It’s not vegan, it’s “plant-based.” So will meat eaters take the bite?
As companies try to cater to customers interested in healthier eating, the term “plant-based” is replacing “vegan” and “vegetarian” on some foods. The worry is that the v-words might have unappetizing or polarizing associations.
Impossible Foods, which makes a meatless patty that’s supposed to taste like meat, even warns restaurants not to use those words when describing its burger on menus.
“For many people, their notion of a vegan is someone who’s wagging a finger at them if they eat any animal products. I’m vegan. But for a lot of people that term — it’s almost like a cult,” says Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods.
The trendier sounding “plant-based” may appeal to a broader market, since “vegan” or “vegetarian” could alienate those who don’t adhere strictly to those diets. “Plant-based” may also distance products from a perception of vegan and vegetarian food as bland.
Since “vegan” is used to convey what’s not in a product, it can be associated with deprivation, however,“plant-based,” has a more positive connotation because it explains what is in a food.
The terms vegan, vegetarian and plant-based are not specifically regulated. But vegetarian typically means meatless, while vegan means no animal ingredients at all, including milk or eggs.
When referring to a specific food or product, “plant-based” usually means the stricter vegan definition, though that may not always be clear. When referring to broader eating habits, it usually means a diet focused on vegetables but may also include meat or fish.
That lack of clarity is why the Plant-Based Foods Association plans to develop a definition for the term.
Most more established vegetarian brands continues to use “veggie” and “vegan” because those terms are understood by most people and help prevent confusion about whether ingredients such as eggs are used.
Nik Contis of the branding agency PS212 says the term “plant-based” might be more broadly appealing, but that some may see it as just a new term for an old concept.
“If there’s a person who is never going to eat a ‘veggie’ burger and you put a ‘plant-based’ burger in front of them, I don’t think they’re all of a sudden going to say, ‘Oh I’m going to eat that’,” he said.