Vegan and vegetarian food is becoming more and more popular. However, as a lot of vegans and vegetarians are not willing to give up the taste of meat the demand for meat substitutes increases. Whether “vegan salami” or “vegetarian meatballs”, the fundamental question regarding the designation of those substitutes remains unclear so far: Is the current practice of designating them in the same way as the conventional meat products misleading consumers and should such designations be reserved for the “original”?
At the end of 2018, the German food book Commission (Deutsche Lebensmittelbuchkommission) published new guidelines for vegan and vegetarian food. These new principles reflect manufacturing and commercial practices as well as consumer expectations, in particular with respect to vegan and vegetarian food products that have a sensory similarity to products from animal origin.
According to the Commission, the assessment shall from now on be based on a graded approach. Depending on the “sensoric similarity” in terms of appearance, smell, taste and consistency between meat products and their analogues some of the designations are taboo, some of them can be retained, while others have to carry a description. In concrete terms, the designation of vegan and vegetarian products as “filet”, “steak” or “cutlet” or as offal (“liver“) shall be regarded as uncommon. On the other hand, a reference to the preparation method (“schnitzel“, “goulash“) shall be deemed common. However, it should be pointed out that a definite answer to the question what is common can only be given dealing with the particular case at hand and especially the level of “sensoric similarity” between the respective vegetarian and meat products. In contrast, designations for specific sausage products like “salami” or “liver sausage” shall be regarded as uncommon irrespective of the grade of similarity.
While those guidelines are not legally binding, they will surely play a pivotal role in the context of unfair competition related disputes with regard to the interpretation of the consumer expectation. In this context, these new principles may serve as a general rule whereas details will have to be clarified by the courts. In order to avoid major disputes consumer clients will need to seek advice when using meat related designations for their vegan or vegetarian food products.