The 'Dairy vs. Dairy-free' space remains lively, marked by a proliferation of plant-based alternatives and premium dairy milk offerings.

In our February issue of SupermarketNews, which is out now, we reviewed all current and upcoming Dairy and Non-Dairy trends, noticing that the success of one over the other is increasingly reliant on their ability to promote their benefits and convey a positive message. This is also the conclusion reached by research and consulting company New Nutrition Business, whose full report on the Top Dairy Trends for 2017 can be downloaded here.

And despite obvious legislative and regulatory differences, what’s happening in the US is quite emblematic.

Over the past few weeks, the US Senate has proposed a measure to prevent producers of plant-based substitutes from using the words ‘milk’, ‘yoghurt’ or ‘cheese’ on their packages, not without some ambiguity as to whether ‘mylk’ or ‘almondmilk’ violate the new rules.

In the meantime, class-action lawsuits have been filed against two of the biggest non-dairy manufacturers, WhiteWave Foods (Silk) and Blue Diamond Growers (Almond Breeze). The suits allege these plant-based products falsely claim to be ‘nutritionally equivalent and even superior to dairy milk’, hence charging a premium price.

Blue Diamond in particular was accused of having focused its entire marketing strategy on this nutritional superiority, even though - according to the lawsuit - its Almond Breeze lacks in nutritional value when compared to 2 percent milk. Interestingly, earlier this year the company had settled another lawsuit against its ‘All Natural’ claim and, without admitting to wrongdoing, agreed to pay US$9 million.

On the opposite side of the argument, advocates for dairy alternatives emphasise that almond milk companies make no false claims as their products are low in calories, fortified with vitamins and minerals and free from saturated fat or cholesterol.

Be that as it may, the ‘nutrient debate’ risks missing an important point, namely that the choice between plant/nut-based and dairy milk is sometimes simply driven by other factors such as lactose intolerance, preference of taste or veganism.