The ongoing war between animal- and plant-based “milk” products has its first battle of 2018.
As the debate over whether non-dairy products should be able to use traditionally dairy-associated words like “milk,” “cream,” “butter,” “cheese” and “yogurt” rages on, plant-based foods brand Kite Hill knocked out two birds with one stone by labeling some of its products as “almond milk yogurt”—a move that recently attracted the ire of dairy industry. Though squabbling over the technical definition of the word “milk,” et al., might seem trivial, the battle has been an ongoing global fight. For instance, as recently as this past June, the European Union ruled that the five aforementioned words must only be used on products that come from an animal, turning easily identifiable labeling of plant-based alternatives into a tricky proposition. Meanwhile, in the United States, a similar fight continues to fester; however, though bills have been proposed, and FDA clarifications have been requested, the federal government continues to kick the can down the road – leaving plenty of ambiguity as to what is acceptable labeling and what isn’t.
Needless to say, producers of plant-based dairy products have been standing their ground when it comes to using these words with one persistent argument being that when consumers see an adjective-modified statement like “soy milk,” they’re smart enough to know that it’s a form of milk made from soy. That’s essentially Kite Hill’s stance in its decision to label a line of its plant-based yogurt products as “artisan almond milk yogurt.”
“We looked at a lot of terms in the market but decided that ‘artisan almond milk yogurt’ was the most understandable to consumers,” the brand’s VP of Marketing Jenny Berrien, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We work with outside regulatory counsel on our labeling decisions to make sure we’re in compliance with labeling laws.”
But understandably, this double use of dairy terms left the National Milk Producers Federation seeing red, and the group penned letters, dated yesterday, to both the USDA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture asserting that the label doesn’t comply with their interpretation of federal and state laws.
So will this first salvo of 2018 help finally turn the tides in this war? It would seem unlikely. As previously mentioned, the USDA has been pressed for help on this issue before and has continued to decline to provide guidance. Furthermore, though these complaints are being cited as the first of the year, it’s not the first time a company has used the term “almond milk yogurt,” meaning this isn’t really anything new. So in actuality, expect this year to just be more of the same bickering. “We plan in 2018 to be more vocal about specific brands of plant-based foods, whether they are milk, yogurt, cheese or other imitators,” NMPF SVP Communications Chris Galen told FoodNavigator, explaining the decision to target Kite Hill. “So those other products may also draw our attention going forward.” Sound like Kite Hill should simply be honored that it got the free press of being attacked first.