There is a reason why pseudo-animal foods are so often seen nestling amongst the yellow-sticker reductions on supermarket shelves. Food manufacturers' crude and unconvincing attempts to turn ultra-processed protein powders and chemical additives into something that passes muster as a realistic substitute for meat, dairy, or eggs, are hitting the skids at the checkout.

The customer verdict on Tesco’s new Squeaky Bean Vegan Mini Scotch Egg Bites, described as “delicately seasoned wheat and pea protein”, is a case in point. These delicacies contain, by my count, no fewer than 78 ingredients, substances such as methyl cellulose, citrus fibre, and maltodextrin, all acrimoniously divorced from food in any natural form.

The roll call of fakery in itself isn’t the only reason why this product has bombed, even amongst the vegan party faithful. The eating experience also jars.

“Really unpleasant, soft texture with a smear of slime in the middle, not often I buy things that I end up throwing out, but these actually made me gag.” “The 'egg' in the centre is a weird slimy texture.” “Revolting. The texture physically made me gag and heave and I ended up spitting it into the bin and washing my mouth out. Kids had the same reaction. We all felt sick after eating.”

With reviews like this, it’s only a matter of time until Tesco de-lists these tortured parodies of the traditional Scotch egg, penalising its suppliers for missing sales targets.

A similar fate awaits other fanciful vegan copies of animal foods.

Silicon Valley hype has been pushing them on us, asking us to believe that they would first “disrupt”, then eventually replace, sales of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs.

Investors were hooked into this entrepreneurial Eldorado with inflated projections of the handsome profits they could expect to make.

But far from raking it in, some of the biggest players in the puffed-up plant food market are experiencing serious financial difficulty.

Look at Beyond, the company that spawned the eponymous burger and allied convenience products composed of its plant food sludge. It made a loss of $43.2 million in the first half of 2021, compared to a $6.3 million loss in the same period last year.

This fake food pioneer is burning cash and shows no sign of turning its ship round.

The financial performance of Oatly, a company that was beatified prematurely by vegan baristas, belies its confident marketing.

In April it reported a $60 million net loss in 2020, compared with a loss of $36 million the previous year.

Little wonder that Oatly’s backers are running out of patience.

In July, some Oatly investors launched a class action lawsuit in the US, alleging that Oatly made false and misleading statements.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Oatly overinflated its gross margins, revenue, capital expenditure, and market share financial metrics, overstated its sustainability practices and impact, and exaggerated its growth in China.

Whisper it. The plant-based emperor has no clothes, and the populace are starting to snigger at the pretence and posturing.

This should be a reality check for those who tell us repeatedly that technology will solve all our food problems. In tones of futuristic inevitability we were informed that omnivores would pivot to flexitarianism, and from there make a full “transition” away from animal foods.

Corporate propagandists told us that this “food shift” was unstoppable and ultra-progressive when curated by enlightened corporate visionaries. Hop aboard the faux food bandwagon or be viewed as a throwback, the Piltdown Man of food!

So when fast food chains introduced vegan analogues alongside their meaty mainstays, this was presented as evidence that it was only a matter of time until these concoctions displaced meat options entirely.

In truth, fast food chains listed meat lookalikes pragmatically for their virtue-signalling halo effect, and to avoid the “veto vote”. (When a group of diners, or a family, is deciding where to eat, and someone is vegan or playing at being vegan, a chain that doesn’t have a menu option to please them risks losing the whole party.)

The same story plays out on retail shelves. More households may be buying a plant food pastiche of meat, fish, dairy, or eggs – often to placate a teenage daughter – whilst everyone else under that roof continues to eat the real thing.

And overblown headlines reporting breathless growth in the plant-based sector omit the important context that growth can indeed be positively stratospheric, providing you start from a tiny base.

Much excitement was generated, for instance, when a Rothesay-based ‘vegan cheesemaker’ that makes Sheese – a "cheddar style soya-based cheese alternative” – was bought by an international dairy producer in a multi-million pound deal.

But how great is our appetite, really, for this amalgam of water, hydrogenated (chemically hardened) vegetable oil, soybean concentrate, spirit vinegar, lactic acid, synthetic flavourings, carrageenan (a gluey sweet starch), locust bean gum and colouring?

I don’t see Sheese knocking Cathedral City from its podium anytime soon.

Growing sales from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it niche is easy. Translating that growth into profit is much harder.

I suspect that faux animal food manufacturers have misread so-called “flexitarians’, characterising them as easy vegan recruits when in reality, they are just adventurous consumers who like to try innovative new products.

Fickle flexitarians can swing either way. Once they have sampled plant-based novelties and been unimpressed, they can flex back to animal foods as fast as an elastic band.

Indeed, far from declining, sales of animal source foods are rising. Last year, three of the five fastest-growing categories in UK supermarkets were meat. Overall, the fastest growing foods in sales terms were meat and cheese.

Milk alternatives made from oats certainly stole market share from soy and almond-based alternatives, but made no dent in sales of cow’s milk.

By all means keep an eye on the mark-downs in the reduced section if you have a taste for imposter animal foods. You should be able to pick up a bargain any day of the week.

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