A Meat Alternative Backlash?

Veggie burgers have been on offer in both groceries and quick serve restaurants for years, but 2019 saw the meteoric rise of the “meat alternative” sub-category. Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger and Lightlife launched products that mimicked the texture, moisture and taste of meat. These meat alternatives were touted as both tasty, healthy and good for the environment.

The result: consumer interest exploded and QSRs from Tim Hortons to A&W were quick to add the products to their menu and promote them via intensive advertising campaigns. Restaurants couldn’t keep up with the initial consumer demand.

However, recent media coverage has revealed the high fat, high sodium and genetically modified ingredients in some meat alternatives. McDonald’s new Beyond Meat burger, currently being trialed in 28 Ontario restaurants, has calorie, fat, carbohydrates and sodium levels that are similar to their Quarter Pounder. The health benefits of meat alternatives are questionable at best.

As a result, enthusiasm for meatless meat may be waning. Due to declining consumer interest, Tim Hortons recently removed its Beyond Meat burger from the menu in all restaurants and now only offers the Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich in Ontario and British Columbia.

Will the waning enthusiasm for meat alternatives impact other natural health brands? When the hype around a natural food product – especially one as high profile as meat alternatives – turns out to be too good to be true, will it erode consumer confidence in the category in general?

How can natural health brands safeguard their brand and maintain consumer confidence and trust? One key is to avoid overselling and over-promising. There may be health benefits to your product, but be transparent and clear about the extent of those benefits. Be very specific, and don’t use vague catch-all terminology – “healthy” or “good for you”, for example – that can be misconstrued by consumers.

Honesty and clarity in your brand messaging will go a long way to building lasting consumer trust.

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