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the beyond burger in front of its packaging

Meatless Burger Labels: Soon with Less Meat

Steve Heisler

the beyond burger in front of its packaging

Representatives from the meat industry are going after companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to restrict the language they can use on their packaging

In 2019, the meat market has seen the growth of serious competition from plant-based products. The Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, two of the more popular meatless alternatives to traditional beef patties, have enjoyed significant returns. The stock of Beyond Meat, the company behind the Beyond Burger, rose 708% in a little over a month, from $25 a share to $201.88 after its initial IPO offering in May—around the same time Impossible raised $300 million in additional funding.

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But the success of both products might be hindered by legislation and lawsuits introduced over the past six months. According to a new piece in Bon Appétit, the meat industry in Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana are is battling the plant-based meat-substitute manufacturers over what to call their products. They argue that using the term “meat” in any way, including related terms such as “burger” or “sausage,” will confuse consumers and lead them to purchase the wrong products.

Representatives from plant-based food companies think this is absurd. Miyoki Schinner, founder of a vegan cheese manufacturer, tells Bon Appétit that “If we don’t use familiar terminology, people won’t know what they’re looking for or what they’re buying at the store. We’re now at a point where we are questioning the impact of food on our health, the environment and animals, but people are used to eating a particular way. If we don’t provide foods that they’re familiar with, that they can do a one-to-one swap within their culinary applications, they’re not going to switch.”

This is certainly true for the Impossible Whopper, recently rolled out at Burger King locations across the country. The sandwich contains all the same ingredients as a traditional Whopper except for the patty. Even the calorie count is almost the same: 630 for the Impossible Whopper versus the original’s 660. To Schinner’s point, consumers must understand that the Impossible Whopper is an easy substitute for a hamburger patty, and any additional mental gymnastics would hinder its adoption.

Aside from making it more difficult to woo consumers in the long-term, these laws threaten to force plant-based companies to spend more almost immediately in updating their branding materials. Tofurky, which produces a tofu-based turkey substitute, would have to set aside roughly $1 million to redo packaging alone.

It remains to be seen how impactful these laws will be on a national scale, but for the time being you can find the Impossible Whopper under Burger King’s “burgers” section of its menu.

Steve Heisler is staff writer at the American Marketing Association. His work can be found in Rolling Stone, GQ, The A.V. Club and Chicago Sun-Times. He may be reached at sheisler@ama.org.