FDA Begins Official Review of Dairy Substitute Labeling

Are you a producer of a non-dairy substitute product? It may not be the best time to buy that pallet of labels. Soon, almond milk may not be “milk” at all.

There have long been industry whispers of a potential review of words like “milk” on the packaging of dairy alternatives. Finally, the discussion heated up this week. The Food and Drug Administration is now soliciting feedback after Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement announcing the agency’s upcoming review of non-dairy labeling.

Primarily, the purpose of the review is to ensure consumers aren’t being misled by dairy alternatives. According to Gottlieb, these products can “vary widely in their nutritional content.” Consumers may be misled in thinking they’re receiving the same amounts of calcium and vitamin D that they would commonly find in milk and dairy. Gottlieb also claims that these non-dairy products are not “satisfactory substitutes” for the uses of traditional dairy. But because they’re packaged and sold similarly, consumers may not know that.

Who’s involved?

The well-financed dairy industry is certainly invested in hastening of this FDA review period. CNBC notes that Big Milk has spent $2.7 million dollars on lobbying this year alone. Dairy alternatives are taking a larger percentage of the market, and milk sales are declining. If the FDA rules with the dairy industry, forbidding dairy substitutes from using names like “milk” and “cheese,” it could significantly change the landscape of the market.

It will be a year or more before any significant decisions are made. But dairy-alternative producers would do well to do some market research of their own. They should understand how their customers use their product, and how it could be marketed apart from the traditional signifiers of dairy products. Watch out, almond milk, soy milk, and vegan cheese. The old-boy’s club of Big Milk doesn’t take kindly to new faces.

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