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Food and Drinks

UK supermarkets to offer vegan burger that even oozes fake blood. Is it OK to sell it as ‘meat’?

‘It is absolutely incredible that supermarkets feel the need to try and replicate the great British beef burger with a fake vegan replica’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:30pm

British shoppers will soon be able to find “fake” meats – including burgers that ooze lookalike “blood” when cut open – in the chiller section alongside real meats, as Sainsbury’s announced its new vegan-friendly range would go on sale next month.

The move to pitch non-meat alongside the real thing risks a backlash from the meat industry.

But as more people drop meat from their diet, shops are catering to consumers’ changing eating habits. Sainsbury’s is hoping to capitalise not only on the burgeoning vegan market but also the UK’s estimated 22 million “flexitarians”, who enjoy meat but want to reduce their meat consumption.

In the US, the cult brand Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties are routinely stocked alongside meat products, which is central to the vision of the company – founded by Ethan Brown and backed by Bill Gates and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone – as it plans to expand across 50 countries and six continents this summer. Tesco is expected to start selling frozen Beyond Burger patties – made up of 20 grams of pea protein – by August 2018. It also recently launched the UK’s first plant-based steak in 400 stores, in a year-long deal with Vivera, a Dutch supplier.

The trial by Sainsbury’s – in 400 of its larger stores – is a first for the UK where products such as Quorn are traditionally stocked in the veggie sections. Last week, Waitrose became the first UK supermarket to add dedicated vegan sections to 125 of its stores, offering 50 new vegan products as the grocer increased its plant-based range by 60%.

The “lookalike” burgers and mince making their UK debut in Sainsbury’s on 27 June are made by the Danish manufacturer Naturli’ Foods – a leading developer of plant-based foods since 1988 – which says it has struggled to keep up with demand since their January launch in Denmark.

The Naturli products are not designed to taste like beef, but have an underlying “meatiness” thanks to the umami flavour of almonds, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms. The burgers contain beetroot, which helps recreate the colour of raw, medium and well-done meat as it cooks, as well as adding a realistic meat “juice” when bitten into.

“Our goal is to contribute to restore the balance between nature and man,” said Henrik Lund, the chief executive officer of Naturli Foods. “We’ve developed this product assuming that many people want to eat plants instead of animals, but are afraid of compromising on flavour and maybe even missing out on their favourite dishes such as lasagne or burger patties.”

The range goes on sale after a major study claimed that avoiding meat and dairy products was the single biggest way to reduce consumers’ environmental impact on the planet.

The implications of the proliferation of lookalike meats for the global food industry are enormous. The US beef industry has filed a petition to exclude non-animal products from the definition of meat, while in France a law bans vegetarian companies from calling their products sausages, mince or bacon.

“It is absolutely incredible that supermarkets feel the need to try and replicate the great British beef burger with a ‘fake’ vegan replica which has beetroot juice as an ingredient to give the impression of fake blood once cooked,” said the butcher Stewart Collins, whose Muirhead business recently won the accolade of best beef burger at the Scottish Craft Butcher awards. “All our burgers are what they should be, 100% Scottish, 100% meat with no imitation or fake ingredients to confuse the consumer.”

The Food Standards Agency, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into allegations by The Daily Telegraph that traces of pork were found in Sainsbury’s own-brand “meat-free” meatballs, and traces of turkey were detected in a Tesco macaroni ready meal, part of its new vegan foods line.