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WCMA Declares Dairy Labels for Plant-Based Products Are Misleading by Jessica Donnel

As we’ve previously reported, the FDA has long been exploring how consumers perceive plant-based foods that mimic dairy products, meaning products like “almond milk” or “cashew cheese.” In response to the FDA’s request for comments on the use of dairy foods names for plant-based products, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) released a statement confirming its stance that the use of the word “cheese,” is confusing and misleads consumers. In an effort to prepare its comments for the FDA, WCMA, in partnership with Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, commissioned a study from consumer research firm Ravel to learn more about the perception of plant-based “dairy” products. Revel shared the following conclusions in its report:

One quarter of consumers mistakenly indicated that pasteurized milk was present in plant-based foods that mimic cheese One quarter don’t know what ingredients are in cheese mimics. About one-third of consumers don’t know or think that the plant-based cheese has higher quality protein, even though plant-based foods that mimic cheese have little to no protein content. Significantly more consumers indicate that they would buy one of the plant-based foods that mimic cheese because they are low in calories, low in fat, and contain no additives, although mimic cheese contains an equal or comparable amount of fat and calories and contain substantially more additives than dairy cheeses About half of consumers say plant-based foods that mimic cheese are actually cheddar or mozzarella cheese Compared to the dairy cheeses, a significantly higher percentage don’t know if the plant-based foods are cheddar or mozzarella cheese. More than half of consumers surveyed mistook a plant-based food mimicking cheddar or mozzarella to be traditional cheddar or mozzarella or were unclear about applying these traditional cheese names to plant-based foods.

The FDA has long been exploring how consumers perceive plant-based foods that mimic dairy products

In light of these findings, WCMA released the following statement to the FDA, calling on the department to change their current rulings on plant-based foods.

“Based on the data presented in the attached study, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association concludes that the use of the word ‘cheese,’ and the use of traditional cheese types such as cheddar and mozzarella on labels for plant-based foods confuses and misleads consumers,” the association concluded. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should use its authority to stop the makers of plant-based foods that mimic dairy products from using the word ‘cheese’ or the names of cheese types on packaging or in marketing and advertising. These products are simply not what they claim to be, and consumers are confused and deceived.”