The Milk Wars Are Raging

Dairy and plant-based have always been at odds, but now it’s getting ugly.

We're not sure who fired the first shot, as this is a conflict that has been stewing for years, but the dairy industry and the plant-based milk industry are throwing hands right now. Both camps have taken some digs recently, and they're no longer being coy about it, either.

Celebrity advertisements are circulating and gauntlets are being thrown via billboard space. It's mayhem for milk makers on all sides, but I'm here to break it down for you, without the marketing speak.

What the dairy industry thinks of plant-based milk

When plant-based milks first started hitting coffee menus and major grocery aisles, it was a cow's world. Whether skim, 2%, whole, half and half, or any other milk product under the sun, the public's default has historically been dairy. This is due in no small part to the massively popular "Got Milk?" ads of the 1990s (we'll talk about that later).


However, in recent years the tides have turned, and dairy milk is no longer the first milk on everyone's mind, to the point where Gen Z is buying 20% less milk than the national average.

With the rise of everything from almond to oat to cashew milk, in addition to the soy milk that has long been on the market, dairy farmers have been feeling the competition. Some of them even appealed to the FDA to prevent non-dairy products from being called "milk" in any fashion, preferring them to be labeled "beverages" (or "nut juice") to avoid confusion with dairy milk.

Just last month, America's Milk Companies released a campaign featuring actress Aubrey Plaza, one that takes a very clearly snarky jab at plant-based milks. In the satirical ad spot, Plaza acts as the spokesperson for a brand new milk product, Wood Milk (which of course does not exist). It's just like other plant-based milks, only in this case the "plant" is the bark of a tree trunk. It looks thick, drab, and disgusting.


The takeaway? "Only real milk is real," Plaza says pointedly.

What plant-based milk thinks of dairy milk

Just before Plaza flashed a Wood Milk mustache, Silk, a plant-based brand, enlisted a very specific lineup of celebrities for its latest campaign featuring the 'staches.

For those who might not remember, back in the '90s, the iconic Got Milk? campaign enlisted just about every celebrity in Hollywood to encourage the public to drink milk. Everyone, from rockstars to actresses to fictional characters to political figures, sported white milk mustaches in support of dairy.


Directly clapping back at this campaign in 2023, Silk has launched its own version of the milk mustache campaign for "the next generation of milk drinkers." Silk's version specifically showcased the children of celebrities who had originally been part of the original Got Milk? campaign.

And now, Oatly, a leading oat milk brand, is calling out the dairy milk industry directly in its most recent advertising campaign, targeting its negative impact on the environment. The "Climate Footprint Challenge" offers to pay for "Big Dairy's" ad space, if the dairy industry releases data about its climate footprint. Oatly issued this challenge via full-page ads in major media outlets and with billboards in Times Square and on Hollywood Blvd.


On top of that, Oatly commissioned a flash poll to prove that dairy milk is so two decades ago. The brand partnered with an independent research firm to conduct an online survey of 1,178 U.S. teens and adults aged 14 and up, from April 29 to 30, per a press release sent to The Takeout. Results of the flash poll showed that 31%of Gen Z describe cow's milk as "basic/uncool" and 40% of consumers prefer plant-based milk to cow's milk.

After all this bickering, I hate to be the one to say it, but can't we all just get along? I grew up drinking 2% but eventually ended up in a household where dairy was a no-go. So, I now have a carton of oat milk in my refrigerator, and I'm not mad about it. Any time I go over to my mom's place, I enjoy a bowl of cereal with 2% milk and it's a comforting feeling. There's enough room in the refrigerator for both milks. But I guess we can continue the feud for entertainment's sake—it'll just require several hundred thousand dollars in advertising costs.