peppered steak

The brave new world of meat and milk

By Anna Campbell

Seth Goodman is the executive chairman of ''Beyond Meat'', developers of a pea-based meat substitute. I heard him speak a couple of months ago and I was struck when he said the Beyond Meat people did not want their product in the vegetarian aisle.

They wanted their products bang, smack in the middle of the meat aisle - alongside burgers, steaks and chicken fillets. Why, you might ask, given there is no meat in the Beyond Meat products?

Quite simply, because if they put their product in the vegetarian aisle, they reach maybe 5% of consumers - the vegetarians and vegans, if they have their product in the meat section, they reach at least 95% of consumers.

Makes sense to me, but should their products be allowed in the meat section, when they don't contain meat? What is meat anyway? Various dictionaries define meat as ''the flesh of an animal when it is used for food''.

Not sure when the humble pea was last described as an animal, but I'm not sure when the last almond produced milk from its mammary glands either.

I am not alone in my pondering. In fact, there is a war going on right now internationally on the definition of milk. Even the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand authority is examining this. Lobby groups in Australia are challenging the manufacturers of plant-based milk products, which can include soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice and sesame.

It all feels a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, especially on the milk front.

Almond milk sales in the United States have grown by 250% in the past five years, meanwhile, Americans are drinking 37% less milk than they were in 1970 - and this is without the introduction of laboratory designed, or ''synthetic'' milk products.

As I am such an on-trend person, I have been trialling the various plant-based milk types on my cereal. Some of them taste OK, if a bit watery.

Almond and coconut milk probably get my highest vote. I also like the fact cartons have long expiry dates. However, these milks are pricey and I have gone back to cows' milk - I'm feeding teenagers after all.

So what happens when the Beyond Burgers and the like really hit our stores? Is it too late for meat? Can we put our stake in the ground? I doubt it. The reality is definitions change and the definition of meat will change. too.

When something is marketed as not being meat, in order to gain sales, as Sunfed Meat is labelling its plant-based chicken ''chicken-free chicken'', we need to understand its biggest selling point is that it is not meat (which is alarming in its appeal) and that the competition and the hype is already here.

How will we compete? Seth Goldman spoke about two key food trends, which conceptually

I really hang on to. He spoke about the ''undoing and the redoing'' of food. Undoing is clean labels, no additives, taking everything back to basics, creating value based on nostalgia for the way food used to be. Redoing is reformulating what we already eat in new ways, think synthetic meat and milk and food as personalised nutrition.

Where do we need to position our animal-based milk and meat products? In my mind, they need to be in the undone and redone camps. There is an interesting video link to Meat and Livestock Australia's investment into 3-D printed meat and Beef and Lamb New Zealand is exploring what is hype and what is reality in the alternative protein space.

This is great - no point in burying our heads in the sand. I believe both milk and meat from animal products have a future if we position them well, mostly because they are damned delicious, we just might have to think about those positions a little differently.

We can always revert to selling our meat and milk as 100% natural . . . hang on, isn't there a debate right now on what ''natural'' means?