hat is “milk”?
The growing popularity of plant-based dairy
alternatives has given rise to industry debate
over the use and definition of the word, as
beverages such as almond milk, coconut milk and oat milk
become household staples. Once a minuscule subcategory
fueled by vegans, vegetarians and consumers with dietary
restrictions, plant-based “milks” have gone mainstream,
with their taste, nutritional value and reduced environmental impact—compared to their dairy counterparts—
appealing to consumers of all diets and demographics.
Yet the U. S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) defines
milk as “the lacteal secretion … obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows,” impelling the
National Milk Producers Federation to launch a campaign,
with support from members of Congress, to prevent plant-based brands from labeling their products as milk. Introduced in January 2017, the Dairy Pride Act would require
the FDA to enforce its definition of milk under the claim
that the loose use of the word is inaccurate and misleading
But perhaps the dairy industry’s root cause for concern
is that plant-based brands are taking over the dairy case.
Retailers are dedicating greater shelf space to milk alternatives and dairy-free beverages, leaving dairy sales spoiled.
From 2000 to 2016, per capita consumption of fluid milk
beverages decreased by nearly 22%, according to the Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts report Dairy and Dairy
Alternative Beverage Trends in the U.S., 4th Edition. Also,
according to research from New York-based Nielsen, the
compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of milk in the
past four years has dropped 3.4%, while milk substitutes
have risen 7.7% over the same period, with almond milk
and coconut milk increasing 14% and 9.3%, respectively.
Claims of Consumer Confusion
While demand for plant-based milks is increasing, the precedent for dairy alternatives was set decades ago with the
introduction of soy milk and rice milk, says Madeline Haydon, founder and CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based Green
Grass Foods, which produces the dairy-free half-and-half
alternative Nutpods. But as more consumers embrace
dairy-free alternatives, regardless of dietary needs, soy
milk and rice milk are also losing out. The CAGR of other
milk substitutes has increased a whopping 90.6% over the
past four years, per Nielsen data, while that of soy milk and
rice milk has dropped 6.6% and 12.1%, respectively, over
the same period, making way for new varieties, including
hemp milk, flax milk and even pea milk.
“What’s most striking is the rapid growth in volume for
Fridge & Frozen
Health and transparency are driving the shift
to nondairy milk alternatives. By Natalie Taylor
Decrease in per capita
from 2000 to 2016
Source: Packaged Facts