mom and child drinking milk

Which Milk Alternatives Are Most Popular with Consumers?

Innovation is going strong in the milk alternatives segment as brands seek to keep up with consumer demand. Here’s a look at some exciting trends in milk alternatives and the most important attributes consumers are looking for in these products.

U.S. Market Overview 

U.S. plant-based milk sales reached a whopping $2 billion in 2019, accounting for 14% of all dollar sales in the retail milk category.1 Almond milk is the clear leader of the plant-based milk segment at $1.3 billion in sales, followed by soy, blends, coconut, oat, cashew, pea, and rice.2 However, oat milk is rising fast with dollar sales up 686% from 2018 to 2019.3

Omnivores, not vegans, are driving growth in plant-based milks. According to a Mintel survey, 74% of US consumers who use dairy alternatives also use traditional dairy products, with plant-based milk as the most popular choice.4 For consumers without dairy alternative users in their household, the top reason for not using dairy alternatives is taste, with 43% preferring the taste of traditional dairy products.5

Why Consumers are Buying Milk Alternatives

The explosive growth in milk alternatives during the past few years means consumers now have more choice than ever—whether for use in cereal, coffee, or cooking, or simply as a refreshing beverage. Today, consumers can find plant-based milks with a variety of different taste profiles, ingredients, functional properties, nutrition benefits, and sustainability stories. 

cup of milk with oats on a serving dish

Taste, variety, and health continue to be important purchase drivers for milk alternatives. In fact, 39% of US consumers whose households use dairy alternatives perceive them as healthier than traditional dairy products (except for being a good source of vitamins and minerals and good for kids).6 Lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are also key reasons for using milk alternatives.

Preferred Attributes in Milk Alternatives

While consumers may have distinct plant-based milk preferences in terms of sensory attributes like taste and texture, there are some common themes in the health-related attributes consumers are seeking. For example, Mintel reports that 39% of US consumers look for no added sugar in their dairy alternatives, followed by high protein at 38%, and organic at 34%.7 In addition, 56% of US consumers would like to see dairy alternatives that are less processed, while 49% would like to see more protein in them.8

Milk Alternative Trends to Watch

The plant-based milk segment continues to innovate and diversify to keep up with demand and create new products that will excite consumers. One trend in milk alternatives is the emergence of brands featuring nuts other than almonds, such as walnuts or peanuts, which speaks to consumers’ growing awareness of the negative environmental impacts of almond production. Plant-based milks featuring seeds, such as sesame seeds and hemp seeds, are also ramping up.

Another trend with exciting potential is hybrid milks that combine popular plant-based milks with traditional dairy milk. Examples in the market include dairy milk + almond milk blends and dairy milk + oat milk blends. Though this is a relatively new space, 45% of consumers express an interest in trying these types of beverages.9 These innovative products seek to offer consumers the best of both worlds: the high-quality protein and functionality of dairy milk along with the phytonutrients and lower fat and calories of plant-based milks.

Little girl eating a bowl of cereal

Addressing Consumer Needs

There’s no doubt this is an exciting time for the dairy category with plenty of opportunities for large dairy companies as well as plant-based milk start-ups to succeed. Keeping taste and health top of mind when developing new milk alternatives, in addition to staying up on trending ingredients, will be key to creating products with staying power.

As a leader in nutrition ingredients, we have a deep understanding of end-to-end beverage development.  From plant-based proteins to our functional and nutritious flax, chia, quinoa and oat ingredients, our plant-based solutions portfolio provides high-quality solutions that give your beverage products outstanding nutrition, functionality, and flavor. Collaborate with us and see how we can help you develop your next plant-based beverage solution. 


References

1-3. Plant-Based Market Overview. The Good Food Institute. January 2020.
4-9. Mintel. Dairy Alternatives: Incl Impact of COVID-19 – US. June 2020.