Most Americans agree: Only the meat of a processed Gallus gallus domesticus bird should be called chicken.

A survey published by the National Chicken Council (NCC) in June 2022 revealed 69% of shoppers think the term “meat” should only refer to products made from animals. The online survey, according to the NCC, polled more than 1,100 consumers including self-identified regular meat eaters, flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans.

Respondents indicated there is some confusion created by the way plant-based meats are sold as “chicken.” Twenty-one percent said they’ve accidentally purchased a plant-based product believing it to be real chicken. Those consumers blamed their accidental purchase on plant-based packaging and labeling imitating the authentic chicken products too closely.

Cunning and savvy plant-based product marketers don’t shy away from calling their products “meat.” Two leading companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat both unabashedly call their imitation poultry products chicken. The survey said only 14 percent of Americans think “chicken” is an appropriate term for plant-based products imitating poultry.

Clearer labeling?

Americans think there needs to be clearer differentiation between plant-based products masquerading as chicken and the genuine article. According to the survey, 81% of chicken consumers and 86% of vegetarians and vegans said they want plant-based foods to be clearly labeled.

Furthermore, 62% of chicken consumers and 80% of vegetarians and vegans feel meat and plant-based proteins should have their own distinct grocery sections to limit product confusion.

The NCC, for its part in representing the interests of the poultry industry in Washington, campaigned for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue clearer guidance defining how to name plant-based products and to prioritize enforcement for products marketed in a misleading manner.

Industry takeaway

Chicken tastes so good, is so affordable, so available and so accepted by most religions and ethnicities of the world that it’s a winner no matter how its sold. Its deeply telling of the narrow appeal of the plant-based proteins that they must resort to poultry perfidy to sell their clumps of carbohydrates and protein powder.

Plant-based and other alternative proteins will continue to draw attention. Admittedly, they’re interesting, novel and most everyone is willing to try anything once.

The chicken industry, and animal agriculture in general, must keep in mind the goal of these products is to replace meat or to take a significant piece of the market away from animal proteins. Also, these parties should remember animal proteins are far more popular at home and abroad than the imitations.

The best way forward, for now, seems to be monitoring the growth and popularity of plant-based products among younger and middle-aged consumers that will define the market of the future.

Some chicken companies are investigating and marketing a third option combining plant-based proteins with old fashioned chicken. The success, or lack thereof, of these novel products will signal consumer preferences in the years ahead.