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  • Writer's pictureBy The Financial District

"Plant-Based" Has Lost Its Meaning: Scribe

Meat alternatives cost more than their conventional counterparts and are made with complicated ingredients that raise doubts about their healthiness.

A survey from the Food Industry Association noted there is confusion about what the "plant-based" label presently means.

The popularity of those products has declined in recent years to such a degree that Beyond Meat is now in “survival mode,” as Yasmin Tayag wrote for The Atlantic.

On packaging and ad copy, plant-based has been applied to so many items—including foods that are highly processed or those that have never contained animal ingredients—that it has been “diluted to nothing,” Mark Lang, a marketing professor at the University of Tampa who studies food, said.

The Cornell University biochemist Thomas Colin Campbell is often credited for coining the term in the 1980s as a neutral, less fraught descriptor for diets considered “vegan” or “vegetarian.”

The Plant-Based Foods Association uses essentially the same criteria—foods made from plants that do not contain animal products—to determine which products can bear its “Certified Plant-Based Seal.”

All the news: Business man in suit and tie smiling and reading a newspaper near the financial district.

The label’s vagueness has been a marketer’s dream, creating an opportunity to capitalize on the healthiness of eating plant-based.

Brands use the “plant-based” label to “draw people’s attention to the goodness of a particular product” and “deflect attention” from less appealing attributes, Joe Árvai, a professor of psychology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, said.

Market & economy: Market economist in suit and tie reading reports and analysing charts in the office located in the financial district.

A survey from the Food Industry Association noted there is confusion about what the label means.

Some are now skeptical of the label. A 2023 study co-authored by Árvai said that people are less likely to go for foods described as “plant-based” (or “vegan”) compared to those called “healthy” or “sustainable.”

Health & lifestyle: Woman running and exercising over a bridge near the financial district.

One reason may be negative associations with plant-based meat alternatives, which are “artificial” because of their ultra-processed nature, co-author Patrycja Sleboda, an assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York, said.

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