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NCBA Survey Reveals Widespread Confusion Among Consumers About Plant-Based Fake Meat

A recent online survey by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) revealed that when it comes to the ingredients and implied benefits of plant-based fake meat products, there is widespread confusion among consumers.

Less than half of the more than 1,800 consumers surveyed understood that the term “plant-based beef” was meant to describe an entirely vegetarian or vegan food product. In fact, approximately one third of the respondents believed that these products contained at least some real beef.

When consumers were asked to evaluate some of the leading plant-based fake beef products labels and marketing materials on the market today, the responses revealed some surprising results.

Nearly two thirds of respondents believed the fake meat products produced by Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and LightLife contained real beef or some form of animal by-product.

Also, 32% of consumers who were shown Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Burger” package, which features a cow icon, said they thought the patties contained at least small amounts of real meat. When shown a package of LightLife’s “Gimme Lean” – which highlights the word “beef” in a red box – 37% of consumers said the product contained at least some real beef. In reality, neither the Beyond Burger or LightLife products contain any real beef.

“The fact that so many consumers look at these labels and think the products include meat or other animal by-products is a clear sign that the misleading labeling and deceptive marketing practices of plant-based fake meat companies have caused real consumer confusion,” says NCBA President Jennifer Houston. “Many of these fake-meat products purposely use graphics and words that trade on beef’s good name, and it needs to stop immediately. Consumers rely on names and product packaging to inform their purchasing decisions, and they have a right to know this information is accurate and not misleading.”

The consumers’ responses were even more astonishing when they were asked to rank plant-based fake meat vs. beef on a variety of food attributes.

The survey showed 44% of consumers believed plant-based products were lower in sodium. However, the leading plant-based fake beef is 220% to 620% higher in sodium than the same size serving of real ground beef. Only 24% of respondents correctly identified beef as being lower in sodium.

While science has shown that beef is an unprocessed or minimally processed food, and plant-based fake meat products are classified as an ultra-processed food product, 34% of respondents believed the fake meat was less processed. Another 34% believed fake and real beef products were equal on the food processing scale. 

More broadly, more than half of consumers believed plant-based meat was a healthier option.

“This research is a wake-up call for our industry, the news media, and for federal regulators,” Houston says. “We in the beef industry need to do a better job educating consumers about the fact that beef is a nutrient-rich source of high-quality protein and essential nutrients that can play a key role in any healthy lifestyle. We also need reporters and regulators to understand how many consumers are confused or misinformed about exactly what’s in these new plant-based alternatives.”

The power to prevent this type of consumer confusion is in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the coming year, NCBA hopes to work with the FDA to end inappropriate use of the word beef on all nonmeat product labels. To see more detailed information about the survey, click here.

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