Back in 2020 and 2021, the Food Safety and Standards Authority India (FSSAI) announced a ban on the use of conventional dairy terms such as ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ for plant-based products. It also directed plant-based manufacturers to modify the product labels of all such products and e-commerce platforms to delist these as well.
This order was successfully stayed by the Delhi High Court later in 2021 after five companies took action. Despite this, industry uncertainty remains today.
“The ban is essentially still a motion in hearing at the court level at this time,” Rohit Jain, Co-Founder and CEO of Drums Food International which was one of the five companies that contributed to the initial ban being stayed, told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Right now there is not yet complete clarity on these regulations by the regulators, and we have adopted the stance that we will respect the ruling.
“So until there is clarity, we will stay in compliance with the initial order and have stopped using the term ‘milk’ for our oat and almond products – we have moved to use other terms such as ‘beverage’ instead.”
Indeed, ‘beverage’ was one of the suggestions made by FSSAI back when the ban was issued, highlighting this as nomenclature that was ‘indicative of the dairy analogue’s true nature’.
Drums Food International is not the only company to have made this shift – many plant-based milk companies in the country, including both established firms and new start-ups.
For instance, Hershey’s SOFIT brand has changed all its product terms to ‘soya-based drink’ and ‘almond-based drink’, stressing its dairy-free and plant protein properties. No mention of soya milk or almond milk can be found on its website or the product labels.
Start-up Alt Co, which has a wide range of plant-based products has also opted to do something similar. It uses the term ‘Mlk’ or ‘Drink’ on product labels, but still refers to these as Alt Milk, Soy Milk or Almond Milk on its website.
Facts and hope
A recent victory by plant-based milk brand Oatly in the United Kingdom against trade body Dairy UK after four years, enabling it to continue using the word ‘milk’ on its product labels and marketing has been a rare spark of hope for the plant-based industry.
The case was filed by Dairy UK against the use of ‘milk’ in Oatly’s ‘Post Milk Generation’ tagline, which is printed on its cartons – but it was ruled this was used as part of a slogan and not as a descriptor of the actual product.
UK plant-based dairy products are also prohibited from using conventional dairy terms on their labels.