Feb. 23, 2023 – Plant-based beverages can continue to be called “milk,” according to newly proposed guidelines from the FDA.
One-third of U.S. households now use the beverages, and focus groups that were put together by the FDA showed that consumers know the products are different from dairy milk but prefer to use the term “milk” over other options such as “drink” or “beverage,” the FDA explained in its proposal.
The plant-based beverage market at first offered mainly soy, rice, and almond drinks but has now expanded to include products derived from cashews, coconuts, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, macadamia nuts, oats, peas, peanuts, pecans, quinoa, and walnuts. The primary ingredient in most plant-based beverages is water, the FDA noted.
When a plant-based product uses the label “milk,” manufacturers should include a statement detailing how the product’s nutrient content compares to dairy milk, the FDA suggested, noting that such a statement would be voluntary. The comparison statement is recommended because most people don't get enough of the important nutrients that are found in traditional dairy products.
“Additionally, consumer research indicates that, while the majority of consumers understand that milk and plant-based milk alternatives are different products, consumers may not understand the nutritional differences between them,” the FDA proposal states. “Consumer research also indicates that consumers perceive plant-based milk alternatives labeled with the term ‘milk’ to have a more favorable nutritional profile than similar products labeled with terms like ‘drink’ or ‘beverage.’”
Between 2010 and 2016, the proportion of U.S. households purchasing plant-based milk products increased from 20% to 33%, the FDA said. In 2020, U.S. sales of plant-based milk totaled $2.4 billion. In 2018, the FDA began exploring labeling requirements and has since received more than 13,000 comments.
“The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, said in a statement.
The FDA is gathering feedback on the proposal until April 24.