Survey rates consumer understanding of dairy alternatives

A survey has found that consumers are not confused about use of the term “milk” on non-dairy drinks, but the dairy industry points out that they are nutritionally different from cow's milk.

A survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council finds the majority of U.S. consumers are not confused by dairy nomenclature used for plant-based alternatives.

With and without looking at labels, less than one in 10 people surveyed believe that coconut, soy, almond, cashew and rice milks contain cow’s milk.

Conversely, a large majority — more than 3 in 5 — of respondents understand there is cow’s milk in whole, chocolate, nonfat and skim milks.

“A significant majority of people understand correctly which products contain and which do not contain milk from cows when shopping for various types of products labeled using the word ‘milk,’” IFIC stated.

Only 48 percent of respondents not looking at labels believe lactose-free milk contains cow’s milk, and only 62 percent looking at labels believe it does.

National Milk Producers Council — which has urged the Food and Drug Administration to enforce its own standards when it comes to dairy alternatives using dairy terminology — thinks the survey misses the mark.

“This survey does nothing to address the underlying concern we have expressed — and importantly, that the FDA itself has raised,” Chris Galen, NMPF senior vice president of member services and strategic initiatives, said.

That concern is whether consumers understand the nutritional inconsistencies between real milk and the imitators, and how the plant foods are frequently deficient in many nutrients offered by milk, he said.

FDA began a public comment period earlier this month to gauge consumers’ understanding of dairy alternatives to guide the agency’s labeling policies.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency has concerns the labeling of those products might lead consumers to believe they have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products.

Capital Press contacted IFIC for comment on why the survey was done and why consumers weren’t asked about their understanding of nutritional equivalency.

Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, IFIC vice president of research, said IFIC knew FDA would be considering these types of issues and was also aware in some gaps in consumer research on this.

“This survey was just a few questions with a focus on consumer understanding of ingredients in these products. But we agree, these types of questions would be helpful to better understand how consumers perceive their nutrient profiles,” she said.

The survey also asked about consumer purchases in the three months before the survey.

When asked to choose all that applied, 45 percent said they purchased 2 percent milk, 38 percent bought whole milk; 30 percent bought almond milk; 29 percent bought chocolate milk; 19 percent bought 1 percent milk; 16 percent each bought skim milk and soy milk; 9 percent bought lactose-free milk, 7 percent bought cashew milk; 6 percent bought other nut milks; 2 percent bought other grain milks; and 4 percent bought none of the products.

Of those who buy products marketed as milk, 62 percent solely purchased dairy and 38 percent purchased nondairy.

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