Moo-ve Over Milk: Non-Dairy Options Gaining in PopularityOctober 6, 2017
For years, soy milk, plant-based cheese and similar alternatives to dairy favorites used to be largely relegated to the natural foods store—aimed at vegans and consumers will dairy allergies. But today it’s a whole new dairy landscape, with many mainstream grocery stores offering the same number—if not more—non-dairy milks next to their traditional whole, low-fat and skim counterparts.
According to market research firm Mintel, sales of dairy milk dropped seven percent in 2015, while sales of non-dairy alternatives gained nine percent in the same period. What’s more, Mintel says nearly half (49 percent) of Americans now drink non-dairy milk—the majority due to preference, not necessity. Reasons consumers give for choosing plant-based alternatives include preferring the taste, wanting to consume more plant-based foods, and believing plant-based milks are healthier and/or more sustainable than cow’s milk.
While soy milk was the original non-dairy alternative, almond milk now dominates the market, with coconut following behind. Several factors may be at play in this reversal of favorites, including soy’s association with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and some studies that have called into question a possible link between estrogen-like hormones in soy and an increased risk of breast cancer.
This may also explain why innovation in non-dairy offerings beyond milk have been largely focused on nut-based alternatives in recent years. For example, dairy-free brand So Delicious has made coconut, cashew and almond milk ice creams standard fare in frozen cases across the country, while Kite Hill has turned from a niche artisan brand to a nationwide purveyor in just a few years—selling its almond-based yogurts, cheeses and pastas at Whole Foods and other retailers nationwide.
But it’s not just these dedicated dairy-free brands that are capitalizing on non-dairy’s popularity. Mainstream brands Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s both launched lines of non-dairy ice creams this year, while Coffee-Mate added two new almond-milk creamers to its lineup.
As the popularity of plant-based eating continues to grow, retailers and consumers alike can expect to see non-dairy options from a greater variety of plant sources in the future—including hemp, rice, oats, barley and flaxseeds—says Innova Market Insights. The analytics firm predicts the global market for non-dairy beverages will top $16.3 billion by 2018, as a growing number of consumers move to a more plant-powered lifestyle.