Consumers Are Not Confused By Plant-Based Milks
In 2017, the (hilariously named) Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act) was introduced in both the House and Senate of the United States Congress. It is a surprisingly bipartisan bill, with Republicans, Democrats, and even an Independent counting themselves among its cosponsors. The act states that 80% of the American population does not meet the USDA recommended daily amounts for dairy – a whopping 3 cups of milk per day, or the equivalent in cheese or yogurt.
It argues that this is partially due to plant-based dairy alternatives confusing customers. If passed, the act would require the FDA to require anything labeled using terms like “milk,” “cheese,” “yogurt,” or “cream” to contain dairy as a primary ingredient. This would mean that “soy milk” and “vegan cheese” would no longer be legal names in the United States. This would undoubtedly have a negative effect on the plant-based dairy alternative industry.
So, is there any truth to their claim? To answer this question, a survey was conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation to gauge American adults’ knowledge of dairy and dairy alternatives. It found that a significant majority of respondents understood that coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, and rice milk contained no dairy and were completely plant-based. Similarly, the vast majority knew that whole, 2%, skim, and chocolate milk were all dairy products.
Interestingly, the only product that stumped a significant amount of respondents was lactose-free milk, with 50% believing it does and 30% believing it does not contain cow’s milk. The respondents were similarly knowledgeable with regards to other products – most knew that butter contains dairy and peanut/almond butter does not. Fewer than 10% believed that rice, soy, almond, and cashew milks contain any dairy.
It would appear that the average American consumer is well-aware that plant milks do not contain any dairy. While some are unsure or believe otherwise, this is true of dairy products more broadly. A similar amount of people believe organic milk contains plant-based ingredients as who believe soy milk contains dairy.
Charging that the decline of dairy milk is due to consumer ignorance or deliberate confusion is unsupported. Moreover, the use of “milk” to refer to plant products is not a new fad – recipes for almond milk appear in Medieval European cookbooks, and it was a staple in kitchens of the time. Plant milks are being used as a scapegoat by the dairy industry, and the government is happily playing along. Animal advocates (and companies making plant-based milks) can best counter this strategy by educating the public and further normalizing dairy alternatives, as well as fighting against such legislation where it may arise.