Home » Are consumers confused by ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based food?

Are consumers confused by ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based food?

We investigate whether consumers are actually confused by ‘meaty’ product names

The increasing demand for meat and dairy alternatives has transformed the landscape of supermarket shelves. From burgers and sausages made from meat-free proteins, to dairy-free cheeses and plant-based drinks, consumers are now offered a wide variety of options, catering to their demand for more sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Although these products have been fulfilling the needs of many consumers for years, the animal-based meat and dairy industries have raised concerns. Some representatives within these industries argue that consumers cannot tell the difference between animal-based meat and plant-based meat, when products share similar names. This then poses the question: are consumers confused when plant-based products are labeled using terms traditionally associated with animal-based meat or dairy products? 

Are consumers really confused?

Several case studies, surveys, and consumer reports have revealed overwhelming support for the continued use of everyday language, such as ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ for plant-based alternatives. A survey conducted by the European Consumer Organization states that most consumers do not appear ‘particularly concerned’ about how the products are named or if they are called ‘burgers’ or ‘sausages’ – as long as the products are clearly identifiable as vegetarian/vegan.1 

The survey further reveals that only one in five consumers think the use of ‘meaty’ names should never be allowed on vegetarian/vegan products. Meanwhile, 42.4% of respondents (out of 11,000 participants in 11 countries) believe these names should be permitted – provided that the products are clearly labeled as vegetarian/vegan.

Are consumers confused by ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based food?
LikeMeat’s product packaging features ‘meaty’ terms, giving a strong sense of taste, texture, and utility. Additional words, labels and product certifications ensure that there is no room for consumer confusion. Source: Unsplash/LikeMaet.

Research by Jareb Gleckel in the Journal of Animal and Environmental Law indicates that consumers are not confused about terms historically associated with meat products when used for plant-based alternatives.2 In fact, this confusion is reduced. According to Gleckel, these terms became a helpful guide for consumers to imagine the products’ taste and understand its purpose. 

It is clear from this study that terms such as burger or sausage do not confuse consumers but serve as a reference, providing consumers with expectations regarding taste, texture, preparation, and appearance of plant-based meat products. 

Another study by ProVeg International supports these findings, demonstrating that just 3.6% of consumers who chose plant-based nuggets over their meat-based counterparts did so mistakenly.3 This suggests that labeling plant-based products with familiar terms like ‘nuggets’ does not generally confuse consumers. Instead, it indicates that consumers are well aware of the choices they make and are drawn to plant-based options for their comparable taste experiences and functions.

If consumers are not confused, why are we still talking about it?

In a landmark decision in 2020, the EU dismissed an effort to prohibit the use of terms like ‘burger’ or ‘steak’ for plant-based products. More recently, the French Supreme Court ruled that consumers do not find these terms confusing, and France suspended a Decree that aimed to ban plant-based products from using meaty names. The Belgian government has also abandoned plans to limit labeling of plant-based alternatives. In addition, the Johannesburg High Court in South Africa recently overturned a decision to remove plant-based meat alternatives from supermarket shelves.

Are consumers confused by ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based food?
Source: Pexels/Jack Sparrow.

Despite overwhelming evidence that consumers are not confused, attempts to restrict the use of ‘meaty’ terms for plant-based products continue to persist.

For the meat and dairy industries, use of these terms by plant-based companies poses a potential threat: 

  • These products may pique consumer interest and also satisfy the growing demand for more sustainable products.
  • Plant-based products using ‘meaty’ terms have a huge potential to chip away at their market share and consumer loyalty. 
  • The rise in demand for more sustainable options may additionally put pressure on the meat and dairy industries to improve their sustainability commitments and initiatives.

However, banning the use of ‘meaty’ terms for plant-based products would adversely affect consumer understanding and acceptance of plant-based alternatives, which would hinder the growth of the plant-based industry and have implications within the food industry as a whole.

Embracing a level playing field for both animal-based and plant-based companies could foster healthier competition and encourage innovation and excellence, ultimately benefitting the consumer – and businesses.

What does ProVeg recommend?

Actionable insights for your business:

  • In light of these findings, it is essential for plant-based companies to seek guidance on denominations and labeling practices to ensure clarity and compliance with existing regulations in their local jurisdictions. You can reach out to our ProVeg team who can help companies navigate these complexities and effectively communicate with consumers while adhering to regulatory standards.
  • You must promote transparency and facilitate informed consumer choices by advocating for the use of traditional food terms by plant-based companies. By championing a level playing field in the food industry, stakeholders can foster a more inclusive and diverse marketplace that caters to the evolving preferences of consumers.

As evidence suggests, most consumers are not confused by ‘meaty’ terms on plant-based alternatives. Rather than hindering innovation, embracing familiar language can enhance transparency and accessibility within the food industry. 

By working together to address challenges and promote consumer education, we can pave the way for a more sustainable and equitable future of food.

For more support on your alternative protein strategy, feel free to contact our experts at [email protected].


  1. One bite at a time: Consumers and the transition to sustainable food: Analysis of a survey of European consumers on attitudes towards sustainable food. Available at: https://www.beuc.eu/sites/default/files/publications/beuc-x-2020-042_consumers_and_the_transition_to_sustainable_food.pdf. Accessed 2024-03-27.
  2. [Study to be published soon] Are Consumers Really Confused by Plant-Based Food Labels? An Empirical Study. Available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3727710/. Accessed 2024.03.27.
  3. Plant-based labeling: How common labeling language impacts consumer perception of plant-based products. Available at https://proveg.org/report/plant-based-labelling-report/. Accessed 2024.03.27.

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