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Plant-Based Food Feud: Faux-Meat Brands Start a Public Beef Over ‘Clean’ Ingredients

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Researchers cite taste, price and availability as top consumer drivers for making plant-based meat decisions, and do not view number of ingredients as a negative.

T. L. STANLEY: A sales boom has fanned the flames of plant-based meat competition. Since the pandemic hit in spring, sales have exploded — by as much as 454% some weeks — as consumers stocked their refrigerators for home cooking during lockdown. At the same time, some consumers said they turned away from animal protein as many U.S. slaughterhouses became Covid-19 hotspots and shutdowns caused meat shortages and price increases… The battle for flexitarian consumers isn’t just happening in supermarkets and restaurants. It’s reached the national media via a full-blown public feud involving several faux meat brands. Name-calling and clapbacks have ensued…

Lightlife set off the recent chain of events with an open letter derisively calling Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat “food tech” companies that “attempt to mimic meat at any cost.” Lightlife’s main gripe with its better-known competitors: They’re making frankenfood with lengthy lists of unrecognizable ingredients. “Enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMOs, unnecessary additives and fillers, and fake blood,” said the full-page ad, printed in The New York Times, USA Today and other publications and signed by Lightlife’s president Dan Curtin…

The brand’s letter specifically calls out Impossible’s use of “synthetically produced soy leghemoglobin,” known as “heme,” a defining characteristic that makes the brand’s burgers appear to bleed like beef products… Lightlife is owned by Maple Leaf Foods, based in Canada, with traditional meat brands like Schneiders, Swift and Prime in its portfolio, along with plant-based brands under the Greenleaf banner…

The Silicon Valley-based Impossible, no stranger to firing back at its critics, called the Lightlife letter “a disingenuous, desperate disinformation campaign” that used “a logic-defying concept with zero relevance to health or product quality.” Saying that consumers care about “taste, nutrition and sustainability,” the brand said that “heme” is a commonly used, FDA-approved ingredient. Impossible’s execs… compared the Lightlife attack to “meat-industry propaganda” that has been “financed by one of the largest animal agriculture companies in North America”…

Beyond Meat, one of 2019’s splashiest IPOs, defended itself against Lightlife’s claims with this statement: “If Lightlife took a look at our ingredients, they would see that our food is made from simple, plant-based ingredients. With no GMOs. No synthetic additives. No carcinogens. No hormones. No antibiotics. No cholesterol. Our foods are designed to have the same taste and texture as animal-based meat, giving more consumers more options that are better for them and the planet. We believe it’s the future of food”…

And after the initial flap, Planterra Foods waded into the fray. The company, a Colorado-based newcomer to the ultra-hot space, bought its own full-page ad in The New York Times last week to address the “attempted takedowns.” The letter, from CEO Darcey Macken, notes that plant-based meat has been around “for decades,” but salutes Impossible and Beyond as leaders who “shined a light on this space and helped elevate it to where it is today”…

Zak Weston, food service and supply chain manager at the Good Food Institute (GFI), finds the smackdown between faux meat players to be “counterproductive.” He said Lightlife has taken a page from big beef’s playbook in criticizing the processed nature of plant-based food. Consumers say they choose faux meat for health and environmental reasons, according to GFI research. But they consistently cite taste, price and availability as their top drivers when making buying decisions. They don’t list number of ingredients as a negative, he said. SOURCE…

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