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Product: Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Medium: Outdoor, Poster
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 8.6, 8.9, 8.10
Poster advertising for Oatly included the image of a carton of Oatly (Oat Drink Barista Edition) and stated:
“It’s like milk but made for humans.”
The National Dairy Council and a consumer objected to the advertising and raised the following grounds:
The National Dairy Council considered that the statement inferred that milk was not suitable for humans and as such, disparaged acceptable dietary practices. They said that the Irish Food Pyramid guidelines *1 recommended the consumption of three servings of milk and dairy products each day, with even more recommended for teens as part of a healthy balanced diet. They said that milk and dairy had been consumed in Ireland for centuries and provided a significant contribution to the Irish diet.
The consumer complainant also considered that the statement implied that milk was not suitable for human consumption.
The National Dairy Council considered that the statement in the advertisement was misleading on the grounds that it was implying that an oat-based beverage that contained food additives, added salt, and added nutrients was superior to cow’s milk without any evidence.
The National Dairy Council considered that no information had been provided in the advertisement as to how the product was “like milk”. While they acknowledged that the average consumer was likely to understand an oat-based beverage was made differently to milk, in the absence of an explanation, they considered that it was not unlikely that a consumer could reasonably believe from the statement that the product was nutritionally the same as milk. They said that there were nutritional differences between plant-based alternatives. As an example, they said that the Oatly beverage contained 1.1g of protein per 100ml compared to 3.6g per 100ml of cow’s milk. In view of these differences, they said that one of the reasons these products couldn’t be called ‘milk’ was due to the possibility of consumer confusion. In the circumstances, they considered it was misleading to state that the product was “like milk”.
The advertisers said that they make an effort to market their products in a factual, lawful and authoritative manner. They said that for them to describe their products, it was obviously necessary to give consumers and other recipients of their marketing communications reference points to what their product was so that they can understand how the products could be used. They said that they have been offering alternatives to milk products since their beginning, therefore it was necessary to occasionally refer to milk in advertisements. They considered that it was more or less impossible to describe what their product was and how the company's products were used, without some reference to milk. They said that no consumer would know what an oat drink was if milk did not exist, since they would have no reference or preference to drink a white nutritious drink, at least in adulthood.
They said that their focus has always been on describing how Oatly could fit into people's lives and that they have never, directly or indirectly, claimed that milk was bad or unhealthy. They pointed out that the Advertisement promoted Oatly's Barista Edition oat drink which had been made to have the same function as milk in coffee or tea, foam in coffee machines etc and was unsweetened and fortified.
The advertisers stated that the advertisement had not disparaged good dietary practice or mentioned in disparaging terms, either milk or any other competing drink, product or competitor. They said that they had instead focused on describing how their product could fit into people’s lives. They also did not consider that the advertisement had, directly or indirectly, claimed that milk was bad, unhealthy or unsuitable for human consumption.
They said that the advertisement spoke only of the content of the products and not about any other products and that the objective was to get the message across to consumers that Oatly's product was a nutritionally good alternative to milk for many people, including those who cannot tolerate lactose, milk protein, soya or for ethical, moral, religious, environmental or taste reasons, those who cannot or do not want to drink milk or consume dairy products. They said that while cow’s milk has been an important source of nutrients, from a nutritional perspective today, there is now a much wider variety of foods to choose from, therefore, we are no longer dependent on milk and dairy products to meet our nutritional requirements. They said that the nutrients in milk could be found in many other foods, e.g. fortified oat drink, furthermore, there are a larger population of consumers with special dietary needs such as those with food allergies and intolerances, or people with ethical, cultural or social considerations in relation to their diet who cannot or choose to avoid dairy products.
The advertisers said that they did not believe that the advertisement had disparaged good dietary practices, particularly as dietary recommendations were changing as the place of plant-based drinks within a healthy diet was increasingly being acknowledged. They said it was a trend growing as guidelines were updated and nutrition experts became increasingly aware of the impact of both the planet and public health. They said that moving to a plant-based diet had been demonstrated to have a significant positive effect on the combat against many lifestyle non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity). They said that these diseases were the leading cause of death globally and were very costly for the individual as well as for society. *2
The advertisers said that while the Irish Food Pyramid guidelines recommended the consumption of three servings of milk and dairy products, they said that it also recognised dairy alternatives such as soya milk and that as the reference was non-exhaustive, it had included oat-based products. They provided a copy of the Irish Food Pyramid guidelines issued by Healthy Ireland which they said recognised milk alternative by stating ‘If choosing dairy alternatives such as soya milk and yogurts, choose those with added calcium.’ *3
They said that taking into account the Irish Food Pyramid along with other minimum nutritional standards, the HSE and Safefood jointly developed the "Nutrition Standards for food and beverage provision for staff and visitors in healthcare settings" *4 and referring to "Milk, yogurt and cheese" in the Irish Food Pyramid, these standards stated "Plant-based drinks, if offered, must be fortified and unsweetened" and in the ‘what foods are included’ section, plant-based drinks (such as almond, hazelnut, coconut, rice or oat drinks were included, so they considered that these standards clearly recognised that plant-based drinks (including oat drinks) were acceptable alternatives to milk. They said that dietary guidelines were not the only place where plant-based drinks were increasingly being acknowledged, as the current review of the EU School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme saw plant-based drinks being discussed as a more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk within European schools. *5 They also said that the European Food Safety Authority categorised plant-based drinks as core foods along with milk and dairy. *6 They also said that health agencies in other EU member states had acknowledged plant-based dairy (and more specifically oat drink) in their food circle, for example, the Swedish Food Agency had accepted plant-based dairy in the “Kostcirkeln” (Food circle) within the dairy and vegan products food group, stating that “If you only choose plant-based alternatives, you need to choose ones that are enriched with, among other things, calcium, vitamin B and vitamin D in order to get similar nutrients as from milk products.” It also stated that “It is important to point out that only the fortified plant-based products can approach the nutritional value of the traditional dairy products. Therefore, those who only eat vegetarian need to choose, for example, oat drink that is enriched with calcium and vitamin D”. *7
The advertisers also referred to the NHS in the UK whose website provided tips on the different sorts of food to offer a child and what to avoid. *8 They said that under the heading "Milk and dairy products", it stated that "You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks, from the age of 1 as part of a healthy, balanced diet". They also referred to the "Healthy eating for children: Food Fact Sheet" from the British Dietetic Association ('BDA') which stated that "Non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk can be given from six months in food and from 12 months as a main drink."
They also referred to the Eatwell Guide’s recommendation for adults in the UK that “When buying dairy alternatives, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions” *9 They said that from all the above, it was evident that health authorities were including fortified plant-based drinks in their dietary recommendations. They said that fortified plant-based drinks and cow’s milk were similar because they were used for the same purposes, filled the same place in peoples’ diets as well as being visually similar.
They said that fortified plant-based drinks were not nutritionally inferior to milk, referring to a recent Swedish report that compared the nutrient density of 5 dairy products and 10 plant-based milk alternatives based on nutrient rich food (NRF) index (based of nutrients in relation to recommended daily intake rather than being “equivalent”). For NRF version 11.3, two fortified almond drinks came out on top, followed by a fortified soya drink, and fortified skimmed milk in the upper third. For (the more comprehensive) NRF version 21.3, fortified oat drink (unsweetened, 3% fat) and fortified semi skimmed milk (1.5% fat) came in the upper third. They said that products without fortification ended up further down in the ranking with both versions. The report concluded that fortified plant-based drinks and fortified milk products had equivalent nutrient density. *10
The advertisers said that the message of the advertisement explained what people already knew, that cow’s milk was produced by cows and was intended for calves (but that it could be consumed by humans once it had undergone processing), whereas Oat drink was a completely human invention developed and intended for humans. They said that the advertisement was aimed at consumers who were looking for products similar to milk that were free from animal products. They considered that the message from the advertisement was that there was now a milk, an animal product free alternative, and not that milk was bad, dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for human consumption. They said that the statement "It’s like milk..." would be understood by an average consumer as to mean the similarity between cow's milk (which has been duly processed for human consumption) and Oatly's products namely, the similarity between their respective functions, appearances and the place in peoples' diet. They said that fortified oat drinks could be used as milk in all respects such as in cooking and drinking and the fact that milk was similar to fortified oat drink was confirmed by health authorities as well as dairy brands that market oat drinks and both products were similar in appearance.
The advertisers said that consumers were well aware that an oat drink did not have the same composition as milk, nor would a consumer reasonably be misled into believing that oat drink had the same composition as milk. They said that the advertisement did not state that milk was bad for humans. They considered that to come to that conclusion, it was necessary to go beyond a literal interpretation and to say that the sentence should be interpreted in the opposite way, namely, that milk was not made for humans and was thus not intended to be consumed by humans, was not only incorrect but illogical. They said that had they claimed that cow’s milk was made for humans, that would have been untrue, just because cow’s milk was extracted, processed, packaged and sold to humans did not mean that it was originally produced for humans.
In regard to the use of additives, they stated that they were kept to a minimum and were carefully selected, each fulfilling a particular purpose such as consistency. They said that the large majority of these additives were in fact fortificants, to ensure their nutritional similarity with milk, and thus facilitate a consumer's smooth transition from animal to plant-based ‘dairy’. They considered that the complaint appeared to suggest that cow’s milk was never fortified, however, this was not the case with many milks being fortified.
The advertisers stated that consumers were well aware that an oat drink did not have the same composition as milk, and they did not consider that consumers would reasonably be misled into believing that oat drink had the same composition as milk. They said that the advertising indicated that Oatly's product (being plant-based) was similar to milk but in contrast to cow's milk was specifically made for human consumption.
In response to the reference to the Safefood report *11 , and the differences in protein levels of the products, they said that protein was not usually a nutritional concern, with the average intake of Irish adults of 85.2g/day (men 100.2g and women 70.4g/day) *12 suggested inadequate protein intake was not a nutritional issue with many people consuming in excess of European recommendations. They said that when Irish children were considered, the same conclusions could be reached, with data from the FSAI Scientific Committee Report - NPNS *13 (National Pre-School Nutrition Survey) finding that protein intake accounted for 15% to 16% of total energy intake in 1–3 year-olds, above the Institute of Medicine’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range of 5-10% for 1-3 year olds, and similar protein intake of 15% of total energy found in 4 year olds. Furthermore, they said that the Scientific Committee Report stated that “There are no known benefits to consuming high intakes of protein” and that current data suggested that high intakes were a risk factor for obesity and obesity-related diseases. They also said that intake data indicated that protein requirements were easily achieved by 1-3 year-olds and 4–5 year-olds. In the circumstances, they affirmed that plant-based products having lower protein than cow’s milk was not an issue of concern in developed countries.
They said that reports like the Safefood report and other dietary recommendations, sometimes highlighted the need to look for ‘unsweetened’ products which they supported. They said that all their unflavoured drinks had no added sugar with a total sugar content of approximately 3.5g, similar to cow’s milk. They said that the report also stated that “Plant-based dairy alternatives to milk contained less salt than their dairy milk equivalents” and “Milk alternatives contained less saturated fat but similar total fat to their dairy milk equivalents".
They said that they keep additives to a minimum and they are carefully selected, each fulfilling a particular purpose such as consistency. They said that the large majority of these additives were in fact fortificants, to ensure their nutritional similarity with milk, and thus facilitate a consumer's smooth transition from animal to plant-based ‘dairy’. They considered that the complaint appeared to suggest that cow’s milk was never fortified, however, this was not the case with many milks being fortified. They also said that the production process of making consumer milk products and oat drink production were very similar. They also said that it was widely accepted in the dairy industry that oat-based drinks were nutritious dairy alternatives.
The advertisers said that the comparison with milk was correct because their oat drink was intended to be used for the same purposes for which milk was used, e.g. as a drink or in cooking. They said that it had been developed specifically for humans, in contrast to milk which was produced by cows and intended for calves but over the years has been extracted and processed for human consumption. They considered that the advertisement made it very clear that their product was similar to milk, and that an average consumer, on seeing the advertisement, would clearly appreciate that they had expressly distanced their product from milk (without any denigration) and were giving the consumer a product that was similar to milk but had a completely different origin.
*2 McEvoy CT, et al (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. Public Health Nutr;15(12):2287-94;
Melina V, et al (2016) Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets; Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics;116(12):1970 – 1980;
Springmann, M, et al (2016) Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. PNAS; 113 (15): 4146-4151
*3 Healthy Ireland Your guide to milk, yoghurt and cheese- https://assets.gov.ie/7578/aa59fb9287714f1fb91c42f19c998d1c.pdf
*7 The Swedish Food Agency (2023) Swedish Food Circle- https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/matvanor-halsa--miljo/kostrad/matcirkeln#Mj%C3%B6lk_och_ost
The Swedish Food Agency (2023). Press Release. More plant-based options in the new greener Food Circle- https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/om-oss/press/nyheter/pressmeddelanden/fler-vaxtbaserade-alternativ-i-nya
*10 Jacobsen, et al. (2022) Näringstäthet i mjölk och växtbaserade drycker. SLU Future Food Reports 20. Uppsala- https://www.slu.se/ew-nyheter/2022/12/ny-rapport-om-naringstathet-i-mjolk-och-vaxtbaserade-
*11 Safe Food (2022) Plant-based dairy alternatives: Products Available in Supermarkets on the Island of Ireland, and Consumer Behaviours and Perceptions- https://www.safefood.net/Professional/Research/Research-
*12 IUNA 2011 National Adult Nutrition Survey Summary Report - https://www.iuna.net/surveyreports
Richter, M et al. (2019). Revised Reference Values for the Intake of Protein- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6492513/
Upheld In Part.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
Issue 1 - Upheld:
The Committee noted that the statement in the advertisement was “It’s like milk but made for humans” and that the complainants considered this statement implied that milk was not fit for human consumption. The Committee noted that while cow’s milk was sourced from cows, it had been consumed by humans for centuries and dairy products were a recognised source of nutrients in the food pyramid. The Committee considered that the use of the phrase, “but made for humans” in advertising for a non-dairy milk alternative, implied that dairy milk was not suitable for human consumption. In the circumstances, the Committee considered that the use of the phrase “but made for humans” was in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4 and 8.6 of the Code.
Issue 2 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted that the complainants considered that the statement “It’s like milk but made for humans” was implying that Oatly was a superior product to cow’s milk, when it was a product that was fortified to mirror cow’s milk. The Committee noted that both products could contain additives and be fortified. They considered that the claim was referring to the suitability of the product for humans as opposed to making a superiority claim. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that advertising was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised.
Issue 3 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted that the intention behind the advertisement was to promote a product that was an alternative to cow’s milk. The Committee noted that there were different varieties of both cow’s milk and oat drinks and as cow’s milk was not an homogeneous product, there was not one set nutritional value of cow’s milk. The Committee considered that the two products could be used for the same purposes and given both had different varieties with different nutritional values, the Committee did not consider that it was misleading to say the product was ‘like milk’. In the circumstances, the Committee did not uphold the complaint on the grounds raised.
The claim ‘but made for humans’ should not be used in future advertising.