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Got a number of emails yesterday responding to Kate McMahon’s column, “Lactation Chronicles,” about the argument over what “milk” is.

MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

Your weigh-in on the milk vs. other medium extracted liquid (soy milk and others)… made me feel like I should provide a bit of feedback.

While you and the California court make a solid point, I can tell you that consumers are confused by things you and I would look at and go “wow”. Example…

Years ago I ran a marketing group for a private brand sales and marketing firm and one of our packages - for frozen french fries - had an image of a serving suggestion - fries served on a plate with a hamburger. We had to change the packaging as we received too many consumer complaints that their package did not contain a hamburger. So much for the consumer not being easily confused.

Also, milk has a clear standard of identity (as do cheese, ice cream ,etc.). Real cheddar cheese can’t be confused with Pasteurized Processed Cheese Food Product as we can make many things look like cheese that are in act not cheese - this was done for a nutritional benefit influenced by the WIC program so that kids would not get short changed on nutrition. If real milk adds some nutrients kids need (calcium and vitamin D come to mind) and if the other types of white colored liquid that come from plants or nuts do not have these things, then I feel you are in the wrong - parents who want their kids to eat healthy could be using one of these other products instead of real milk thinking that the same nutritional benefits are accruing when they may not be.

Let’s move to Ice Cream - another standard of identity product. I am a huge ice cream fan (defined as having a minimum of 10% butterfat to be called ice cream). In the past this prevented lower grade products from being passed off as full bodied ice cream. Today, if my memory and analysis are still good, Halo Top is technically not an ice cream and is referred to as a form of frozen dessert. By your logic, we can call anything frozen and flavored that was made near a cream/butterfat tank could be ice cream when, in fact, that is not the case based on standard of identity.

Finally, one that is perhaps a bit more fun - vodka. The only alcohol that, to my knowledge, has an absolute standard of identity (and I have no idea why). In this case (see Kettle One Botanicals - which are sort of vodka but do not meet the standard of identity), the only real differences between actual vodkas is the amount of “shoulders” (these are the beginnings and ends of a run through the still that have bad qualities including stuff that makes some people itch and have their ears turn red) a brand chooses to use (this is part of the standard of identity). This makes regular Kettle One and Fleischmann’s vodka very similar - the only different is packaging and marketing.

While I empathize with the almond, soy and other liquids that are doing a great job of marketing to take share away from milk, I am afraid I can’t agree with you on leaving them as “milk”. Milk is a bit like Kleenex - no one would allow any other brand of facial tissue to use Kleenex on their package as that is a trademarked brand - even though too many folks to count likely ask for a “Kleenex” when they are indifferent to the brand of facial tissue might be available for use. Milk is closer to Kleenex - a true brand that is owned by only one group and that is dairy farmers who remove lactated liquid from cows.

If we want to change how this works, I would suggest starting with changing the standard of identity - not the dictionary definition (which is important but is not the law/accepted rule of the land like standard of identity is).

Fromm another MNB reader, a different opinion:

Thank you for this insightful article and I absolutely loved your last comment that “It seems to me the dairy lobby is just crying over spilt milk.”

Our household has one Vegan, one Vegetarian and one who will eat anything.  We certainly don’t get confused when we shop nor are we confused when we open the refrigerator for a beverage, “yogurt” or a slice of “cheese”.

As far as the section that stated:

In a statement, Gottlieb he was concerned that consumers might mistakenly assume that non-dairy alternatives labeled “milk” would have the same health and nutrition benefits associated with cow’s milk, making them a “dairy product in disguise.”

As the Vegan in the family and an avid reader on the subject who looks at evidence and science from both sides of the coin I take issue with Gottlieb’s statement.  Nutritional benefits of cow’s milk?...maybe if you are a baby cow…not if you are a human.  People can drink cow’s milk if they so choose,  but they don’t have to in order to have all the nutrients they need to be healthy.

The dairy lobby is crying over spilt milk!

And from another:

I had to chuckle while reading your article this morning but also wanted to share something.  Your reaction ie; “Yuck” gave me the chuckle, but then I wondered if you’ve seen the documentary on Netflix called “What the Health” ?   It’s an interesting movie looking at the Milk Industry, Government regulation organizations (such as FDA) and other groups that should be non-partisan, however are supported by the very industries they are supposed to regulate.  If not, I’d highly recommend watching it.  It sheds some light into reasons (mostly monetary) behind their concerns.

As someone in the manufacturing industry professionally my whole career, I can say the consumer shift to non-dairy products is significant. Personally however, as someone who allergic to all dairy, I do wonder just how stupid they think consumers are when purchasing “milk” products.

Again, if you have time, the film is illuminating, eye-opening and totally worth watching.

MNB reader Glenn Cantor wrote:

More than labelling non-dairy “milk” beverages as “milk,” the marketers of almond, soy, cashew and other products in this category package their product in cardboard, “milk” containers, ship it to stores on the same rolling racks as does dairy milk, and then merchandise it adjacent to dairy milk.  It is promoted to be used the same as dairy milk- in cereal, with coffee, etc.
As a result, shoppers/consumers perceive this beverage product as a healthier form of milk.  This is an example of ingenious marketing in a high-volume category.  The dairy milk lobby is way too late in trying put this genie back in the bottle.

We had a reader yesterday who was not impressed with the Good Housekeeping -Amazon collaboration, GH Lab, in the Mall of America. MNB reader Tom Murphy responded:

The reaction from MNB reader “a merchant" to the GH Lab store opened at the Mall of America made me smile. He said:

"Being a merchant at heart I didn't care for the store. I like HUGE displays - not one of each item. Stack it high and let it fly baby!”

I smiled because a few years ago, I was part of a team hired by the COO of a family owned grocery chain to perform an analysis of store assortment. In short, the merchants and the operators were fighting over how much space to allocate to a specific product assortment and at what cost to overall store yield (not margin - think profit per square foot). At our first review, the CEO seemed less than supportive of the analysis, so I asked him which of his store’s five anchovy labels (brands not variety) he preferred. Of course, he went off the rails on his merchant and the study continued.

I will not make fun of either party in this argument, the merchant or the operator. They are both wrong and both right…the part I don’t understand is how all these grocers with all this information cannot figure out what the right size assortment, store and consumer format is! Are they still shooting from the hip as in “buy it low, stack it high, watch it go”!!

And finally, MNB reader Janis Raye wrote:

You and Michael were talking about the Wawa at Drexel University, and how it is likely taking lots of business away from Drexel’s student center. I wondered if you’ve ever seen the Wawa that is on the Princeton campus. It’s affectionately known there as “the Wa.” Our daughter has said she always heard it is considered the highest grossing Wawa in the chain. They did a renovation of the store recently as part of the redo of the train station there — might be worth a look.
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