The best products in the world can fail with lackluster branding and marketing. Even some of the most successful companies of all time have experienced this phenomena. Take Coca Cola’s New Coke, Pepsi’s Crystal Pepsi, Google’s Wave, Microsoft’s Zune, and Apple’s Newton for examples.
On the other hand, products that many would pass over at first glance frequently enjoy great success with innovative branding. One such company, White Wave Foods, (owner of the Silk family of products), knows this all to well. Made from soybeans grown without genetic engineering in North America, not a single product in the entire Silk product family contains dairy.
Their soy milk, for example, is a stable emulsion produced by soaking dried soybeans and mixing them with water, vitamins, and other goodies such as antioxidants and minerals (see how they do it here). In other words, soy milk isn’t milk at all. Plain and simple, it’s soy juice. (Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?)
You may be asking yourself, “Wow, you’re right! How’d they get away with that one?” Well, lets take a step back into history.
The word milk has been around for quite some time. It’s first known usage appeared in the Old English lexicon dating before the 12th Century. Today, Merriam-Webster Dictionary primarily defines milk as “a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for the nourishment of their young; especially : cow’s milk used as a food by humans”.
The last time I checked, soybean plants aren’t mammals and don’t have mammary glands. As such, calling the processed liquid soy milk is just as out of left field as calling orange juice orange milk, apple juice apple milk, or pineapple juice pineapple milk would be.
Fortunately, the marketers may have a defense. Merriam-Webster’s second definition for milk is “a liquid resembling milk in appearance: as
- The latex of a plant;
- The juice of a coconut composed of liquid endosperm” ; and
- The contents of an unripe kernel of grain.
” Wait, what!?! That’s almost too convenient. Maybe it’s me, but I think that the soybean industry lobby has pulled a fast one over us. (Note to self, inform the portabella mushroom lobby that they should pursue a “portabella steak” exception in the dictionary.)
Nevertheless, and all kidding aside, this is actually a very contentious issue with serious financial ramifications for the dairy industry,that has been going on for more than a decade. Rehashing a complaint from 2000, the National Milk Producers Federation (“NMPF”) (read: The dairy lobby) took action last year in a battle of linguistics against the soybean industry by petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) to prevent the soy industry from using words such as “milk”, “cheese”, “yogurt”, “sour cream” and more in their product names and descriptions.
In doing so, the NMPF relied on the legal definition of milk set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (see 21 CFR 131.110 (a)) by arguing that FDA must act to “promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers”. Just as they lost in 2000, (read a response from the Soyfoods Association of North America and a passionate Michangander), the NMPF’s recent petition and web page dedicated to the pressing issue, have had little effect, to date. After all, I’m sure you’ve noticed you can still buy soy milk, soy yogurt, and rice milk at your local market.
There is a lesson to be learned. The marketing folks behind the soy lobby and Silk followed their instincts, took a risk and branded their products based on a colloquial definition, as opposed to the CFR’s legal definition. In doing so, they have successfully marketed a popular alternative to cow’s milk with great success. With that said, the next time you’re perusing your local supermarket in the dairy section, ask yourself a two questions:
First, should the soy milk be in the juice or dairy section?
Second, where on earth is the milk of magnesia?
An entrepreneurial attorney with an MBA, Adam Zuckerman is a blogger and people connector inspired by the intersections of business, law, media, technology, and all things outdoors. Formerly the VP and GC of JESS3, LLC, a creative interactive agency, Adam’s experience spans multiple industries, both legal and business, including business process re-engineering, organizational design and development, organizational change management, human capital management, and project management.