Since April 22 Starbucks is serving, in its stores in China, prepackaged meals with plant-based meat ingredients.
In particular, we see five meals offered, two with plant-based “beef” by Beyond Meat (a pasta, a lasagna and a roll) and two with plant-based “Omnipork” by PLANT A FOODS HONG KONG LIMITED (a vietamese-style rice noodles, and a prepacked mixed vegetables salad, which also includes mushroom-taste Omnipork and a pasta).
Omnipork sub-ingredient lists count 16 items: water, concentrated soy protein, isolated soy protein, methyl cellulose, yeast extract, maltodextrin, potato starch, granulate sugar, edible salt, food flavorings, pea protein, rice protein, barley malt extract, beet red, edible dextrose, shiitake mushroom.
Beyond-Meat plant-based beef has a sub-ingredient list counting 18 items: water, pea protein isolate, rapeseed oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, flavors, cocoa butter, green pea protein, methyl cellulose, potato starch powder, apple juice, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, concentrated lemon juice, lecithin, pomegranate powder, beet juice powder.
Their selling point is – clearly – not cleal label, but the plant-based sourced ingredients and – possibly – the lower carbon footprint versus traditional meat.
Both Omnipork and Beyond-Meat plant-based beef are not sold as such, at Starbucks; they are ingredients in foods sold by Starbucks.
Therefore, they appear on the labels of these products:
- Omnipork is defined in the ingredient list as “新膳肉”, which can be translated as “New Meal Meat”. It also appears in the product name, i.e. “New Meal Meat mushroom grains bowl (salad)”.
新膳肉 is part of a trademark applied for registration in various classes in 2018 and 2019.
- Beyond-Meat plant-based beef is labeled as vegetable beef (“植物牛肉”).
Under Chinese labeling regulations:
- the name of a product shall be the name provided by national, trade or local standard;
In this regard, due to lack of specific regulation, we could not identify any specific standard (nor regulated definition) for 新膳肉 – New Meal Meat, as well as for 植物牛肉 – Vegetable beef.
- in the lack of any of the above, a common or usual name which is not misleading or confusing to the consumer shall be used.
“Vegetable beef” might be considered as complying with this requirement, as it seems to allow a consumer to understand the nature of the product. This is however more questionable for “New Meal Meat” (is it cultivated meat? is it meat from sustainable farms? Or is it a plant-based meat alternative？or is a new concept food?). Even more so, as “New Meal Meat” appears in the finished product name.
- When a “coined”, “fanciful”, “transliterated”, “brand” name, “folk” name or “trade mark” contains misleading words or terminologies, a specific name which indicates the true nature of the food in the same word size, shall be used in close proximity to this name in the same display panel.
“New Meal Meat” seems rather belonging to this kind of denomination – and even more so, considered that it is pending approval for trademark registration.
As Omnipork and Beyond-Meat plant-based beef are currently not available for retail sale as food ingredients, and we were not able to inspect the label on these two products.
We can assume – though – that on their labels the products name will be more elaborated than they are in the ingredient list of finished products sold in Starbucks, and that they will include (or will be accompanied by) the indication of the product category (for example: “vegetable proteins for industrial use”, or “bean products” etc…).
Regulatory framework is needed
Food innovation runs much faster than regulatory.
The regulatory framework for plant-based meat is in fact far from being established, and currently producers need to rely on other standards (national, locals, industry, group) such as “bean products”, “vegetable proteins for industrial use”, “non-fermented soybean product”, “gluten products”, “pea protein”, etc…, while only producers based in China can apply for own enterprise standard (for example, a Q/TZECB 0004-2014 for “Soy bean vegetarian meat”).
Regulators seems working on this, and in November 2019 China Plant-Based Food Industry Alliance announced to be working on a Group standard for artificial meat – likely to focus on three categories of vegetarian, artificial plant meat, and cell meat.
Other plant-based meats will be soon launched, attracting huge attention by customers and investors. Regulatory framework is needed, to avoid – amongst other thing – confusion in labeling and product denomination.