• Supply Chain
  • Traceability
  • Food & Beverage

A Beef With Manufacturers: Vegetarian Consumers Want Supply Chain Visibility

Written by Elias Schoelmann
October 27, 2015

Recently, vegetarian hot dog brands have been found to contain meat.

Recently, vegetarian hot dog brands have been found to contain meat.

Protecting the purity of the manufacturing process and the supply chain isn’t always a matter of safety. Sometimes it is done out of respect for the consumer. While a company wants to make sure a consumable product doesn’t contain contaminants that would put a customer’s health in danger, the business should also prioritize the preferences, values and beliefs of the buying audience to which it wishes to appeal.

For example, there are many reasons people do not eat meat. Some consumers avoid beef and pork for health reasons, others want to protest the means by which manufacturers produce meat products. For many people, not consuming certain animals is a strict part of their religious beliefs and to go against it would be more than offensive.

If a manufacturer truly wants to demonstrate it has its consumers’ best interests at heart, the company must prioritize the standards customers value most. Maintaining a supply chain with those values in mind and communicating quality practices is vital to being a business people can trust.

Meat in the Vegetarian Supply Chain

In recent news, several companies producing vegetarian products did not meet the standards their consumers counted on. Food Safety Magazine reported Clear Food, an organization that monitors consumable products, found 10 percent of vegetarian hot dogs produced by major brands contain meat.

Clear Food tested more than 300 hot dog and sausage products sold by more than 75 different companies and discovered beef, chicken, turkey, pork and lamb in some of the vegetarian merchandise. Products that claimed to be pork free contained small samples of pig flesh, and hot dogs with labels indicating only one type of meat actually featured two or more different animal products.

Some brands were much better than others. Many vegetarian and kosher products contained exactly, or close to, what they advertised. Other companies, however, misrepresented their ingredients, nutritional information and hygienic production practices.

The Problems With Meat

Some manufacturers may not worry about additives that won’t prove physically harmful to consumers. While it is unscrupulous to miscommunicate production practices, small samples of beef are not as harmful as bacteria or other contaminants food producers must constantly look out for to meet government standards of safety. Companies may figure that what consumers don’t know won’t hurt them.

Outside of the obvious problems with mislabeling consumables – allergies, for example – customers who avoid meat may restrict their diets for very important reasons. Tricking consumers into eating animal flesh is not just cruel; it may severely hurt a business’s public perception and bottom line.

First of all, any form of misrepresentation may open a business up to litigation. In 2011, three Hindu consumers successfully petitioned lawmakers to hold a restaurant legally responsible for serving them beef when the menu clearly indicated the meal was vegetarian, according to Gothamist. The customers sued on the grounds of negligence, emotional distress, consumer fraud, products liability and breach of express warranty. Three New Jersey appellate judges found the plaintiffs had grounds for action.

The second concern companies should be aware of is public opinion. There are large spiritual groups and other organizations that will publicly express their anger towards a company that doesn’t respect their beliefs. The Organic Consumers Organization has best practices in place for boycotting companies that misrepresent the production process of food products or insult the values of consumers.

Finally, if a company can meet the standards of a consumer group, the ability to adjust practices to listen to demands allows the business to stand out from competitors. Expressing concern for beliefs is a great way for an organization to humanize itself. Instead of just making a product, it provides individuals with the food they need, in a manner that respects them as human beings.

Reporting Honest Practices

Marketing that advertises the manufacturing practices, inventory management and supply chain handling customers need is the first step in showing that an organization respects the values and beliefs of buyers.

Recently, The Daily Mail shared the story of how Subway restaurants in Ireland plan to eliminate pork products from their stores to appeal to Muslim consumers. Not only will the franchise cut pig products from the menu, but it also promises all meat options will be made through means that respect Muslim beliefs.

If a company wants to advertise new practices or consistent standards of quality, it needs information from every step of the supply chain. The RFgen white paper “The Food Traceability Survival Guide” states mobile data collection devices help companies report activities from product manufacturing to delivery. Complete end-to-end visibility allows businesses to report safety standards to government regulators and quality to consumers.

A full accounting of daily practices provided by data collection solutions is a great way to show vegetarian customers, or any group with strict consumer values, how the company takes every step available to deliver the merchandise they demand.