“Greenwashing” is a term used to describe a marketing tactic where companies use language or packaging to make people believe its product is good for the environment. Consumers are catching on to greenwashing and starting to be more skeptical as they stroll through the supermarket, especially when it comes to new plant-based food products.


Food companies want to sell their products and including on-trend buzzwords is one of the biggest ways that they try to achieve that goal. A number of new plant-based protein companies have included buzzwords like simple, truth, earth, and green in their brand names. Many of these terms are not officially defined by our food safety agencies, the FDA and USDA. The labeling term natural, for example, has not been defined by the FDA while the USDA has provided only loose guidance on which meat products can be labeled as natural. Despite the lack of labeling uniformity, many consumers see the word natural and assume the product is better for their health and the environment.


Marketing is more than just picking a clever product name and the right labels. Companies are increasingly using messaging to persuade consumers, especially when it comes to shoppers who want to have a better environmental footprint. Many of the plant-based product makers include messaging that suggests eating less meat is better for the environment, that a diet focusing mostly on plants is healthier for you or suggesting that the product contains equal to or more protein than animal protein. Usually some anti-meat or pro-plant wording lingers either in the name of the product or somewhere on the front of the package. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are perfect examples.


And when it comes to the visual aspect of branding, many of these products have trendy logos featuring earth tones like green, brown, and white and often use cardboard or paper instead of plastic.


If the branding and packaging have some elements of greenwashing but you still aren’t sure, the nutrition facts panel is a great way to figure out if the claims live up to the food inside the package. Many of the new plant-based products are primarily based on soy, canola, and pea protein, which you will see listed in the first few ingredients. In most cases, the food companies use GMO soy or canola, which almost certainly means that chemical inputs like pesticides and herbicides were used to produce the crop.

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