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Does anyone really think Tofurky is meat?

Does anyone really think Tofurky is meat?
[Photo: courtesy of Tofurky]

Plant-based substitutes for animal products have rapidly grown in popularity, but the sector still has a few challenges to overcome–including their category definition. Last month, the FDA took aim at nut-based dairy alternatives, with commissioner Scott Gottlieb questioning whether they have the right to use the term “milk.” Now, vegan “meat” is under attack.

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On Monday, Tofurky–i.e., the grandfather of this whole craze–filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri in an attempt to keep describing its products as meat. A new state law, which goes into effect Tuesday, prohibits food companies from labeling products as “meat” or using terms like “sausage”  if they’re not from harvested livestock or poultry.

The Oregon-based company stresses that it in no way misrepresents its products’ ingredients, which the new Missouri law claims such terminology potentially does. (Does anyone in their right mind pick up a Tofurky link and actually think it’s meat?) Tofurky would, in essence, need to change all of its packaging, labels, and marketing.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which supported the statute, said it’s not terribly concerned with plant-based companies such as Tofurky. It takes bigger issue with newer science attempting lab-grown meat, which it believes needs to be disclosed to the consumers once available. According to an Israeli startup called Future Meat Technologies, which just got a large investment from meat giant Tyson Food, that reality isn’t too far away; “clean meat” produced from animal cells may be in restaurants by the end of 2018.

Tofurky CEO, Jaime Athos [Photo: courtesy of Tofurky]
Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos filed the suit along with several other disgruntled parties, including the Good Food Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, and Animal Legal Defense Fund. The coalition hopes to overturn the law, which they say threatens the rights of the entire plant-based industry.

“We feel this law is unnecessary, assumes lack of consumer sophistication, and intends to slow the growth and accessibility of plant-based proteins,” Athos said in a statement provided to Fast Company. “Demand for plant-based proteins has sky-rocketed domestically and abroad. As brands and products enter the market, we must assure a level playing field for all manufacturers, to allow consumers to clarify their preferences, by way of purchase intent each week.”

Beefing up

Nielsen reports that plant-based sales account for 20% of food and beverage dollars spent by Americans, with beef alternatives making up 44% of that. Impossible Foods (which produces Impossible Burgers) is amping up for increased demand: The brand’s Oakland facility will soon produce 500,000 pounds of “meat” each month to satisfy demand from the 3,000-plus restaurants it now serves. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, just built an impressive food lab to create new faux-meat creations.

As for Tofurky–which will soon celebrate selling 5 million roasts–they’re happy to take on this battle on behalf of their vegan brethren.

“As a founder in our category, I feel it’s vital to champion the rights of our entire industry and stand-up for our market position,” said Athos. “Using our privately held position to extinguish threats to legal definitions of terms like ‘meat,’ is one way we can further our mission to help reduce global dependence on animal agriculture; therefore, improving environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and human health.”

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