IKEA Indonesia, the furniture retailer known for its Swedish meatballs, has just launched several new menus that claimed to be plant-based. The new menu features a selection of plant-based foods such as Plant Balls, Plant-based Sausage Bun, Plant-based Matcha Ice Cream, Plant Balls with Teriyaki Sauce, and Plant-based Banana Cake. These new menus were simultaneously available starting on 24th August at all IKEA Indonesia restaurants. However, many of us are probably wondering, are these new plant-based options really plant-based?
Founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA has become a successful company that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture. Though they are a furniture company, many did not know they sell more of their Swedish Meatballs than their best-selling furniture products. Cited from AM Collective, IKEA sells over 150 million meatballs per year; meanwhile, their bestselling furniture product has been sold only 110 million times since it was offered to the public four decades ago.
IKEA's decision to add a more plant-based menu was driven by the rise of awareness of sustainable and healthier alternatives. According to the data from Google Trends, there has been an increase in search performance related to healthy food among Indonesians. And based on their global direction, IKEA plans to have at least 50% menu with plant-based options and reduce 80% of their menu that uses red meat by 2025.
In the press release, IKEA Food Commercial Manager Dita Astari Putri said, "Indonesian people's awareness of consuming healthy food is increasing, especially in the current pandemic era of the Covid-19. IKEA offers a variety of plant-based food menus to meet the Indonesian people's demand for affordable healthy food. We have and will continue to take initiatives to protect the environment because this is part of IKEA responsibility. We believe that IKEA's plant-based food menu will bring a positive impact and create a more sustainable environment,"
That being said, this recent launch has created a lot of confusion among people who are adopting a plant-based, vegan and vegetarian lifestyle. Mainly because one of their products called “Plant Balls” that they launched, along with other plant-based options are served with sides that are not 100% plant-based. The gravy that they use for Plant Balls still contains Beef Stock and Skim Milk. And their Mashed Potato contains Whole Milk Powder, Whey and Butter.
Despite the fact that one of their products is not plant-based, all of their other products such as Plant Balls Satay, Plant-based Sausage Bun, Plant Balls with Teriyaki Sauce, Plant-based Matcha Ice Cream, Plant-based Banana Cake, and Chocolate Cake are plant-based and suitable for vegans. But how can a big company like IKEA forget to mention these specific details? There is no disclaimer or details that explain their Plant Balls are not plant-based? Are they doing it intentionally or simply because they don't have the fundamental knowledge about a plant-based diet?
The term plant-based is nothing new, T. Colin Campbell, who introduced the term plant-based in the 1980s, invented the word to define a low fat, high fiber, vegetable-based diet that focused on health and not ethics, which he used to refer to the same dietary preferences to a vegan diet without any animal or ethical association. Vegan and plant-based diets can be pretty similar, and the term plant-based is used to highlight and focus more on dietary preferences, while veganism is beyond the food spectrum.
Root The Future, one of Bangkok’ based media, has also made a clear explanation of what plant-based is, which is an adjective to describe a food item, meal, or product that is made entirely from plants and is completely free of all animal products, including dairy, egg, fish, meat, honey, or any animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin. Therefore, anything that still contains dairy, milk, or animal-derived products can't be labeled plant-based. The vegan community has approved this term, including big companies like Oatly, Happy Cow, and Plant-based News.
It is great to see many big companies taking this approach to reach out to a broad market for healthier and sustainable plant-based food. However, many campaigns have misused the term plant-based without understanding the actual definition or the fundamentals. This will create confusion and distort the true meaning of plant-based, a term used to describe a product that is anything but animal-derived products.
One of the examples was when Starbucks Indonesia launched its new plant-based menu earlier this February. They intentionally labeled their products plant-based even though their products, in fact, contain dairy and eggs. And what confuses people, even more, was when they decided to call their non-dairy as plant-based. If they understand dairy is not plant-based, why do they still call their food that contains dairy and egg plant-based? If that's what they understand, wouldn't all their beverages that use dairy be considered plant-based?
This led to a question, why can't they use the term vegetarian, the right term for their products. Is calling it "plant-based" sounds sexier and more marketable? Or do they intentionally want to trick people into believing that their products are plant-based? Whichever the reason is, companies as big as Starbucks and IKEA should be responsible for using the term plant-based, and if they're not plant-based, there are many other terms that fit more to describe the products well such as vegetarian or meatless.