Make peas, not war: Veggie product makers cry foul as govt cracks down on fake meat

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Plant-based burgers are one of the many options available to non-meat eaters.
Plant-based burgers are one of the many options available to non-meat eaters.
Image: likemeat/
  • Regulations banning the use of phrases liked to meat in plant-based products were published in the Government Gazette in 2019.
  • Meat analogue businesses will have to relabel and their products or they will be seized, something the department is taking a "no mercy" approach to.
  • Fry’s Family Foods was one of many in the sector who were less than impressed. 

Some of South Africa's manufacturers of plant-based foods are hitting back at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) amid a crackdown on labelling of meat substitutes.

DALRRD has issued notices to producers and suppliers in recent weeks warning that product names for plant-based sausages, burgers, strips and other, similar products must be relabelled or destroyed.

According to the department, and regulations published in 2019, the use of phrases linked to meat – covering products described as "meat substitute, mock meat, faux meat or imitation meat" – are banned. And it adds that it will be taking a "no mercy" approach.

The crackdown comes as consumers have shown a growing interest in plant-based foods. Earlier this year, food giant Tiger Brands invested in Herbivore Earthfoods, saying at the time that the plant-based and vegan products market was expected to grow by over $162 billion by 2030.

"The African plant protein market, of which South Africa represents 57%, is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate [CAGR] of 6.5% to $560 million [roughly R8 billion] by 2030," it said at the time.

Fry's Family Foods, one of SA's best-established plant-based brands which has been operating for decades, is less than impressed with government's crackdown. The company has been in business for more than 30 years, starting its operations its founder Wally Fry’s kitchen in Durban.

Fry’s products include chicken-style burgers, wood-smoked breakfast bangers and no-meat balls.

"Fry’s, along with many of South Africa’s plant-based food stakeholders, believes that Regulation No.R.1283 does not apply to plant-based meat alternatives, and we therefore do not believe that it is reasonable," it said in a statement.

"The company is the pioneer of the [plant-based protein product] category in South Africa. At no point have we felt that our naming conventions were confusing for consumers, and in fact, our product names play an important role in helping our consumers understand how to use our products," said Fry’s responding to the government’s assertion that the regulations are meant to protect consumers from misled.

The food producers also said not being able to use names like burger like 'burger', 'sausage', 'nugget' or 'mince' is what will create confusion.

"Our consumers appreciate clear direct communication."

The company further lamented that recalling, relabelling and repackaging its products will be "massive", especially in a time when the government should be supporting the growth of local businesses, it said.

READ INTERVIEW | Spur’s new plant-based restaurant is more than meats the eye

Kale the competition

Co-founder Tammy Fry said the government’s move undermines the work analogue meat producers have been doing to fight climate change.

"We have been doing this for a long time, and I have no doubt that the good that comes from plant-based burgers, mince or nuggets, to name but a few, drastically outweighs the concerns of the meat industry stakeholders, who are clearly looking to protect their interests through regulatory exclusion," she added. 

Fry's and Tiger Brands are not alone in taking advantage of the growing plant-based foods market.

The Spur Group, which owns well-known restaurant brands including Spur, RocoMamas and the Hussar Grill, broke its 55-year love affair with meaty menus to open a pilot vegan restaurant.

Modrockers in Rosebank, Johannesburg, exclusively sells plant-based dishes - from burgers to nachos, nuggets, and ice-cream - and was conceptualised by RocoMamas founder Brian Altriche.

At the time, Spur CEO Val Nichas told Fin24 that the group "looked at the trends" and realised there was a market for plant-based food.

The Spur Group also sells a number of plant-based dishes including the popular Beyond Burger, whose patty is described as looking, cooking and tasting just like beef.

Approached to comment on the communique from the DALRRD, however, Spur would not be drawn, beyond stating that it would comply with the regulations.

"As a responsible corporate citizen, we ensure compliance with all laws and regulations pertaining to the industry in which we operate. We are therefore comfortable that we will be able to address any potential requirements, as we always do with regulatory or industry amendments," said Spur. 

Get the biggest business stories emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Fin24 front page.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

Government tenders

Find public sector tender opportunities in South Africa here.

Government tenders
This portal provides access to information on all tenders made by all public sector organisations in all spheres of government.
Browse tenders