little boy with glass of milk

Plant-Based Beverages Help Consumers Drink Healthy

Plant-based milks are more popular than ever, with manufacturers offering a steady stream of innovative, tasty, and healthy products to meet this demand. Here’s a look at what’s going on in the plant-based milk category and how these products are appealing to consumers.

The Rise of Plant-Based Milks

The plant-based milk category has seen a rapid evolution. From shelf-stable soy and rice milk cartons in natural food stores to almond and coconut milks in traditional milk cartons in mainstream dairy aisles, there’s no doubt that plant-based milk has come a long way. 

Ingredients like pea, hemp, cashew, and oat expanded the possibilities further, illustrating that any legume, seed, nut, or grain is fair game for making a plant-based milk. With textures ranging from light and refreshing to thick and creamy, along with a variety of flavors and health benefits, plant-based milks seem to have something for everyone. 

Recent category developments include an uptick in protein-fortified plant-based milks (e.g., almond milk with pea protein), new plant-based blends, and the adoption of oat milk by baristas. In addition, online ordering of plant-based milks has surged in response to COVID-19. Oat milk, in particular, made the news as consumers rushed to stock up, presumably for use as a coffee creamer as cafes were forced to shut down.

bottles of milk

Why Consumers are Reaching for Plant-Based Milks

Today, the majority of U.S. plant-based milk consumers also consume dairy milk. Rather than merely reaching for plant-based milk as a substitute for dairy milk, then, it seems that consumers sometimes choose plant-based milk as an enjoyable product that appeals on its own merits. Taste, variety, and health are among the most important reasons for purchasing plant-based milk.

Health Benefits

Depending on the product, plant-based milks can be a good source of protein or low in calories. They are often fortified with vitamins A and D, B-complex vitamins, and calcium, with some also providing DHA omega-3s or probiotics. For consumers with milk allergies or lactose intolerance, plant-based milks offer a way to get some of the healthy nutrients found in dairy milk.

Packaging and Claims

Today’s packaging options for plant-based milks include refrigerated gable-top cartons, in addition to plastic and glass bottles. Consumers who prefer shelf-stable plant-based milks can choose from aseptic cartons and on-the-go, single-serve bottles. 
For front-of-package claims, vegan, dairy-free, and lactose-free might be the most common though other allergy-free claims like soy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free are used as well. Nutrient claims include excellent source of calcium, low in saturated fat, and protein and calorie call-outs. Non-GMO and organic are tried-and-true claims for this category, while no sugar added and no gums added are up-and-coming.


The sustainability story of plant-based milks is often a key purchase driver for plant-based and flexitarian consumers. However, the wide variety of plant-based milks means some are more planet-friendly than others. For example, the low land and water usage of oats help make oat milk a sustainability superstar among plant-based milks.

bowls of nuts and grains

Plant-Based Ingredients for Today’s Consumers

While plant-based milks are the most popular of today's plant-based beverages, interest in other beverages such as drinkable plant-based yogurts and RTD coffees with plant-based creamers is growing. Plant-based ingredients can boost the health and sustainability profiles of a wide variety of products. 

We offer solutions to create delicious, nutritious, plant-based products with our functionally optimized plant-based proteins, custom vitamin and mineral premixes, flavor maskers, and more.

Our plant-based solutions portfolio includes high-quality proteins to functional and nutritious flax, chia, quinoa and oat ingredients, providing high-quality solutions that give your products outstanding nutrition, functionality, and flavor.

We work with your team to provide safe plant-based ingredients and ingredient systems that are easier to incorporate into a range of applications so that you can give your consumers nutritionally packed plant-based products they are sure to enjoy. All of our ingredients are non-GMO, gluten-free, and kosher.

Contact us to find out how we can help make your next plant-based beverage something your consumers are sure to love.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dairy is the main source of calcium in the American diet, making it the top food group for supporting healthy bones at all ages. Dairy is also a source of high-quality protein, with all the essential amino acids in the right proportions to meet the needs of the body—especially important for muscle building and maintenance for active, sports performance, and aging consumers. Dairy also contains several beneficial bioactive proteins such as lactoferrin, which supports healthy iron levels.

Dairy alternatives such as plant-based milks and plant-based yogurts are often fortified, making them a good calcium source for those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Some are also high in plant-based protein. In addition, both dairy and dairy alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D to improve calcium absorption. Dairy/plant-based milk blends are a trend that combine the high-quality protein of dairy with the phytonutrients and lower calories of plant-based milks.

Some of the best food sources of vitamin D, according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are certain types of fish (such as freshwater rainbow trout (645 IU per serving), salmon (383-570 IU), and canned light tuna (231 IU)), as well as raw mushrooms (114-1110 IU), and fortified dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese (85-117 IU).

In fact, most of the vitamin D in Americans’ diets comes from fortified foods and beverages. Today, there is a wide variety of vitamin D-fortified products to help boost intake of this shortfall nutrient—from plant-based milks to breakfast cereals to nutrition bars.

Plant-based milk is made starting from beans (such as yellow peas or soybeans), nuts (such as almonds or cashews), grains (such as oats or rice), seeds (such as flax or hemp seeds), or another whole plant source. The starting material can either be soaked in water, ground into a slurry, and filtered to remove the insoluble fiber, or it can be ground into flour first before removing the insoluble fiber.

Next, water and other ingredients like flavors, sweeteners, vitamins, minerals, and thickeners are added. Finally, the plant-based milk is pasteurized and packaged. Some (like pea milk) are a good source of plant-based protein, while others (like oat milk) are known for their soluble fiber benefits. Manufacturers can also start with optimized ingredients to minimize any bitter plant tastes and ensure the smoothest texture.

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