Meaty names for vegetarian products

Is it forbidden to name a sausage without meat a sausage? The VVD party thinks so. A lot of fuss about nothing, thinks Hans van Trijp, professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at WUR.

Photo: Tessa Louwerens

The German minister of Agriculture wants to ban terms such as ‘vegetarian schnitsel and ‘vegan sausage’. The use of meaty-sounding names for vegetarian or vegan products is seen as misleading. The VVD party in the Netherlands agrees, and MPs Helma Lodders and Erik Ziengs have asked minister of Public health, welfare and sport Edith Schippers to discuss the issue with the manufacturers of meat substitutes.

Is the term ‘vegetarian schnitsel’ misleading?

‘I don’t know exactly what the legal position is. If the legislation says something clear about it, then I think it’s right to ask questions about it in parliament. But I doubt it. Consumers have a right to accurate and complete information, and it is possible that false expectations might be raised. I would think that’s unlikely, however, since supermarkets clearly separate the vegetarian versions from the non-vegetarian ones. I can hardly imagine that anyone would look in the pan at home and think, ‘Hey, this isn’t not meat!’ So I don’t think it’s misleading. If you buy artificial grass you realize it’s not plant matter too.’

Why do producers choose these names?

‘When a product is named, a noun indicates what the product is or does. Then an adjective is added to indicate what is distinctive about it. For example, a barbecue sausage is a sausage that barbecues well. In marketing terms we call this “categorization”. It determines whether you call something a ‘vegetarian schnitsel’ or a ‘schnitsel- like meat substitute’.

So, vegan sausage: yes or no?

‘I think the quality of the current generation of “plant-based meat substitutes” deserve to position themselves as genuine alternatives to animal protein sources. This is a contribution to the protein transition we need, and the name can help with that. So I am all in favour of vegetarian schnitsels and vegan sausages.’

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