Despite continuing plant-based product innovation, package labeling is still a cause for concern

It’s no secret that plant-based diets are increasing in popularity. The Plant Based Foods Association reported in a 2018 Nielsen study that plant-based food sales topped $3.3 billion last year. Specifically, sales of plant-based meat products have grown by 24%, which is notable since general retail food sales have only grown by 2% over the same time.

Plant-based foods not only have both environmental and health benefits, but these products represent a huge breakthrough in food innovation. Companies producing plant-based foods have met consumer needs for taste, value and convenience, which is monumental. With all of this good news, it’s important to be aware that there may be unintended consequences for the food allergic community in consuming these foods.

FARE, as the world’s largest advocate for the food allergy community, wants all, those with food allergies and those without to safely enjoy plant-based foods. Accordingly, we would like to work alongside industry in food innovation to combat this issue during the product formulation process. We’re particularly excited about the potential of AI and gene editing to stop food allergies at the source, which could enable true hand-in-hand collaboration. This way, companies could avoid unintentionally eliminating an entire population of potential customers. 

Right now, though, while these solutions are still in progress, we are interested in helping companies better meet the needs of the food allergic community through labeling and customer education. 

Plant-based foods are created from the some of most common allergens in America —tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans — information that is sometimes difficult to gleen from the product label.

For example, pea protein is a common substitute in plant-based meats. While safe for many, given that both peanuts and peas are legumes, it has caused consumers with severe peanut and legume allergies to have life-threatening reactions. Take the investigative reporter in Utah who has lived with a severe peanut allergy for her entire life. She consumed a plant-based burger and immediately had a dangerous reaction, despite following manufacturer following the regulations by including “contains no peanuts” on the product package.

As new products evolve, FARE can be a positive partner to the consumer packaged goods industry by educating about the food allergy community.T o do so would ensure that the more than 32 million Americans currently living with food allergies can be confident they are making informed decisions.

In the short term, we would encourage stakeholders to work with the food allergy community, including organizations like FARE, to execute a “smart labeling initiative” that provides comprehensive updates on ingredients for consumers in real time.

Let’s collaborate to speed up innovation while providing protections for the here and now.