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New guidance is being prepared to help Trading Standards officers interpret and enforce laws on how dairy alternatives are described in packaging and marketing

Food sector public relations firm Palm PR has launched a campaign which aims to stop new guidance effectively banning the use of dairy-based terms on dairy alternatives.

The Grocer reported in May that new draft guidance from the Food Standards & Information Focus Group was being prepared to help Trading Standards officers interpret and enforce laws on how dairy alternatives are described in packaging and marketing.

As well as preventing use of the word ‘milk’ for plant-based products, the updated guidelines suggest also banning brand names and product name descriptors such as ‘mylk’ and ‘m*lk’, plus statements such as ‘not milk’, marketing images that invoke milk, and use of terms such as ‘an alternative to x’ or ‘yoghurt-style’.

Such a move has been branded potentially “devastating” by plant-based brands, which lead Palm PR, which represents several such businesses, to launch a campaign and a petition on in a bid to retain the status quo.

Palm said it had already garnered support from The Vegan Society and vegan charity Viva, along with “multiple businesses and key opinion leaders in the category”, Nush Foods, Moving Mountains and One Planet Pizza.

Imposing the new guidelines would “prevent there being a level playing field between categories, instead dampening innovation and adding costs to businesses already battling rising prices”, the agency said.

“People have understood plant-based terms for centuries, with the earliest mentions of soya milk in written text dating back to 1365 and almond milk in a 13th century cookbook,” it added.

Plant-based brands raise alarm over alt-dairy marketing guidance

“It’s clear consumers are well-versed in plant-based dairy terminology, and Palm PR’s petition demonstrates that Trading Standards’ guidelines only create limitations for the sector.”

In addition to halting the issuing of the guidelines, Palm said it also hoped the campaign would encourage Trading Standards to evolve its overall guidelines “to better fit a modern and dynamic food and drink industry”.

“We believe the vegan sector can live in harmony alongside the rest of the food and drink industry, that it’s possible to support both the plant-based and non-vegan parts of the market and that the plant-based industry’s success reinforces the success of all of the UK’s food and drink economy,” said Palm founders Emily and Liam Keogh.

“We also believe the UK’s vegan food industry is an incredible part of the economy and should be celebrated – it’s a world-leader, generates millions of pounds of revenue a year and promotes more choice for consumers.”

There was “no evidence” consumers were confused when buying plant-based dairy alternatives, and to argue that terms such as “not milk” and “sheese” are confusing and should be banned was “ridiculous”, said Vegan Society CEO Steve Hamon.

“This proposed measure is based on outdated regulations and appears to be driven solely by commercial interests rather than consumer interests. Instead, it would actually limit consumer choice and work to suppress innovation in the green plant-based industry, where the UK should be a world leader.”