How the plantmilk movement is currently triumphing in Sweden


Wednesday, 12 August, 2015

Sarah Mansouri comments on a pioneering festival’s tactic to become more sustainable, and shows that this is just the beginning of the milk revolution.

Way Out West festival, more commonly known as WOW, is this weekend hosting the musical likes of Patti Smith, Florence And The Machine and Ellie Goulding – but you may have heard of Sweden’s biggest festival for another reason. A few years ago, this coastal city festival truly WOWed social media when the organisers decided to ban the sale of meat on-site. The responses to this decision were, as you can probably imagine, very mixed. Vegans, environmentalists and others celebrated, but some were not so gracious: Swedish tabloid GT (Göteborgs Tidningen) made light of the festival’s decision by serving meatballs and sausages by the entrance of the festival. 

Why WOW made this decision was somewhat obscured by the social media conflict, but many will recall the festival’s desire to become the most sustainable festival in the world. A pretty bold goal: one that requires bold actions. Going meat-free in 2012 led to a 20% decrease of the carbon footprint, hence why the festival took another huge step towards their goal this year when organisers decided to not only ditch the meat, but the dairy too.

WOW has partnered with Swedish oat drink company Oatly to achieve this, together starting the campaign ’72 hours without milk’. “If we care anything at all about the planet we live on, we know that it is up to us to make changes that favour sustainability, and milk is not the answer,” the campaign proclaims. The main aim is to get as many people as possible to sign up to swap dairy milk for oat milk over the festival’s 72 hours – and so far 3000 people, 25 companies and the local football team have signed up. Alongside this, 18 local cafes will be serving oat milk rather than dairy. Throughout the weekend of the 13-15 August, the amount of carbon saved will be analysed and posted live at the festival, so that festival goers are reminded of the massive effect a small change can have on our environment. 

Despite its progressive nature, this dairy-free statement has caused friction once again. Arla Foods, the largest producer of dairy products in Scandinavia, recently embarked on an advertising campaign proclaiming: ‘Forbidden milk tastes the best’. Banners were printed with the slogan and placed around Gothenburg, where the festival is to be held. While I’m sure they think they’re oh-so funny, seriously though: who goes to festivals to drink milk in the first place?

It is not very surprising that the dairy industry has hit back. The ongoing milk-war first started in spring last year when LRF Mjölk (Federation of Swedish Farmers) began suing the much smaller oat milk producer, Oatly. Lines like ‘No soy, no milk, no badness’ and ‘It’s like milk, but made for humans’, written on the latter’s cartons were the reason why Sweden’s dairy lobby took action against the company, claiming that such slogans mislead consumers into believing that dairy milk is bad for humans.

The lawsuit, piled upon Arla’s recent protests, prove that the dairy industry is clearly threatened by the rise and rise of plant milk. Ironically enough, the lawsuit has led to exactly the opposite effect to the one LRF Mjölk were trying to achieve. Swedish vegans took to social media, protesting against the lawsuit while the media quickly grasped the story, giving Oatly oodles of coverage for weeks on end. Thankfully, the ensuring debate saw many myths surrounding milk were debunked, while Oatly’s revenue quietly jumped 37% that year. 

In Sweden, the truth about dairy came as a shock to many people. With commercials for milk, butter and cheese that depict happy cows on green fields living peacefully, it’s no wonder that many consumers are fooled into believing the dominant narrative. 

Even though the case is still being processed in court, Oatly have already won several minor victories. Partnering with WOW has to be included as one of them, as well as widespread negativity towards LRF Mjölk following their actions. But one of their biggest wins has to be the fact that the court denied the dairy lobby’s request that Oatly cease their ‘marketing allegations’ while the court case is ongoing. 

The dairy milk industry is going through more than just a rough patch at the moment. And it’s not just in Sweden, where household milk consumption has halved since the 1980s. The UK is similarly in the midst of a dairy milk price row, where production has far outstripped consumption. Perhaps it’s time other European festivals cottoned on, launching their own campaigns that similarly provide a big step in the right, vegan direction. The milk revolution has only just begun. 

By Sarah Mansouri

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