These days, if you presume to call your vegan product âmilkâ or âmeat,â prepare to do battle. The producers of the animal versions of those products are putting a target on your back. The latest company in the crosshairs? Miyokoâs Kitchen.
Miyokoâs Kitchen offers up artisanal vegan cheeses and vegan butter. And this vegan butter isnât your typical palm-oil-based butter substitute. Rather,Â the ingredients includeÂ coconut oil, sunflower oil and cultured cashews to recreate a realistic non-dairy butter. It spreads and melts like the real thing.
Fans of Miyoko Kitchenâs products rave about them. Happy consumers have turned the company into a plant-based success story.
But, all of a sudden, someone filed a class action lawsuitÂ in late October 2018 to challenge Miyokoâs Kitchenâs marketing approach.
Unlike other lawsuits against plant-based alternative foods, this lawsuit doesnât allege that consumers will be confused between ârealâ butter and vegan butter. Instead, it argues that consumers are being misled because they would expect that Miyokoâs products âare nutritionally equivalent to butter or margarine, when they are inferior â lacking vitamin A, D, E and calcium.âââ
The complaint alleges that Miyokoâs products âbask in dairyâs âhaloâ by using familiar terms to invoke positive traits â including the significant levels of various nutrients typically associated with real dairy foods.â
Really, dairyâs âhaloâ? Iâm fairly confident few of us buying vegan butter think of the dairy industry as deserving of angelic descriptors. Itâs cruel and heartlessÂ in myriad ways â and thatâs why so many of us are turning to plant-based alternatives.
The real assertion here is that Miyokoâs dared to use the word âbutterâ on its packaging when its product doesnât have all the attributes of dairy butter.
âIt is false and misleading for the Products to not be labeled as an imitation (whether of butter or margarine) in a manner as prominent as it promotes its equivalence to butter,â the complaint alleges.
So the beef â if youâll pardon the expression â is that the word âveganâ isnât big enough on the packaging?
You mean the packaging that says right on its face that itâs âvegan butterâ? The package thatâs stocked in the grocery cold case with all the other non-dairy plant-based products so vegans can find them? The one thatâs significantly more expensive than dairy butter? The one that plant-based eaters specifically seek out because itâs vegan and itâs really good? That one?
In fact, Miyokoâs Kitchen has gone through a series of package redesigns as its product grew in popularity. Where the packaging once said âMelts, browns, bakes and spreads like butter,â now it says âMelts, browns, bakes, and spreads phenomenally.â The words âMade from Plantsâ now appear prominently on the box. The words âcultured veganâ are now in larger font above the word âbutter.â A vegan logo now appears on the front as well.
All these updates apparently took place before the lawsuit was filed on October 30, 2018.
Why did the product call itself butter in the first place? Thatâs easy, says company founder Miyoko Schinner. She toldÂ Food Navigator:
We really believe that the landscape of dairy is changing rapidly and innovation is driving that change. Weâre trying to revolutionize how we make dairy products by making them from plants, and we believe that is going to become the new norm.â
We want to really drive the conversation about what exactly constitutes a âdairyâ product in the future. There may come a time when all dairy products come from plants and at that point, you could ask are they really âdairy freeâ or are they the new dairy?
This lawsuit will be a tough sell. Food regulations permit products to be called by an âappropriately descriptive term,â attorney Bill Acevedo toldÂ Food Navigator.
Indeed, weâve already seen a lawsuit pertaining to WhiteWave FoodsÂ products, the maker of Silk plant-based milks. The federal district court in that case held that names like soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk âclearly convey the basic nature and content of the beverages, while clearly distinguishing them from milk that is derived from dairy cows.â
Are a group of âconcernedâ consumers truly behind this class action lawsuit against Miyokoâs Kitchen, or is thisÂ Big Dairy once again, taking a different tack?
No one buys vegan butter expecting it to be nutritionally equivalent. They buy it because they want a plant-based butter that tastes good and functions similarly to butter in cooking and baking. Those worried about nutrition read nutrition labels and make decisions accordingly.
Just stop it with these ridiculous lawsuits. Plant-based alternatives are here to stay.
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