As Aubrey Plaza goes to bat for Big Dairy, Oatly makes a website for its haters. Both only want one thing: a premium spot in your fridge.
Dairy-free milk has been under attack for years. Its biggest hater, the dairy industry, continues to try and knock it off balance — an increasingly difficult task as the category, now worth $2.8 billion, is growing at a nearly 13 percent CAGR, accounting for 15 percent of the total fluid milk category. Dairy-free milk is now found in more than 40 percent of U.S. households all while cow’s milk demand wanes — hitting an all-time low in 2021 — about half of where it was in its heyday of the 1970s.
Despite its continued decline, the dairy industry is not going down without a fight. It recently revived its popular “Got Milk” campaign to try and capture the Gen Z consumer, who, according to a number of surveys, continues to be disinterested in cow’s milk — even “ashamed” to order it in public.
Real California Dairy, the state’s dairy advisory board, enlisted Cuban-American singer Crys for an impressively infectious radio-worthy hook to promote milk. The dairy board teamed up with Crys again recently on a new track and a reportedly “playable” record made from actual cheese.
The industry’s efforts may not be effective, but they are consistently impressive; just this week ahead of Earth Day, the Dairy Board tapped White Lotus star Aubrey Plaza in a low-blow attack on plant milk by peddling the very much made-up “wood milk” in an effort to make conventional dairy look less absurd than tree milk.
The jab, “inspired by the idea that these days you can make milk out of anything,” seems to suggest that because there exists a wide range of plant foods capable of becoming milk, the sheer number of them actually invalidates their efficacy. According to the Internet, it’s also impossible to argue with Ms. Plaza on anything, but she’s also given conflicting information here, having previously spoken highly of almond milk (which comes from a tree).
The attempt to prop up dairy backfired, as Plaza’s fans were so upset the star had to turn off comments. The other problem? She also makes the mysterious tree milk look so, ahem, udderly appealing, that you can’t help but come away from the ad wondering just how delicious wood milk might taste in your cortado.
The dairy industry may have not fully thought this campaign through. Ms. Plaza may not have, either. Perhaps she truly does love cow’s milk and doesn’t care what her fans have to say, but given they tend to fall into that millennial to Gen Z bracket, milk made from trees is clearly not enough to send them running for cows. If anything, they’re using the opportunity to remind Plaza just how bad dairy actually is.
The fact is — and the target audience here is well aware — that milk, like meat and eggs, is so tied to climate change it might as well be Senator Ted Cruz on a chilly Texas morning. Livestock production is a huge climate offender. The sector is responsible for more than 60 percent of the entire food system’s emissions, and about 15 percent of total global emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
But recent data show that Gen Z consumers are shifting to vegan products for the most part because of concerns over their health. It’s a move that speaks volumes about self-awareness, something that also informs how younger consumers view these massive industries and their butterfly effect on the entirety of the planet.
Yet despite the facts, the changing market, and the sheer number of doppelgangers to cow’s milk, dairy-free milk still comes under attack. Enter: Oatly, the oat milk brand that’s equally in the business of shielding the category from the Big Dairy bullies by offering itself up as the proverbial punching bag for the category as it is quelling the dairy jonesing of middle-of-the-road consumers, namely those millennials and Gen Z who’ve gone milquetoast on conventional milk.
The proof is in the recently launched F*ck Oatly website, “a site devoted to helping our fans — and the thousands of people who hate us — better understand everything that’s ‘wrong’ with our company.”
The site covers a range of grievances, including its Blackstone investment controversy, a recent lawsuit filed over copyright infringement, and the pushback for selling spent grain to pig farmers — a move that its core vegan base thrashed.
“It’s not that these critics were anti-pig, they were anti-eating pigs, which is a completely valid stance and one shared by many of our loyal consumers and employees. And as one activist pointed out to us, ‘You’re literally giving your plant residue to animals so that people can then eat them,'” reads the website.
The tongue-in-cheek site also addresses questions about its added water content — a criticism almond milk also faced a number of years ago. It’s an attack the milk industry is particularly fond of because it doesn’t have to disclose how much water makes up cow’s milk (which is about 87 percent by volume compared to oat milk’s 90.6 percent).
Oatly also veers into claims that it’s owned by “the Chinese”, contributes to child labor, and virtue signals to vegans. Not satisfied with all that’s on the site? There’s a deeper wormhole for those who really dislike the brand — just double down on the edited expletive and head to F*ckF*ckOatly.com and keep adding f*cks to the URL to go deeper. Then, you can add your click to the ticker of people who presumably also dislike the brand.
“Why would we build such a website?” Oatly asks on the site. “For starters, it’s super convenient to have the latest boycotts and criticisms all in one place. But more importantly, we’re not the type of company to hide from moments like these,” the company says. “We see all the negative headlines, posts, and petitions as an inevitable consequence of trying to create positive societal change.”
Could the dairy industry pull off a move like this? Surely. But while both excel at leveraging humor, there’s one critical distinction: Oatly uses it to drill down deeper into the facts and answer serious questions in its signature frothy way. But the dairy industry? It seems clear that it only uses these tactics to attack and deflect attention away from the fact that like milk left out on the counter too long, consumers have gone sour on dairy.
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