumption.
So, it seems now that vegetable proteins are more popular than ever. In fact, reports suggest parts of the country are currently experiencing tofu shortages.
With New Year’s resolutions, it’s not uncommon to see an increase in tofu sales early in the year, but retail sales for soya-based products this year will likely exceed $140 million nationwide, an increase of more than 20 per cent, according to some estimates.
Two Canadian tofu manufacturers are planning to double their production within the next six months, so plant-based conversions are real and well underway.
With vegetable proteins becoming more popular, many in the livestock and dairy sectors are feeling uncomfortable due to the rise of “vegan” butchers, fake “meats,” “vegan” cheese, and other such terms used loosely in the food industry.
Similar to the concept of cultural appropriation, this borrowing of meat and dairy terminology is being labelled food category appropriation. But stakeholders in the livestock and dairy sectors are not staying idle; they’re fighting back.
More than five months after Missouri became the first American state to regulate the term “meat” on product labels, Nebraska is poised to be next, pushing for similar protection from veggie burgers, tofu dogs and other items that consumers may see as equal protein alternatives. The ruling falls within a trend of challenging how meat substitutes are marketed. Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming are also contemplating doing the same thing.
Over in Europe, things are shifting as well. France has also adopted a law similar to Missouri’s, which claims to protect consumers by doing away with misleading labels.
Establishing clear, official definitions for meat, or a butcher, or a dairy product has become a critical issue for the animal-protein folks. And they have little choice but to strike back and defend their market territory.
In Canada, the number of dairy-product complaints increased to 415 in 2018 from 294 in 2014, an increase of 41 per cent. Blue Heron, a small vegan cheese shop in the Vancouver area, recently received one of these complaints.
Strong regulations are already in place in Canada. Since Jan. 15 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency now has the power to revoke licenses, recall products and issue fines of up to $250,000. Yet, interpretations can vary. Quebec, which often follows France’s lead on anything related to protected designation of origin, could be the first to act. It would not be surprising to see both the meat and dairy industries accusing the vegan movement of food appropriation of a sort. Other provinces could follow suit, including dairy-friendly Ontario and Western Canada where the beef sector is influential. But it won’t be easy to protect product names or designations.
For one thing, many major players in agrifood, originally devoted solely to meat processing, have already hedged against animal proteins. Maple Leaf Foods is a prime example of a company trying to diversify its protein portfolio. The Toronto-based giant has now invested in plant-based and even insect proteins over the past few years. Companies like these have already converted and are moving on from the stubborn determination to protect meat at any cost.
Secondly, the non-meat market is attracting people who like meat, not just vegetarians and vegans. Out of pure curiosity on the part of some consumers, the market for these products is much broader now. As for dairy, the lactose-intolerant crowd is getting larger, and will want these products, one way or another.
To appease the dairy sector, vegan product makers are using designations like “cheeze”, subtly altering the name of the food product. Still, itwouldn’t be surprising if provinces were to pressure Ottawa to commit to a regulatory process soon. But non-subjective regulations are already in place.
Because veganism has now become socially normalized, marketing strategies for vegan products are starting to use mainstream practices. Vegan cheese brand Violife in the U.K. has just launched its first television campaign for its dairy-free cheese. It’s one of the first vegan ads to appear on mainstream television.
Major restaurant chains like Papa John’s are now openly offering vegan cheese as an option to customers. Domino’s Pizza is selling vegan pizzas in many parts of the world. On the West Coast, Berkeley, Calif. has become the first jurisdiction in the United States to establish meat-free Mondays. This new initiative requires vegan-only food to be served at official events once a week.
So, the meatless trend is everywhere and almost daily, news reports point to cases of companies or governments trying to deal with this massive rise in consumption of alternative proteins. The pressure is real and will not be going away anytime soon. Nonetheless, a case for actual “food appropriation” remains to be proven.