In The Media – Banning Dairy Terms Used By Plant-Based Brands

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Many food industry websites have recently been reporting a potential ban in future on plant-based brands using dairy terms such as ‘milk’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’, or using brand names with similar spelling or pronunciation, in their packaging and marketing.

This could lead to many plant-based brands and their products being removed from the supermarket shelves unless they comply with the new guidance legislation being drafted, should it become law.

In a statement released by dairy trade body, Dairy UK, their main justification for being in favour of such a ban is that they claim dairy products are a unique package of nutrition and taste, whose nutrition content is unmatched by plant-based alternatives. For example, they say that even milk-alternative products with the largest amount of fortification don’t contain the quantity or quality of vitamins and minerals present in cow’s milk.

At NutriCalc we feel that it’s only natural for the dairy industry to want to champion the benefits of its products compared to the growing plant-based sector – and we acknowledge that there are some benefits – but to only hear their side of this doesn’t present a balanced perspective which also looks at the bigger picture here.

The important question which needs to be asked is why consumers are switching from dairy to plant-based alternatives, as there are several important reasons which don’t focus on the nutrition content compared to dairy.

Most obviously, consumers who have a dairy allergy or intolerance – once discovered – would usually want to switch to a lactose-free plant-based milk, so this is their main motivation.

For others there are ethical reasons, as growing evidence suggests that following a plant-based diet is kinder to the environment due to putting less strain on the planet’s resources.

Even directly comparing the nutrition of dairy products to plant-based products, the latter may have nutritional benefits that dairy doesn’t – e.g. higher in vitamin E, containing dietary fibre, as well as being lower in saturates.

Where there are lower levels, or the absence of, particular vitamins and minerals in plant-based products compared to milk, it is entirely possible to compensate for this by introducing other plant-based products into a diet which contain these. Another alternative is taking vitamin and mineral supplements, something millions do to improve their health.

To suggest that consumers are not aware of these nutrition differences or could be confused into thinking they were buying dairy milk by similarities in the name of a plant-based product, is disingenuous. People have been buying plant-based milk alternatives since soy milk launched nearly thirty years ago, so why only now are they potentially getting confused?

We note that many plant-based milk alternatives are called ‘drinks’ or don’t use brand names which are spelt or pronounced similar to ‘milk’, so isn’t a ban unnecessary anyway?

Apart from anything else, it would be a huge financial burden to the affected plant-based companies to have to go through the expense of rebranding their names and products – especially at a time when the industry is already facing rising energy and ingredient costs.

Where will it end? Should we also ban anything called ‘milk’ or ‘butter’ which isn’t from an animal, such as coconut milk and peanut butter?

And if the ban goes ahead, could it lead to similar bans on the names of plant-based meat alternatives, so a ‘burger’ or ‘sausage’ has to be made from meat to be called this?

This potential ban and its future implications for the industry really is food for thought.

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