When food marketers start fighting with each other, nobody really wins. At best the consumer will become confused. At worst, the daily headlines will grossly overuse clichés and puns (aka will fight ‘til the cows come home”). If I see “Crying Over Spilled Milk” once more, I am going to start crying for real.
Is Milk Champion Voting for “More” milk or “Less” Milk? Or “More REAL” Milk?
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has introduced the DAIRY PRIDE ACT bill. It has quite the detailed acronym: Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday. If you note the starting letters it may be clearer to you. Words are a very important component of this bill. The aim is to suppress the use of the word “milk” on non-dairy plant-based beverages such as almond, soy and coconut milk. If this bill becomes law, all non-dairy items which currently present themselves as milk, would have to undergo name changes. The goal is that everyone buying milk would be getting real milk and not plant based food and beverages. However, according to the Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association, Michele Simon, “There’s no evidence to show a connection between the rise of plant-based milks and dairy milk’s decline.”
MILK: You can spill it and You can spell it. But DON’T Misuse it”
Rightly or wrongly some people are convinced that erroneously non-dairy drinks as milk, has resulted in people choosing beverages for the wrong reason. Those supporting the DAIRY PRIDE Act are looking to reinvigorate U.S. milk consumption by bringing consumers back to real milk or as they put it, to milk that is only from mammalian secretions. The non-dairy milk market is a $2-billion-dollar market reports Michele Simon. Her argument is that there is much more information beyond the word milk on the containers and that consumers are not confused about what the product actually is.
It isn’t about SPILLED milk, it’s all about DOLLARS DOWN THE DRAIN!
Sales are the measure of success for every food producer. Over time, trends develop which contribute to informed decision making. Since 2015 dairy milk sales have decreased by seven percent. By 2020, forecasts suggest that these numbers could decline by another 11 percent. If you look at your own experiences, it isn’t hard to accept that the past forty years have seen major changes in dairy consumption. We used to drink nearly 22 gallons of milk per person per year in 1970. By 2012 that quantity has dropped to 14.5 gallons. For analysts and financial planners, the desire to be able to definitively pinpoint the causes and effects of the decline is driven by the need to have a sustainable dairy industry.
Consumers are Going with the (Milk) flow!
Eating habits shift over time. In the past 50 years technology and lifestyle changes have impacted milk sales. The arrival of convenience foods in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, had a major impact on milk consumption. Along with eating out more frequently, consumers shifted their choices to more versatile and convenient alternatives to fluid milk. There has also been an increase in consumption of such dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
“If it’s made from Canadian Milk, it’s worth crying over!”
In the midst of all this tugging and pulling, one marketing group has decided to face the tears head on. A new campaign has been launched by The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) which is choosing to highlight the value of tears.
“The Dinner Party” is a theatrical promotion which opens on the scene of an elegant tableau frozen in time. Slowly the camera moves down the beautifully appointed table revealing that each of the party guests have been caught with tragic facial expressions and tears streaming down their cheeks. As the camera reaches the head of the table, the source of the tragedy is revealed. There is a toppled pot of cheese fondue which is about to spill off the edge of the table onto a man’s lap.
“Everyone knows spilled milk isn’t worth crying over, but it’s a whole different story if that milk happens to be Canadian,” says Paul Wallace, Executive Creative Director, DDB Canada Toronto. “In this campaign, we communicate the high quality of Canadian milk by showing different characters crying over spilled dairy products – because losing even a single drop of ice cream made with quality Canadian milk is a real tragedy.”
Name Calling “Milk by Any Other Name”
The drama over the way milk is advertised goes beyond the highlighting of the benefits of milk from dairy cows. One reason for the rise in nondairy plant milks is because of taste. Over the last decade, consumers have been seeking options beyond the traditional whole, low-fat, 2%, or skim milk. Spokesperson Simon highlights that “There are many options to choose from.
While almond, coconut, and soy are among the most popular, there are nondairy milks made from hemp seeds, flax seeds, oats, rice, macadamia nuts, pecans, and cashews.” She summarizes, “They’re all piquing consumer interest.”
For Crying Out Loud Are Milk Drinkers Too Smart? Or Too Stupid?
We always think laws are good if they keep or put money in our pockets. However, we aren’t as impressed if the assumption is that we are not smart enough to make good choices or to recognize bad ones. There is a fair question posed by plant-based food supporters, “Why would a consumer say ‘It’s no longer being called almond milk so I’m going to go back to drinking dairy’?” They also add, “Tell Congress to Dump the “DAIRY PRIDE Act. No one is purchasing plant-based milk, cheese, or yogurt because they’ve been tricked into thinking it’s a cow’s ‘lacteal secretions.’” The precedent for siding against the dairy industry has already been set by a case adjudicated in 2015. a California judge ruled in favor of Trader Joe’s after the grocery chain was sued over the use of the word “milk” on its nondairy soymilk product. “No reasonable consumer” would confuse soy with dairy, cited U.S. district judge Vince Chhabria. The federal standard identity for milk “does not categorically preclude a company from giving any food product a name that includes the word milk,” Judge Chhabria said in his decision.
“OUT of ORDER!” Who Will Get Hammered in Court
Sometimes the issues need to be taken to a higher court. It isn’t the first time that the agri-food industry has appealed for legal support. In 2014 Unilever was in court on behalf of its mayonnaise brand, Hellmann’s. They felt that the product “Mayo”, an eggless spread, marketed by Hampton Creek Foods, violated FDA definition of mayonnaise because it didn’t use eggs. In the end Unilever dropped the lawsuit and, eventually, launched its own version of eggless mayonnaise.
FDA Expected to Churn Things Up with Milk Rulings!
Both sides of this argument are confident that the FDA will rule in their favor. Accurately defining the word “milk” is one of the expected outcomes. The recognition of the health benefits of milk are also owned by both sides who claim heart health, strong teeth, weight loss and health benefits for growing children. At the end of the day it isn’t about who’s right or wrong. Although legislation may temporarily seem to clear up confusion or commercial conflicts, the real drivers of consumer choices are too varied to be reduced to a simple legal decision.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
In a world that is promoting everything “alternative”, it isn’t surprising that the dairy industry is also getting caught up in the turmoil. Regardless of which side of this beverage argument you support, there is only one thing you can be absolutely sure of. “Both sides will be milking it for all it’s worth!”