Milking “malk” for all its worth

Malk and cereal. Much to the delight of dairy industry lobbyists, at least one vegan nut drink company has removed all references to the word “milk” from its packaging. MALK brand products now bear the term “malk” everywhere they used to read “milk,” a switch co-founder August Vega says is meant to clear up confusion. “Malk is not nut milk pretending to be dairy,” she told Dairy Reporter. “It is an alternative to dairy meaning dairy free and the new labels clearly show this.”

Sure, it reads like a marketing gimmick. But there’s an actual bill kicking around in Congress right now called the Dairy Pride Act that would ban use of the word “milk” on any product that doesn’t come from udders or nipples (that’s called a “lacteal secretion” in FDA-speak). We wrote a backgrounder on that act and its hundred-year-old precedent here.

Malk, apparently, stands for Milk Alternative (plus an L and a K for good measure). As far as we can tell, the first reference to the word came in an episode of The Simpsons back in 2013, in which Bart discovers his school cafeteria is actually serving “malk,” fortified with Vitamin R (“Ouch! My bones are so brittle.”) Capital-M Malk, the branded version, hit shelves in 2014. What’s new this week isn’t the name of the company itself—that’s been around awhile—but the lowercase-m reference on its packaging. Rather than advertising “pure pecan milk,” it’s now selling “pure pecan malk.” TBD on whether or not its Google rankings plummet once other not-milk brands hop on the bandwagon. 

It remains to be seen whether or not the dairy industry finds the word “malk” acceptably distinct from “milk.” But it sure does set a hell of a precedent—it’s only a matter of time before Morningstar introduces a Bacan, Eag, and Chease.  

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H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.