Soybeans Don’t Have Mammary Glands

By: Guest | May 16, 2011 | 

Adam Zuckerman is a blogger and people connector inspired by the intersections of business, law, media, technology, and all things outdoors.

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”.

But, wait!

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

  1. The latex of a plant;
  2. The juice of a coconut composed of liquid endosperm” ; and
  3. 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.

  • Nick

    I have not read this article yet, but I want to state the fact that soy milk is scary. Thanks.

  • Milk is for babies. I’m an adult and have been weened off the stuff a long time ago.

  • KarenARocks

    As a consumer of Silk and other dairy product substitutes, I find it convenient that they are located with their dairy counterparts. I use Silk as I would milk, in my coffee, in my cereal, for baking and many other uses. I would not go to the juice aisle as I don’t use it as a juice. Much as you would find egg beaters next to the cartons of eggs, items in the grocery store follow the mind of a reasonable person. It just seems logical that Silk would market themselves in this manner.

  • Firstly, I think that it should be up to each individual store where they place their food items. I’m sure they’ve done the studies, and if they find that they should be putting Silk in the dairy section as a milk alternative, then that is their prerogative. Whether it should actually be called “milk” is a separate argument. I’m sure that somewhere on the bottle they say it is a non-dairy product, so is there really any legal standing there? If I recall correctly from my last viewing of Iron Chef, almonds aren’t really nuts. Should Mr. Peanut be suing them? I don’t think so. And one comedian (can’t recall who) once said that no one would by “soy juice” …that just sounds disgusting. By the way, I’m a milk drinker all the way. Never liked the soy alternative. Guess I’m still a baby, John :).

  • AdamZ

    @Nick , your honesty is refreshing!

  • I noticed how Diamond uses the suave “almondmilk,” getting around the dilemma and getting to keep “milk” in its name–and in the milk section :). I never liked Silk, and personally think it ought to be kept with the milk of magnesia–whatever that is.

  • HowieSPM

    Every business technically is part of a business lobby even if not directly a paid member. Business lobbies exist solely for the benefit of the businesses and not for the good of the employees, customers, communities, states and countries they operate in. So not surprised the Milk lobby sued.

    On that note Baskin and Robbins sued Pink Berry in California for calling their product Yogurt. Turns out there is a yogurt culture requirement that Pink Berry failed to meet. Oh and to be called yogurt in California it must be made in a factory. You mix up a batch in your small store or bistro and you are not allowed to call it yogurt. What is interesting the lawsuit also affected another competitor Golden Spoon who failed he yogurt culture test.

    I am always fascinated by the convergence of business, consumers, and law and often the law doesn’t care about consumers.

    Silk should be in the dairy the way non-dairy liquid creamer is for convenience. But the store trust me doesn’t want it there. They want us walking all over the place. Otherwise coffee and cereal would be right next to milk. More chance for impulse buys.

  • AdamZ
  • @AdamZ ‘Preciate that. Used to treat constipation, I see. I thought it was for the opposite (hey, at least I don’t need it!).

  • LOL ” where on earth is the milk of magnesia?”

    I never really thought of it before, but I knew soy milk wasn’t milk. How can we be so gullible? Just because it’s called milk, we consider it a good milk alternative. it may be the best marketing example I’ve ever heard! Until now I considered using soy milk as a milk alternative for my tea but yuck! I don’t want to put JUICE in my tea!?! LOL


  • @johnfalchetto I’m with you. wine is much better for you.

  • Speaking of wine, which @johnfalchetto always makes me think of… (well, now that I think of it, I always have wine on my mind)…. anyway – AVA’s are regulated in what you are able to say and not say and what you are able to call wines. ie Champagne is only from the region of Champagne, Chablis, same thing, and so on. The Milk Association would have to go through a similar process if they really wanted that stopped.

    But to your point about marketing the product? Smart – Soy milk is definitely more appealing than Soy Juice. Thanks for the great post, Adam!

  • KarenARocks

    @Lisa Gerber @johnfalchetto Yes! Wine gets my vote.

  • Nerd #2

    Uh, I’d a never converted to Soy Milk had it they been forced to call it “Soy Water – Infused with awesomeness so it kinda resembles milk texture and color but not really”. I don’t think I’m the exception either. There is DEFINITELY power in using the term “Milk” on their label.

    That’s awesome how you’ve pointed this out. It’s an incredible marketing lesson that speaks to the power of associations people have to certain words.

  • ginidietrich

    @KarenARocks @Lisa Gerber @johnfalchetto While I love wine, I also love milk. Guess I have some growing up to do!

  • ginidietrich

    A long, long time ago, I worked on The Catfish Institute. I loved that piece of business because we worked with celebrity chefs across the country to create recipes for catfish that would make it on to menus of white tablecloth restaurants. Smack dab in the middle of our “U.S. Farm-Raised” campaign, the Japanese began “dumping” catfish into American grocery stores and calling it U.S. Farm-Raised. We quickly went from a consumer awareness campaign to a lobbying effort to get them to stop it. It was really fun work, but I understand how/why the dairy lobby would be upset by the branding of soy milk. I don’t like the stuff; I prefer real milk, but plenty of my friends drink it for the supposed better health benefits.