As peak Australian farming body bemoans advent of pea protein-based bar, others hail ‘smart move’ by Unilever
The peak body for Australian dairy farmers has labelled a new vegan Magnum made of pea protein “a problem for the dairy industry” and said it should not be called an ice-cream.
The vegan Magnum, released widely in Australia this month, is a dairy-free version of the popular ice-cream snack. It features dairy-free chocolate made from coconut oil and cacao butter, and pea protein flavoured with vanilla.
At launch, its maker, Unilever, described it as a “velvety plant-based product” that provides “a creamy experience without the need for dairy”.
“A first for the Australian market, the 100% dairy-free range will feature two of the brand’s signature flavours … allowing vegans the opportunity to enjoy and share a moment of pure pleasure,” the company said.
A Unilever spokeswoman said the vegan Magnum was not misleading because it was never marketed or described as ice-cream but rather as an “iced confection”.
Under Australian food regulations, only products with cream or milk can be called ice-cream.
But a spokesman for Australian Dairy Farmers said the launch of the Magnum and other non-dairy alternatives to ice-cream was an issue for the industry.
“This is becoming an increasing problem for the dairy industry, with plant-based alternatives incorrectly being marketed as milk or other products associated with dairy,” he said.
“[Magnum] made a commercial decision to introduce a vegan addition to their Magnum product line to satisfy a very vocal community … it is misleading to call this product an ice-cream.”
Zade Watson, the president of the Vegan and Vegetarian Society of Queensland, welcomed the launch and said it was “definitely a smart move for Magnum”.
“It’s going to be something that you will see from the larger companies over the next few years,” he said. “It’s Australia, we’re a country that suffers from drought, and water usage is really intensive for dairy farming. The livestock industry is not only a major contributor to global warming but it is also a huge water waster.”
Watson said the taste and texture of vegan alternatives had improved.
“All dairy alternatives have really made big progressions. Fifteen years ago, when I went vegan, it was all mostly soy-based and even now the soy-based stuff tastes way better.
“I think coconut is the leader for what is the creamiest and most similar to dairy. Once they’ve put sugar and flavours with it, as long as it’s got the same texture, it’s really not a significant difference.”
A spokeswoman for Unilever said the vegan Magnum would appeal to both vegan and non-vegan consumers.
“There’s no doubt that there is a growing number of Australians adopting a vegan life [and] there are also an increasing number of people opting for dairy-free alternatives without committing to a vegan lifestyle, so we believe dairy-free Magnums will have a wide appeal in Australia.
“We’re confident that there will be positive feedback … and are pleased that we have been able to create product that holds true to Magnum’s chocolatey, creamy experience without using any dairy.”
Watson said while the vegan Magnum would not necessarily lead to more people become vegan, it could help.
“When you’re having ice-cream with friendship groups – that’s an interesting thing. For people who eat meat and dairy, it might normalise [non-dairy ice-cream] and makes them think, ‘Oh, I’ll try that.’
“[But] Unilever has been around for years, and there will be some people who still have issues with that industry. There are issues with some of the plant-based alternatives. Coconuts, based when they are importing them from, there can be a lot of animal cruelty issues with the farms overseas that are allowing monkeys to harvest coconuts.
“Unilever over the past two years have been making pretty big announcements concerning palm oil and a global ban on animal testing. As long as companies like that are starting to put in any regulations, I see it as a big positive. They can still obviously make improvements. As long as these big well-known companies are providing milk alternatives then it is a leading the way to transition to better alternatives.”
Australia’s vegan Magnum launch comes after a deluge of new products launched at the start of the year as part of a global push known as “Veganuary”.
In the UK, the behemoth bakery chain Greggs unveiled a vegan sausage roll on 3 January, sparking a furious backlash from the commentator Piers Morgan, who declared himself a member of the “vegan resistance” and took a bite of a roll and spat it into a bucket.