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The guidance is expected to enforce tighter controls on branding and labelling on plant-based dairy alternatives

Brands are still in the dark on potentially seismic plant-based labelling enforcement guidance scheduled to arrive in spring.

The guidance, which will be policed by Trading Standards, is expected to enforce tighter controls on branding and labelling in the plant-based dairy alternatives category.

However, the details remain closed to brands, despite plans to roll out the new regulatory regime within months.

Marisa Heath, CEO of the Plant-Based Food Alliance, said the lack of communication around the new regulations was an “issue, because how is the sector going to know what it’s dealing with if it’s not allowed to see it?”

Last May, The Grocer reported a potential ban on words like ‘mylk’, ‘yogs’ and ‘sheeze’ was in the works, alongside a ban on statements such as ‘not milk’, marketing images that invoke milk, and use of terms such as ‘an alternative to X’ or ‘yoghurt-style’.

At the time, the proposals also covered terms such as ‘red Leicester flavour’ on non-dairy products and descriptors such as ‘semi’ or ‘whole’ applied to plant-based drinks.

The PBFA said a number of brands could potentially be affected.

Heath – who has been working with the Food Standards & Information Focus Group on the guidelines – said the potential clampdown was “really disappointing”.

“We’re still very perplexed by the reasoning and we haven’t been given clarity by FSIFG.”

No retailer had received complaints about confusion or shoppers buying a plant-based product when they intended to buy the dairy version, Heath added.

“This isn’t an anti-dairy agenda or anything like that,” said Heath. “It’s just about getting people to make other choices as well as continuing with that additional choices.” 

“I think consumers will be against the legislation,” said Simon Hurley, managing director at consultancy P2P Food Solutions, “I think they’ll say it’s been unfair.” 

“I get that we need to make sure there is no confusion,” he added. “But it can’t just be a blanket banning of language that the consumer understands.” 

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Using “alternative to” and similar communications helped consumers identify how products could be used as part of a balanced diet, Heath argued.

It is not yet clear how the rules will be implemented or enforced, but there are concerns it will be done on a local authority level, which would make it “a bit of a lottery”, she added.

“We’re very worried about the implementation of this. Should the guidance be enforced on a local level, this raises questions about what it means for brands elsewhere in the country,” she explained. 

“It’s really unclear and confusing about how this will actually be done.”

There are also concerns around the cost of changing product marketing and packaging for brands impacted by the change in rules.

“For brands like Oatly and Alpro, for brands to go and change [branding] it will cost bililions and billions,” explained Hurley. “That’s going to lead to loss of sale, loss of profit and ultimately the person who is going to suffer from that is the consumer in the long run.” 

Similar rules could also be implemented on the meat-free category, both Hurley and Heath warned, but these are in early stages.