Toward the end of 2018, I penned a column defending Dairy Foods’ coverage of the plant-based dairy-alternative space. The column was in response to reader feedback suggesting such coverage was harming dairy farmers and the dairy processing industry.
Since then, we have continued to get emails and phone calls, albeit less often, questioning the inclusion of these “dairy wannabees” in our monthly issues and on our website. Considering that dairy alternatives are the stars of one of this month’s cover stories (our Outlook Report), I thought the time was right to restate our defense.
Dairy companies are producing alts
From a product development and innovation standpoint, Dairy Foods has long covered nondairy categories such as juice, ready-to-drink-coffee and tea, and more. Why? Because many dairy processors produce such products, along with genuine dairy products, within their plants.
In recent years, many dairy processors have also expanded into the dairy-alternative arena — including such dairy giants as Danone North America, Nestlé USA, Chobani LLC and Well Enterprises Inc. We expanded our nondairy coverage, therefore, to reflect this reality.
Alts are here to stay
The trend toward plant-based dairy alternatives is showing no signs of losing steam. In fact, Fortune Business Insights forecasts that the global dairy alternatives market will reach a whopping $25.1 billion by the end of 2026. Trends favoring vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian lifestyles are expected to drive increased demand.
“Apart from that, the ever-increasing concerns regarding environmental impacts, animal welfare and health may limit the growth of the dairy sector,” the Pune, India-based market research firm noted.
For some dairy processors, dairy alternatives represent another growth avenue that can peacefully coexist with dairy operations. For others, dairy alternatives represent unwanted competition to existing dairy product sales. No matter which category your company falls in, however, information about new products and trends is critical to success.
Labeling is an issue
That said, we do not support some of the practices favored by many dairy-alternative brands. The use of dairy-specific names for decidedly nondairy products is one of those practices. It is technically illegal, per federal regulations, but FDA has failed to address the situation.
As I noted in an earlier column: A plant by any other name … is still a plant. It’s not milk, cheese, yogurt or butter. That’s why it is our policy to put quotation marks around terms such as “almondmilk,” plant-based “yogurt” and so on. That treatment designates that they are the brands’ words, not ours.
We also do not support marketing language that dupes consumers into believing dairy alternatives are nutritionally on par with their dairy counterparts. I wrote about that topic in an earlier column as well.
At heart, our focus is and will continue to be the dairy foods industry. Nevertheless, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is going on inside and outside that industry.