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Does Almond Milk come from almond-eating cows?

If seven percent of American adults think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows (CNN), does that mean people also think almond and coconut milk comes from cows that only consume almonds and coconuts? A new court decision out of the European Union (EU) will clear up this confusion for a lot of people, especially if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) follows suit.

The Court of Justice of the EU announced on June 15, that purely plant-based products are not allowed to use terms such as “milk,” “cheese,” “butter,” or “yogurt,” as those designations are reserved for animal products only. While some argue that consumers know exactly what they are getting when they purchase almond, coconut, and soy-based products, others say the distinction needs to be made more clear.

The EU is not the only one to be making this distinction, Canada and the U.K. have similar regulations on dairy terminology. And since the FDA has a habit of following in the footsteps of its European counterpart, this European industry shakeup could foreshadow what’s to come in the U.S.

The Dairy Pride Act is currently making its way through Congress and echoes the sentiment of the EU court, specifically that terms such as “milk,” “cheese,” and “butter” cannot be used for plant-based products. According to Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who introduced the bill, plant-based products are “unfairly profiting from the name and reputation of cow’s milk,” and as a result, hurting the dairy industry.

Support from the dairy industry is already apparent, with groups like the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) lobbying for The Dairy Pride Act on Capitol Hill. On the other hand, the American Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Association of North America have denounced the legislation, calling it unconstitutional. Additionally, Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) has hired a senior policy advisor to aid their fight against the Dairy Pride Act.

If the legislation succeeds, companies that produce such plant-based products could be forced to spend big money in a storm of consumer-research, BrandQuest meetings, and rebranding strategy meetings. Rebranding is not as easy as just coming up with a new clever name; marketers across the pond are already scrambling to rename and rebrand thousands of products.

So, should companies in the U.S. consider preemptive measures while they have the time?

Yes, they should. For one thing, they won’t want to be the last one to the table after all the clever names have been snatched up and filed for trademark.

If companies have a pre-planned response, and a great backup brand already churning, it can greatly soften the blow from a marketing and communications standpoint. Being prepared and having a robust, well-rounded strategy in the event this legislation passes (simultaneous to lobbying efforts to prevent its passage) could mean the difference between surviving this major rebrand and curdling.

LEVICK Fellow Brenna Means contributed to this post. 

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