The FSSAI has proposed the Dairy Analogue draft notification (uploaded on 30 July 2020) to prevent using the word ‘Milk’ for any product that is designed as an alternative or replacement to milk or milk products. The notification also adds that the term milk should only be applied to animal-derived milk and milk products. The FSSAI has kept the window for any objections or suggestions concerning the said draft regulations for a specified period till 4 October 2020.
Indian dairy alternative market
Dairy alternatives or plant-based milk are beverages available primarily as an option for lactose intolerance, milk allergy, health conditions, vegan diets, or ethical concerns. The other options are gaining popularity as everyday drinks as well. Multiple sales channels and the rising importance of internet retailing is adding impetus to the Indian dairy alternative market.
According to a ResearchAndMarkets report, the Indian dairy alternative market stood at US$ 20.9 million (approximately Rs 150 crore) in 2018 and projected to reach US$ 63.9 million (about Rs 460 crore) by 2024. The market is driven by the increasing participation of millennials in sports and fitness and the growing consumer inclination towards low-fat milk beverages.
Leading organized players in the dairy alternative market include Hershey India, Life Health Foods (India), Rakyan Beverages, and Dabur India.
Industry reaction to the proposed draft
The regulator’s proposal has so far elicited a mixed reaction from the industry. For example, the national animal protection entity, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization (FIAPO), has written a letter to the FSSAI chief executive officer Arun Singhal seeking to keep the current nomenclature of milk which applies to both dairy and plant-based milk and their products unchanged and withdraw the Regulation no. 2 (ii) (ea) from the draft notification.
FIAPO’s letter states that non-dairy milk is a part of ancient and traditional Indian culture. “It is affordable, nutritional, sustainable, and an important part of the diet of those who are lactose intolerant. Any change in the nomenclature of the term ‘Milk’ to exclude plant-based milk and its products will adversely impact the livelihood of thousands dependent on the growing plant-based industry.”
In addition, the recent move has been called ‘regressive and detrimental’ to the interest of industries producing plant-based milk and cheese. Some experts feel that the labeling restriction will create confusion and chaos among consumers resulting in a considerable loss for the food industry.
Commenting on the FIAPO’s reaction, RS Sodhi, the managing director of Amul, told the Economic Times that the objections are based on certain industry lobbies. “The move by the national food regulator is both consumer and farmer-friendly, and in line with international definitions of milk-based products,” he added.
Global practice limits ‘Milk’ mainly for animal milk
In 2013, European Union regulations stated that the terms milk, butter, cheese, cream, and yogurt could only be used for animal milk-based products, with some exceptions to coconut milk, peanut butter, and ice cream.
The United Kingdom also enforced strict food labeling standards for milk, cheese, cream, and yogurt to describe dairy products. In the United States, the dairy industry once petitioned the FDA to ban the use of terms milk, cheese, and butter for plant-based analogs (except for peanut butter).
In 2019, the US National Milk Producers Federation petitioned the FDA to restrict plant-based milk labeling, claiming it should be described as ‘imitation.’ In response, the Plant-Based Foods Association stated the word ‘imitation’ was disparaging, and there was no evidence that consumers were misled or confused about plant-based milk.
The consumer is choosing plant-based beverages regardless of the name being used. For example, it wouldn’t change the choice of people who avoid animal milk due to lactose intolerance, animal welfare concerns, allergies, and other reasons. As mentioned earlier, these areas are niches for non-dairy milk. To grab this opportunity, producers will go out of their way to ensure consumers know their brands and properties well.