The FDA has been reviewing the standards of identity for dairy foods and plant-based alternatives since last summer. In the process, it has collected public comment on the issue. Customers, farmers and companies on both sides of the aisle have made their opinions known.
Dairy groups want the FDA to impose tighter restrictions on plant alternatives and stop them from labeling products with terms like almondmilk, vegan cheese, etc. They feel it confuses consumers about nutritional content and ingredients.
Greek yogurt giant Chobani made its feelings known with comments that suggested improper product labeling “poses a public health risk” and is illegal. Chobani is known for its Greek yogurt products in the US and just introduced its first non-dairy products last month.
The letter from NMPF thanks Chobani for ‘supporting transparency’ in the debate and being willing to use its platform to voice its opinion.
“We also appreciate Chobani’s approach toward the labeling of its own plant-based products, which eschews the use of dairy terms,” Mulhern said.
"We will always strongly advocate for dairy as the superior consumer choice, but we do not object to the presence of plant-based imitators. As Chobani and other responsible companies are showing, such products can compete on their own merits without misappropriating dairy terms.”
But not all dairy companies are on the same page. Danone North America is a major player in the dairy industry but also owns vegan brands Silk, Vega and So Delicious. It disagrees with Chobani and considers the way plant-based companies label to be “consistent with regulations and case law.”
“The trend toward more consumption of plant-based foods should be embraced and not subverted by requiring confusing, unfamiliar labeling requirements,” Danone said.
Danone and others against restrictive labeling don’t believe customers are confused by the dairy terms. They have also pointed out that it would be a major cost to overhaul product labels with the potential to put some brands out of business.
Mulhern’s letter to Chobani does not directly address this, but says NMPF hopes, “having read Danone’s comments to the FDA, that such companies will choose to seek constructive labeling solutions rather than employ arguments that ignore consumer needs for transparent labeling.”