Plant Protein Alternative Comparisons Go Awry

Over the past several months, many headlines have given attention to processed plant protein entering the marketplace. Let’s get one thing straight, black bean burgers have been on restaurant menus for a very long time. This isn’t something new. But this time, the latest iteration showed up with a bigger marketing budget.

The Impossible Burger has been introduced at Burger King and had difficulty keeping a consistent supply manufactured. Beyond Burger had its IPO rise sharply, but is facing doubt as investors take a closer look as the competition comes to play.

Opposition to plant protein

Arbys Meat Carrot Processed Plant Protein
Arby’s Meat Carrot made from turkey

Taco Bell says they’re not having it – they’ve always had custom options for vegetarians with their bean burrito a top menu item. And over there is Arby’s making a mockery with a meat carrot. They have the meats!

We have agriculture advocates over here cheering for every negative headline that is released casting doubt or negativity on the alternatives. We’ve even gone to the point of comparing processed plant patties to dog food. This is where I roll my eyes.

Yeah, sure this might make a clickable headline, but comparing a plant protein patty ingredients to dog food isn’t a very good look on us.

processed plant burger dog food comparison
Comparing plant burger ingredients to dog food via @GHGguru. Spoiler: Second option is the dog food ingredient list.

Standing ground on protein options

Plant proteins have been on the market for a long time. These new alternatives are an option. Despite the headlines, marketing pushes, and initial interest, they still remain an alternative. You won’t see America suddenly replacing steaks, brats, and burgers with plant protein patties on their grills this Independence Day.

Yes, we need to stand our ground on labeling and hold them to the fire to keep marking claims honest and transparent. A protein patty shouldn’t be called a burger. But mocking them only fuels their rhetoric and gives them more attention.

Agriculture is a diverse system where livestock and plant operations are interdependent upon each other. No matter how hard we (or marketers try to persuade us otherwise), both will need to coexist to remain sustainable.

And maybe initially offering a plant option in a burger restaurant ends up selling more beef. If that one family member who chooses not to eat beef now has an option, the whole family can go get their burgers when they avoided them before.

Advice for responding to alternatives

For advocates who want to join the conversation, I have the same advice as I’d have for conversations on niche beef vs conventional products.

Stand on the merits of your own product. Don’t bash the alternative. Don’t give your detractor more attention. Do not give them more credibility. When you share their message, you amplify it for them.

If you can’t market your product well based on its own positive attributes, you might need to go back to the drawing board.

Beef has plenty of great attributes that we can focus on. Let’s talk about its nutrient composition, offering an excellent natural complete protein. Talk about how a serving of beef provides a good/excellent source of 10 essential nutrients for less than 10% of your daily caloric needs.

Let’s show how beef offers an awesome eating experience this grilling season as we pair it up with some amazing corn on the cob and vegetables on the plate this summer. If it’s fat people are concerned about, let’s discuss how beef has more than 40 lean cut options and how science shows those can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

When we show we can be inclusive, rather than excluding, we can be better than them. Show how you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, not placing fear with pressure to exclude certain food groups.

If we can’t stop fanning the flames and feeding the rhetoric, we’ll keep falling down a slippery slope.

So, go out there and celebrate this summer around the grill like you always have. Show how your plate is a balance of meats and vegetables. Let people try an alternative if they like, and open your door as an invitation to have a conversation when someone has questions or concerns.

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