This past fall, Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), told attendees to NMPF’s annual meeting that he remains committed to achieving passage in Congress of the Dairy Pride Act, legislation in the Senate and House that would require FDA “to enforce existing food labeling standards and prevent misbranded plant-based imitators from appropriating federally defined dairy terms on their labels.”
FDA regulations (CFR 131.110) define “milk” as a product of a cow, with similar definitions for yogurt and cheese products, NMPF noted.
“The FDA has unfortunately allowed these decidedly non-dairy copycats made from nuts, beans, seeds and grains to label their products using dairy-specific terms,” Mulhern said at the meeting.
Although it’s not clear that the inclusion of dairy-related market names such as milk and cheese are purchase influencers for dairy alternatives, it is clear that sales of these products are on the rise. For example, in its October 2017 “Dairy and Dairy Alternative Beverage Trends in the U.S.” report, the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com forecasts that plant-based dairy alternative beverages will represent 40% of combined dairy and dairy alternative beverage sales by 2021 — up from 25% in 2016.
Meanwhile, sales of liquid milk — the genuine dairy kind — continue to decline. Per-capita consumption of fluid milk beverages decreased by close to 22% from 2000 to 2016, the report stated.
But dairy processors could help thwart the threat from dairy alternatives by using their websites and other communication vehicles to explain why real dairy products remain “the better alternative.” Specifically, they could 1) dispel some of the common misconceptions about dairy products and 2) showcase research that paints dairy products in a positive light.
Address the myths
One common misconception is that dairy cows are pumped full of antibiotics, leading to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that might decrease the effectiveness of antibiotics used on humans.
In reality, although cows do undergo antibiotic treatment for mastitis on occasion, milk containing antibiotic residues is not allowed to be used for human consumption. FDA requires milk to be analyzed for antibiotics using approved test methods. But do the consumers of your dairy products know that?
Another is that the consumption of dairy products, particularly full-fat renditions, promotes weight gain. But the opposite appears to be true.
One study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Nutrition analyzed the effects of full-fat and low-fat dairy on obesity. It revealed that of the 18,438 middle-aged and older women in the ongoing Women’s Health Study (run by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital), those who consumed the most high-fat dairy products reduced their risk of being overweight or obese. That’s certainly something worth sharing with your consumers.
Unsure of what other misconceptions are out there? A good starting point for common dairy-related myths — and ammunition for debunking them — can be found on Michigan State University’s website: https://tinyurl.com/yaj2q6qe.
Showcase the benefits
Also worth communicating to consumers are any new studies linking dairy products to health benefits.
The most recent of these (at least at press time) suggests that yogurt consumption helps reduce chronic inflammation in women. The study, conducted independently by the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and funded by the National Dairy Council (NDC), showed that the consumption of 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt — a serving and a half — a day reduced several biomarkers of inflammation in both normal-weight and obese premenopausal women. Chronic inflammation can contribute to metabolic conditions and many related diseases that include obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, NDC noted.
Dairy marketers that want to showcase the study’s findings can find more information here: https://tinyurl.com/ycogsozd.