Dairy is fighting a war on several fronts to remain a key part of people's diets, the Australian Dairy Conference was told earlier this year.
But a panel of international experts says the industry has a good story to tell consumers and should take the opportunity to promote milk as a superfood.
International Dairy Federation president and DairyUK chief executive Judith Bryans told the conference several United Nations and government policies, although not targeting dairy directly, had an impact.
The UN had voted recently to reduce the harm of fats, sugar and salt in diets, as it tried to combat the negative health impacts of poor diets.
Dairy was classed as a high-fat food, and although the industry had successfully had the UN motion amended to specify "excessive" consumption of fats, the policy had already resulted in Canada excluding dairy from its latest dietary guidelines.
Dr Bryans said dairy was also under attack from plant-based alternatives.
"If you go into a supermarket in the United Kingdom, there are a lot of plant-based products that call themselves an alternative to dairy, even though nutritionally they are not equivalent," she said.
What we need to do is to get to the people who still want to have dairy, who still love dairy but who are feeling guilty about it because of all the things they see.
"They are not equivalent in taste or texture but they trade on dairy names and dairy values."
Dr Bryans said this was confusing consumers, with UK research showing some millenials associated the word dairy with these alternative products.
But Dairy Australia's human health and nutrition policy manager Melissa Cameron told the conference some of the perceptions about non-dairy alternatives were myths.
Despite perceptions that alternative milks were outstripping the growth of dairy milk, total white milk consumption - fresh and UHT - has continued to grow.
Dairy milk makes up 93 per cent of supermarket sales of milk and alternative products while alternatives had gained just 2pc share since 2007, up from 5pc to 7pc.
Ms Cameron said rather than ditching dairy for alternatives, many consumers were buying both.
Only 5pc of consumers bought solely alternatives, with 31pc buying both, 62pc buying just dairy and 2pc buying neither.
Nutritionist Anneline Padayachee told the conference changing demographics in Australia would influence the markets for dairy and non-dairy alternatives.
She said plant-sourced drinks were seen as having health-promoting components, such as dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, which appealed to specific users, such as fitness fanatics, the "in kids", vegans and vegetarians.
Ms Cameron said although many thought animal welfare and sustainability were the drivers for people to switch from dairy, DA research revealed this applied to only a small group.
Instead, that alternatives were seen to be healthier, people liked the taste or had a dairy intolerance were among the key drivers.
Dr Bryans said dairy needed to battle to hold its position, including with accurate labelling.
Although plant-based dairy-alternative products could not be sold within the European Union and Britain under names including milk, butter and cheese, the industry had to keep fighting to have those regulations enforced.
The industry also needed to address the belief that dairy and livestock did not have a place in the world, but she said there was little point arguing with vegan activists.
"What we need to do is to get to the people who still want to have dairy, who still love dairy but who are feeling guilty about it because of all the things they see," Dr Bryans said.
The dairy industry also needed to change the way it connected with consumers.
"There's this perception that the plant-based beverages are healthy and more natural than dairy," Ms Cameron said.
"But when you look at the ingredients list on plain cow's milk - it comes out on top with one single, natural ingredient.
"Most commercially available alternatives contain a really long list of ingredients.
"And this is a real paradox because consumers often cite naturalness as an important criteria to them when choosing their foods.
"Milk contains eight essential nutrients, however, with a single ingredient are consumers able to recognise the nutritional value on offer compared with the long list of ingredients and added nutrients you see on alternatives?"
Ms Cameron said the cheap price of plain white milk might also be contributing to consumers being unaware of the "nutritional powerhouse on offer in milk".
Dr Padayachee agreed there was a danger in milk being seen as a cheap, everyday food.
"The nutritional benefits (of dairy) are off the scale - that's what you guys have," she said.
"And you have the ability to change consumer perception and take your product from just being $1 a litre to being a hell of a lot more valuable.
"You are a Porsche so stop positioning yourself as a Toyota."
Dr Padayachee said recent research showed dairy could play a key role in preventing muscle wasting in older people.
"We need to change the perception of just being a commodity to being an apple a day keeps the doctor away," she said.
"It's not just an apple a day that keeps the doctor away - a glass of milk a day can keep me from going into an old age home for a long period of time."
Ms Cameron said there was a lesson for the industry in the butter/margarine fight.
Butter consumption fell dramatically from the 1950s as margarine was promoted as a healthier product, but began rising in 2005 and now surpassed margarine.
This was done through work on repositioning dairy fat and the message, based on sound research, that the link between dairy and heart disease was a myth.
(Don't) price on what it costs us to produce it, but price it on what value it has to those consumers.
Milk could be promoted as natural, for it provenance (for example, grassfed milk) and having less or no sugar.
Beef and Lamb NZ independent director Melissa Clark Reynolds said producers needed to think about their product from the consumer's point of view.
It was vital to move away from being a commodity.
"We fight against commodification not by telling our consumers they are wrong but by finding the things that really drive their need and then meeting those needs," she said.
"(Don't) price on what it costs us to produce it, but price it on what value it has to those consumers.
"The more value we add to a product, the more people are prepared to pay."
Ms Clark Reynolds talked about examples of this in the NZ beef industry.
Beef pericardium, previously a waste product that was sold for pet food, now sold for $2500 a kilogram to be used to create a medical product to help repair human hearts.
Collagen (gelatine) was sold as a premium beauty product.
The NZ beef industry had found grassfed was really valuable to consumers.
"If you have attributes that consumers want, you can price it that way," she said.
She said the dairy industry should not be afraid to tell consumers about the attributes they might not know about, such as milk being gluten-free and antibiotic-free.
"We are in the food business and we are in the love business," Ms Clark Reynolds said.
"And I think sometimes we forget that.
"We forget that it is about the food. It is about me as a consumer buying food because I love my family.
"Let's remind people this food is produced with love and it's bought by people who give it to the people they love."