Have you noticed that the food industry’s “Old Guard” – meat, milk and wheat products – have been taking a good bashing in recent years? Swathes of consumers eschew these nutritional staples because of: perceived food intolerances (e.g. gluten, lactose); health worries (e.g. cancer-causing warnings from WHO on, in particular, cured meats); concerns about the environment (e.g. methane accelerating global warming, destruction of the Brazilian rain forests for soy and cattle production, “excessive” water use to produce beef); and animal welfare concerns. Are these worries just “Scotch Mist” – self-indulgent musings of the chattering classes? They’re more than that to the red meat, dairy and baking industries as, in each case, consumer concerns have been translated into eating less of the “classics”, namely red meat, milk and white bread:
- Red meat consumption per capita in many higher income countries is static at best and declining in most;
- Dairy product consumption is under pressure in rich countries – in the UK, the only real growth category in the retail dairy department is in “Non-Dairy Dairy”!;
- Wheat flour has been in free fall in Western countries – down by 10% per capita in the USA in the last 8 year period.
Ironically, however, the reverse is happening in fast-growing, lower income countries where meat, dairy and wheat flour consumption is burgeoning. Plaudits are due to a dynamic global market place and a certain circularity is evident in global food trends – as we embrace Ancient Grains (e.g. quinoa, chia, millet, tef), emerging country consumers discard them for wheat and rice; and plant-based protein is on-trend with rich consumers just as lower income Asian country folk trim vegetable intake and plump for more meat and dairy protein.
But, here’s a peculiar thing, the purveyors of alternatives to meat and milk are reluctant to stray far from the imagery associated with the “Real Thing”:
- First, Quorn which has enough cheek for another row of teeth proudly asserting on its packages “Chicken Fillets” and “Swedish Style Meat Balls”, followed in smaller and fainter type by “meat free”! So, Quorn isn’t meat but looks like meat and is sold slap bang in the chilled meat cabinet. We’re amazed that the Quorn guys haven’t been hounded mercilessly by the global meat industry for misleading consumers.
- Impossible Foods with its “Impossible Cheeseburger” and Beyond Meat with its “Plant-Based Burger Patties” are darlings of the media and are intent on redefining what consumers think of as meat – but, still, they mimic the real meat products that they criticise so roundly!
- Then, there’s Rebel Kitchen and its “Mylks”. This is a Millennial start-up company that thumbs its nose at “Big Food” and advises its customers that their approach is “Simple & Right, Big on Ethics, Bold on Taste, and No Preaching!
- And, Pret a Manger who “milk” the coconut theme with its Coconut Flat White Coffee and the strap line Moo Moo – the only link with mammals that coconuts have is when they are used to mimic the clopping of horses (as in Monty Python’s Holy Grail film).
- But where does one draw the line? Hampton Creek’s just MAYO from the USA is, essentially, mayonnaise without any egg ingredients, notwithstanding that mayonnaise is defined as a food product. containing egg yolks. A principal ingredient in just MAYO is pea protein. Is this pulling the wool over mayo consumers’ eyes? Unilever thought so and set out to sue just MAYO, largely driven by the desire to protect its Global Number 1 mayonnaise brand Hellmann’s. But, in 2016, the suit was withdrawn and Hellmann’s launched its own egg-free mayonnaise version!
- Campbell’s (of Warhol soup can fame) through its Bolthouse Farms subsidiary have launched MAIO, an eggless mayonnaise lookalike based on creamy yoghurt. Good for dairy bad for eggs!
What do you think: is it cheeky, naughty, or downright illegal to call something that isn’t meat meat, or isn’t milk mylk, or isn’t egg-based mayonnaise MAYO or MAIO? Or are we just causing a kerfuffle?! We’re not calling for more regulation/legislation – there should be plenty on the books already. It’s more about fairness to the producers of classic wholesome foods, like meat and eggs, who appear to be on the back foot at the moment. And here’s a very serious point – are the nutritional attributes of the New Age food products in the same league as the classics? The National Osteoporosis Society of the UK don’t think so. A recent survey indicates that 20% of under 25’s are cutting out or reducing dairy products in their diets, and 70% of 18-35 year olds are dieting and concerned about their dairy intake. Let’s hope the result isn’t spindly-legged, faddish diet-obsessed consumers with rickets.