The complaint, filed by the Belgian Confederation of the Dairy Industry (BCZ), was upheld by the court which approved the term 'plant-based alternative to dairy' but not 'variation on dairy' or 'plant-based variation on dairy'.
The BCZ welcomed the judge’s decision: “Alpro’s use of the term 'yoghurt' […] is in contradiction with the Belgian and European legislation that protects consumers and sets out the rules for the use of dairy denominations. The legislation must be applied correctly and the consumer cannot be misled. Only authentic milk-based yoghurt can use the name."
Renaat Debergh, managing director of BCZ, said: "We have nothing against soy products, we only ask to communicate correctly on the nature of the product and not mislead the consumer."
In a statement Alpro said it would be against its interests to mislead consumers on the difference between dairy and soy.
"Alpro [...] does not at all want to pretend that its products would be dairy products as claimed by the dairy industry. On the contrary! Alpro stands for plant-based food and wishes to distinguish itself from dairy products.
"[We] believe that the dairy industry unjustly underestimates consumers. Consumers do read Alpro's messages correctly and know very well what they will eat or drink when buying [our] products."
The company, a business segment of US dairy giant Dean Foods, has been ordered to adapt its website and packaging.
An ongoing battle
This is part of an ongoing terminology battle between companies producing plant-based alternatives and the dairy industry, which has fought to banish what it deems "misappropriation of dairy terminology on imitation milk products”.
In 2012 the Dutch Dairy Association (NZO) took Alpro to court for using misleading terms to market its ‘mild and creamy’ range. The court ruled that Alpro could only use the term ‘yoghurt variation’ in combination with ‘plant-based’.
In 2007 the EU ruled: "Dairy analogues or products that are not purely dairy may not be labelled, advertised or presented using protected terms reserved for milk and milk products. In addition, there should be no direct or indirect suggestion of a dairy connection by ‘non-pure’ dairy or imitation products."
According to a 2014 Mintel report, UK sales of cow-milk alternatives such as soy, rice and buffalo milk shot up 155% between 2011 and 2013.