“Our consumers are avid label readers; they read the Nutrition Facts panel,” said Michael Lynch, VP marketing at Canadian brand Daiya Foods, which features the strap line ‘Deliciously dairy-free’ on the front of all of its product labels, coupled with terms such as ‘Greek Yogurt Alternative,' and 'Cheezecake.'
“Consumers are doing just fine navigating through their choices,” added Lynch, who said conversations in the dairy-free market initially revolved around food allergy and intolerance, but have since expanded to encompass a far broader set of concerns.
“What they are saying to us is that they want products that are dairy-free whether for health, dietary reasons, beliefs about animal welfare or the environment, or just because they prefer the taste or are looking for something new and different. We actually hear that a lot with our yogurts and Mac and Cheese, people say they prefer the taste profile.
“The Dairy Pride Act is just a way for the dairy industry to rationalize declining sales. It’s a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Our consumers are avid label readers
But what does he say to commentators who challenge whether Daiya’s cheese – made with expeller-pressed safflower/canola oil and coconut oil; tapioca starch; pea and potato protein, yeast, gums, sugar and natural flavors and colors – is nutritionally equivalent to, or better for you, than dairy cheese?
It all comes down to what you are looking for, said Lynch. Cheddar cheese, for example, contains more protein and calcium than Daiya's Cheddar alternative, but in turn contains more cholesterol, saturated fat and calories.
The relevant question as this relates to the Dairy Pride Act, is whether consumers are being deceived, and the answer is no, he contends, because they know what they are buying and they are therefore making an informed choice.
“I keep saying it, but our consumers read labels.”
Our dairy-free pizza is doing phenomenally well
Daiya Foods - which was founded by Greg Blake and Andre Kroecher in 2008 - now sells dairy-free cheese, pizza, ‘cheezecake’, ‘cheezy mac’, and yogurts in 25,000+ stores, and is generating strong double-digit growth in accounts from Safeway to Whole Foods because consumers are actively seeking out dairy alternatives, claimed Lynch, who said the quality of dairy-free products had improved dramatically in recent years.
“Our soy-, gluten- and dairy-free pizza is doing phenomenally well, and our dairy-free cheezy mac is now the largest and fastest growing deluxe mac & cheese product in the natural channel, and that’s ahead of Annie’s which has a gluten and dairy-based product.”
The Dairy Pride Act would “require that non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae no longer be confusingly labeled with dairy terms like milk, yogurt, and cheese.”
It would also permit products from the lacteal secretions of other hooved mammals such as goats to be described as 'milk,' 'cheese,' and 'yogurt.'
The bill would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of “mislabeled imitation dairy products” within 90 days and report to Congress two years after enactment to show it had met its obligations.
The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association - who support the bill - say they simply want the FDA to enforce standards of identity already enshrined in law that limit the use of dairy terms (milk, cheese, yogurt) to dairy products.
“These plant-based products are imitations, but they are not substitutes for the comprehensive nutrient package offered by real milk,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA.
We’re the third largest dairy-free yogurt brand behind Silk and SO Delicious
Asked whether plant-based cheese and yogurts can hope to capture a similar share (almost 10%) of the dairy cheese and yogurt market that plant-based ‘milks’ have managed to secure over the past decade, he said: “I do believe it’s possible, because we’re appealing to the same consumers. The issue in the past was that plant-based cheese represented too much of a compromise, but the products now are better than ever.
“We’re the third largest dairy-free yogurt brand behind Silk and SO Delicious, which have been around for many years, so we’re thrilled with how our products – which are thicker and richer and creamier than the competition - are doing.”
Merchandising options for dairy-free
Meanwhile, retailers such as Safeway that stock Daiya products in the dairy case rather than next to tofu, have seen the gamble pay off, he added.
“Safeway actually suggested this to us. They came to Expo West and they saw all the excitement around our products and realized the mainstream potential.”
While some new entrants to the market producing cultured nut-type products make a virtue of their shorter ingredients lists and ‘traditional’ techniques, Daiya Foods – which makes vegan cheese using plant-based oils, starches, gums and flavors - notes that everyone is occupying slightly different spaces in the category.
Kite Hill, for example, has focused on producing softer cheeses, while Daiya began by trying to replicate the taste, texture and melting profile of “comforting” cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella that you’d use in a grilled cheese sandwich or on a pizza.
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- Is it legal to call plant-based beverages from nuts, seeds and legumes, ‘milk’?
- Will the plant-based ‘milk’ debate prompt a wider probe of federal standards of identity?