August 8, 2022

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Story continues below advertisement And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has declared the campaign as...

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And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has declared the campaign as having “no basis in fact.”

Before we get any further, understand that Eat Just, based in San Francisco, is in the business of selling its plant-based JUST Egg and is trying to peck away at sales of traditional chicken eggs, much in the way that Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat are trying to woo animal-based meat eaters.

“Using Valentine’s Day as a way to open this conversation in a fun way is something we wanted to do,” said Tom Rossmeissl, Eat Just’s head of global marketing and creator of this new marketing campaign.

“This checked off all the boxes, as something meaningful and provocative that would get eyeballs. We’ve learned you have to make it personal: Do you want to live longer, perform better and, yes, have better sex?”

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During the coronavirus pandemic, alternative protein products soared in sales and popularity, prompting nearly every giant food company to hustle its own versions to market. More than 70 companies are working on the “next generation of” meat and seafood products made with cultivated cells, and dozens more are aiming to sell alternative meat and dairy products made through fermentation. Indeed, the influx of so many new choices combined with supply chain problems weighed on all plant-based protein sales, which fell in late 2021.

In the midst of all this, traditional animal agriculture has pushed back against alt-meat, claiming common nomenclature — words like “meat” or “milk” — confuses consumers, prompting a flurry of legislative activity and lawsuits around labeling.

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To the carnivores’ trouble-with-love claim, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group for American farmers and ranchers, dismissed the ad campaign with more than a hint of annoyance.

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“This marketing campaign has no basis in fact, to the point that it’s comical,” said Danielle Beck, the association’s senior executive director of government affairs. “We respect consumers’ ability to do their own research and make choices about what they put on their plate, and it’s sad when others choose deception over fact. America’s beef producers will continue to be transparent as we share the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that supports beef’s continued role in a balanced diet.”

The company behind the brazen ads, Eat Just, was founded back in 2011 under the name Beyond Eggs and then later Hampton Creek Foods by childhood friends Josh Balk and Josh Tetrick. The name changed to Eat Just in 2017. While the private company is not yet profitable, JUST Egg distribution to groceries and other stores doubled last year, and the company raised $467 million in investments, according Andrew Noyes, head of global communications.

Using newspaper ads to poke at the competition isn’t new. The Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit that lobbies for fast food, meat, alcohol and tobacco industries, placed ads in The Wall Street Journal and New York Post in 2019, as well as a Super Bowl commercial in 2020, highlighting many of the ingredients in fake bacon and fake sausage, pointing out that many of the plant-based meat options are highly processed and often higher in sodium, suggesting this might fly in the face of what folks think of as “healthy.”

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Josh Tetrick grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and said that when he thinks about what kind of things would convince his dad or the kids he grew up with to adopt a plant-based diet, it’s not information about climate change or animal welfare — it’s about how a diet will benefit their health.

Declaring that what you eat directly impacts what happens between the sheets isn’t a novel strategy for anti-meat activism. PETA has been making “vegans do it better” billboards and videos for several years.

“If Eat Just is now spending resources parroting laughable PETA stunts, investors should demand their money back,” said Will Coggin, managing director of the Center for Consumer Freedom. He points to studies linking soy, an ingredient in JUST Eggs and other meat alternatives, to low libido and erectile dysfunction.

To be sure, some physicians point to links between overall diet and erectile dysfunction. Danielle Belardo, a cardiologist in Newport Beach, Calif., said erectile dysfunction can be a harbinger of future poor heart health.

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“Tell someone in their 20s to do all kinds of things to prevent a heart attack in their 50s,” and it’s a harder sell, Belardo said. “This is sparking conversation — a lot of men don’t know diet can help with erectile dysfunction and that underlying it are the same causes as heart disease.”

Bad diet is a top cause of poor health, and criticisms have increasingly been leveled at red meat, with studies associating increased in red meat consumption with mortality in American men and women. The World Health Organization and the British medical journal the Lancet have issued strong messages about the dangers of red meat.

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One nutritional expert questioned the ad campaign. Leslie Bonci, a sports dietitian for several universities, national baseball teams and the Kansas City Chiefs, said she agrees a plant-rich diet is good, but she sees erectile dysfunction frequently associated with alcohol consumption, medications, high cholesterol and stress.

Her bottom line is that the growing acrimony between plant-based companies and traditional animal agriculture may not always benefit consumers.

“A plate is more than macronutrients,” she said, adding that a satisfying diet is also one that is accessible, affordable and pleasurable — and, she said, pleasure should be a central part of the Valentine’s Day playbook.


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