Investigative reporting from The Times and Greenpeace has revealed that new Trading Standard guidelines have been drafted that could ban the use of dairy-related words to describe and market plant-based dairy products.

If the draft guidelines are put into force, then “obvious misspelling, homophonic words or [the] inserting [of] non-alphabet symbols” to refer to legally protected dairy terms would be prohibited.


This could affect all vegan dairy products, from milks to cheeses, butters and yoghurts, and could see brands banned from labelling their products as “mylk”, “m*lk”, “vegan cheese”, “plant-based yoghurt”, “cheddar-type” and a host of other descriptors that have historically been allowed in the market.


As plant-based pioneers that have launched or implemented PR, social media and influencer campaigns for multiple dairy-free trailblazers, from CO YO, to Plenish, Rebel Kitchen, Nutty Bruce, Nush and Freaks of Nature, our team at Palm have worked in this category since its inception. So, if you sell a mylk or a sheese or a dairy-free yog, how can you ensure that these changes don’t wreck sales and imperil a hard-fought customer base?


1: Master the guidelines

First of all, master the guidelines. As soon as the official details are published understand how they will impact your brand, your products, your marketing strategy, your packaging and, crucially, when. The Times has reported that “Names such as ‘mozzarella alternative’ would not be allowed, but language on packaging such as ‘use as an alternative to mozzarella’ would be.” Establish what you can and can’t do and when changes need to be made, using this information to shape your strategy and response.


2: Build brand equity

Invest in building equity and name-recognition in your brand and establishing it as a category leader. These changes will naturally favour the market’s biggest players. For example, consumers will have no problem in asking for “a glass of Oatly” instead “a glass of oat milk”, in the same way that people talk of “Googling” instead of “using a search engine”.  To make sure your business isn’t left behind, you’ll need to make your brand as well-known as possible and associated with the category as a whole so that consumers can still pick out your wares if product labelling changes.


3: Leverage third parties

If you can’t use your packaging and the brand’s owned marketing to communicate the message you want, then using third parties will be crucial. Press and influencer campaigns will be essential as the media won’t be constrained by trading standard guidelines and will be free to deliver messages direct to consumers that brands are no longer able to themselves.


4: Educate the market

Campaigns that educate the market will be a powerful way to build consumer understanding.  Activations that showcase or own usage occasions will enable brands to show that their ranges are an alternative to traditional dairy products if their labelling isn’t able to. This can be supported by clever brand collaborations. If you have a dairy-free milk, then strategic partnerships with likeminded cereal or coffee brands can achieve the positioning that you want.


5: Work with retailers

Work with your retailer to establish the best place to place your product. If these guidelines don’t enable you to draw the connection to your product and the traditional dairy variety, then placing the products side by side might be just as effective.


6: Lobby decision makers

Proactively challenge the guidelines. Make noise on social media and implement PR campaigns to get your voice heard in opinion pieces, TV shows and podcasts and use your customer base as an advocate for your position. Get political, join forces with other brands and speak to your MP and DEFRA to make sure your voice is counted in the debate.


7. Get creative

Finally, if you have to, harness creativity to develop alternative ways to describe your products. Consider terminology that resonates with your customer base whilst emphasising the nutritional benefits, plant-based nature and unique selling points of your range. The Plant-based industry has been adept at forging new categories and has an opportunity to ‘own’ these changings by forging language that enables brands to control their positioning and consumer perception of their products.