‘More water than protein’: French consumer watchdog puts plant-based products under the microscope

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

French consumer watchdog probes plant-based / Pic: GettyImages-vaaseenaa
French consumer watchdog probes plant-based / Pic: GettyImages-vaaseenaa

Related tags: plant-based, Nutrition

French consumer watchdog Consommation Logement Cadre de Vie (CLCV) has put the nutritional composition of 95 vegetarian and vegan products on French shelves to the test. The result? ‘More water than vegetable protein’, the consumer group said.

Responding to rising demand for vegetarian and vegan products, the CLCV launched an investigation into the nutritional composition of meat alternatives available in French supermarkets.

Misleading labelling?

The consumer rights organisation found a majority of meat and dairy free products are ‘quite good’ from a nutritional perspective, with 83% rated A or B under the Nutri-Score system.

However, the CLCV report stressed that the adoption of front-of-pack nutritional labelling was poor – with just 18% of manufacturers adhering to Nutri-Score. For products that did not display their Nutri-Score information, CLCV calculated their nutritional ranking.

Transparency was also an issue when it came to indicating the origin of ingredients, the CLCV claimed.

One-third of products carried claims related to of the origin of ingredients but only 19% actually specified the ‘real origin’ of ingredients.

“We are asking manufacturers and distributors for more transparency on the origin of all the ingredients of a product, especially when a statement such as 'made in France' or a French flag appears on the packaging.”

CVLC also noted that there are ‘multiple’ vegetarian and vegan logos but none ‘offer the same guarantees’, a situation that could result in consumer confusion. The organisation is calling for the creation of an ‘official label’ backed by the French authorities to provide ‘reliable and clear information’.

The high price of plant protein?

Looking at the nutritional composition of plant-based products, the investigation discovered more than half of the products are mainly composed of water. Ingredients of plant origin represent on average only 39% of the recipe. The rest of the recipe is made with fat, salt, spices and additives, CLCV said.

Indeed, eight in ten products were found to contain ‘at least one additive’. “This may seem surprising for these products which have a healthy image but which are nevertheless ultra-processed. We encourage manufacturers and distributors to increase plant proteins and minimise the use of additives and flavours,”​ the group said in a statement.

On price, CLCV said a higher cost was ‘no guarantee’ of a better Nutri-Score, more plant-based ingredients and less additives in its recipe.

The group said that the pricing and nutritional content of plant-based options in France means it is not possible for those on lower incomes to substitute meat protein with plant-based protein. “Substituting vegetable protein for animal protein is not within the reach of every budget,”​ the consumer group claimed, citing the per kilo price of a ‘vegetable steak’ at €13 versus €10.50 for its animal counterpart.

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