The product is made from vanilla-flavoured pea protein and dairy-free chocolate made from coconut oil and butter.
A spokesman for Australian Dairy Farmers said the launch of the new Magnum and other non-dairy alternatives to ice cream signals a serious issue for the dairy 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,” they told The Guardian.
“[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.”
Unilever describes the new product – which will also be launched in New Zealand later this month – as a “velvety plant-based product” that gives the eater “a creamy experience without the need for dairy”.
“A first for the Australian market, the 100 per cent 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 added.
A Unilever spokeswoman explained the Magnum Vegan has never been marketed or described as ice cream but rather an “iced confection”.
The brand’s two new flavours, the Magnum Vegan Classic and the Magnum Vegan Almond, are already available throughout Europe and in UK stores including Tesco.
The company predicts the Magnum Vegan will have “a wide appeal” to both vegan and non-vegan consumers.
“We’re confident that there will be positive feedback and are pleased that we have been able to create a product that holds true to Magnum’s chocolatey, creamy experience without using any dairy,” they said.
Despite the backlash from Australian Dairy Farmers, Zade Watson, the president of the Vegan and Vegetarian Society of Queensland, welcomed the launch and called it “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.
Watson added that the taste and texture of vegan alternatives to dairy have improved considerably over the years.
“I think coconut is the leader for what is the creamiest and most similar to dairy,” he said.
“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.”
He said that while the vegan Magnum may not encourage more people to adopt vegan lifestyles, it may get them thinking about plant-based alternatives.
“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 make them think, ‘Oh, I’ll try that.’”
The launch of the vegan Magnum comes a month after UK high street bakery Greggs launched a vegan-friendly sausage roll made from a vegetable oil-based pastry and a “bespoke Quorn filling”.
The release came a year after 20,000 people signed a petition by animal welfare organisation PETA calling on the company to produce a vegan version of its bestselling savoury pastry.
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