Consumer confusion persists over milk and plant-based alternatives

Consumer confusion persists over milk and plant-based alternatives
Credit: shutterstock.com/ ziashusha

A survey from International Food Information Council (IFIC) shows that some consumers are confused when it comes to milk and plant-based alternatives.

The findings, which flag up confusion over labelling terminology and the basic differences between the two, comes as the US Food and Dru Administration mulls a proposal to provide greater clarity on the labelling of plant-based milk and dairy alternatives.

According to the survey, about three-quarters of Americans understand that plant-based “milk” products do not actually contain cow’s milk (75% for soymilk and almond milk; 74% for coconut milk; 73% for rice milk and 72% for cashew milk).

Fewer than 10% believe that any of those products contains cow’s milk, while the remainder say they don’t know (20% for cashew milk and rice milk; 18% for coconut milk, and 16% for soy and almond milk).

Conversely, large majorities know that products labelled “whole milk” (90%), “chocolate milk” (85%), “nonfat milk” (78%) and “skim milk” (74%) contain cow’s milk, although that number falls to 48% for “lactose-free milk.”

Consumers expressed similar awareness about whether various products labelled as milks or butters contained cow’s milk or plant-based ingredients.

Cow’s milk was identified as an ingredient in chocolate milk by 84% of respondents, in organic milk by 78% and in butter by 77%, with only 8% or less believing that any of them contains plant-based ingredients.

For lactose-free milk, 62% believe it contains cow’s milk and 14% cite plant-based ingredients.

The survey also asked about consumers’ purchases in the past three months. Nearly half (45%) bought 2% milk, with 38% for whole milk, 30% for almond milk, 29% for chocolate milk, 19% for 1% milk, 16% for both skim milk and soymilk, and less than 10% for lactose-free milk or other nut- or grain-based milks.

Of those who buy products marketed as milks, 62% purchase solely dairy, while 38% purchase non-dairy.

Groups who are more likely than others to buy non-dairy products include people in the western US (45%), consumers under 45 years old (43%), people of colour (48%, compared to 32% of white people) and those with a college education (44%, compared to 30% of non-college graduates).