In the pantheon of fake national holidays, Cow Appreciation Day is a particularly ironic one. The brainchild of Chick-fil-A, the fast-food cult favorite, Tuesday’s holiday festivities are a marketing ploy meant to inspire consumers to celebrate cows by consuming chicken. But for dairy farmers and the dairy milk industry, the alternatives to cows have become the source of some beef.
Earlier this year, the market-research firm Nielsen released a consumer report showing the rocketing popularity of almond milk. “Almond milk is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years,” the report noted. (Many attribute the rising consumption of almonds in all forms to its healthful properties and as a protein-rich ballast to vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.)
Despite this surge, almond milk only accounts for 5 percent of the total milk market, but the dairy milk industry is taking notice and aim—perhaps because during almond milk’s rise, as the Nielsen report noted, “the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion.” One recent ad campaign funded by the dairy industry that has appeared on television-streaming platforms makes an effort to challenge that narrative by portraying almond milk as, well, less than pure. The spelling bee-themed commercial features one girl misspelling lecithin, which is defined in the ad as “an emulsifier found in almond milk.” The second contestant wins by simply spelling “milk,” coyly defined as “like, from a cow.” (Curiously, as some critics have pointed out, lecithin is frequently present in dairy milk too.)