The EU’s top court has ruled that milk and dairy replacements that are being marketed and sold within the EU cannot have the word “milk” or “butter” in their names. This includes products such as soy milk, tofu butter, vegan cheeses, and other soy foods that act as dairy replacements.
In a press release, the court said, “Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’, which are reserved by EU law for animal products. The same is true if those designations are accompanied by clarifying or descriptive terms indicating the plant origin of the product concerned.” The reasoning behind this decision is reportedly to eliminate consumer confusion.
This decision comes as a result of German vegan food company TofuTown—which offers soy foods, including meat and dairy substitutes—arguing that their products were sufficiently labeled to inform consumers of their ingredients and therefore did not violate EU regulations. The case was referred to the European Court of Justice by the Landgericht Trier in Germany after the Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb brought an action against TofuTown for a prohibitory injunction.
The court did grant an exception for nut-based butters (such as peanut and almond) and for coconut and almond milk—but for all types of soy foods, soy milk, tofu-based products, and other vegan alternatives that are not nut-based, vendors will have to change their labeling practices and product names. This ruling means that even labeling soy milk as a “milk alternative” could incur a fine, so vendors might have to get a little bit creative.
The market for soy foods is currently thriving in the EU, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of almost 6% over the next four years. The main drivers behind the popularity of these products are a rise in the number of vegan and vegetarian consumers, greater adoption of plant-based diets, and an increase in demand for dairy-free products suitable for consumers with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance.
In the US, similar legislation is currently awaiting approval by Congress. The Dairy Pride Act would exclude plant-based milks from using the term “milk” on their packaging, requiring that vendors find an alternative name for soy milk, almond milk, and other non-dairy milks.
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