More customers turn to dairy alternatives

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Total retail sales of soy milk, almond milk, rice milk and other plant milks reached $1.33 billion in 2011, according to  Dairy Alternative Beverages in the U.S., a recently released report from market research firm Packaged Facts.

Recent decades have seen an incremental but steady decline in dairy beverage consumption: the average per-capita consumption of cow's milk fell from 24.3 gallons per person in 1994 to 20.8 gallons per person in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. 

Many consumers are increasingly turning either to non-caloric beverages or to non-traditional beverages with novel nutritional characteristics or benefits-the latter a positive trend for the dairy alternative beverages market.  

Consumers choose plant-based dairy alternatives for numerous reasons, according to David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts.

Health issues including lactose intolerance, milk allergy, and the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) can be addressed through the consumption of dairy alternative beverages because these plant-based milks are free of animal proteins, in particular casein. Prime consumers of dairy alternative beverages also include vegans, vegetarians and people concerned about the antibiotics or growth hormones often found in cow's milk.

Various types of plant milks are available in a growing array of formulations. These include flavored, sweetened, unsweetened, low-fat or non-fat, and fortified varieties, as well as blends formulated to address specific health concerns such as heart health (a common marketing positioning for soy milk products), digestive health, energy, and calcium absorption. 

Packaged Facts survey data show that more than half (54%) of U.S. adults who purchase soymilk do so because of the nutritional characteristics of this beverage, and nearly half (43%) do so because of nutritional advantages related to specific personal or household health concerns.

Almond milk, however, was the dairy alternative beverage that posted the biggest dollar sales gains in 2011, for a number of reasons. Generally, people enjoy the flavor of almond milk.  It is a good source of unsaturated fats; the fats found in almond milk derive primarily from the natural almond oil. Almond milk is high in protein and omega fatty acids, contains no cholesterol or saturated fat, and has high levels of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as the antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin E.

Survey data also show that while soymilk remains the single most popular single type of dairy alternative beverage, with 11% of adults as consumers, almond milk is now close behind in popularity, at 9%.  Moreover, 62% of adults who use almond milk are drinking this beverage somewhat more often or much more often than they were five years ago. 

The almond milk segment, which now accounts for 21% of the retail market for dairy alternative beverages, therefore saw sales increase by 79% in 2011. 

Across the most popular dairy alternative beverage segments, in addition, competition has increased as private-label brands have been slotted side-by-side with the now-familiar leading brands. In some regions, many of the private-label dairy alternative beverages boast the same formulations as the branded products and undercut the branded-label retail price. In retail outlets featuring private label dairy alternatives, these store brand products often command the premium shelf space for both refrigerated and aseptic versions.

In addition, the introduction of single-serve dairy alternative beverages has created broader opportunities for beverage manufacturers to reach a larger market. 

These ready-to-drink beverages fit well in refrigerated cases alongside water, juices, and sodas, and can provide an immediate snack for a kid or adult, a beverage to pack for lunch, or a small container for use as a creamer, along with the ability to cater to different taste and nutritional preferences within a household. 

Packaged Facts Food Shopper Insights survey data show that 21% of grocery shoppers purchase refrigerated single-serve beverages for immediate consumption, a rate that puts these grab-and-gulp drinks in the same league as sweet snacks such as chocolate candy or cookies or as traditional beverage staples such ground/whole bean coffee.

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Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  January, 20, 2012 at 07:16 AM

Plant based milks and plant based "dairy" alternatives also don't require any blood spilling... It sure is a tasty, nutritious, and compassionate option. Wish I would have had these choices decades ago! Almond milk is delicious!

Althea Zanecosky    
Phila., PA  |  January, 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

As a registered dietitian, I would like to correct some of the nutrition information presented in this article. For example, almond milk is not high in protein. After a recent survey of the nutrition labels on the many options in the dairy case, the only "milk" I saw that had at least the same amount of protein (8 grams/cup) as cow's milk was soy. As a health professional I have a serious concern for parents serving products like almond milk - with 1 gram of protein per serving - to their children as milk is often the major source of protein in a child's diet. One other point that was not made clear is that calcium from nondairy sources is not as bioavailble as dairy calcium; added calcium is usually not as well absorbed in the body as that naturally occuring.

mn.  |  January, 20, 2012 at 12:31 PM

.There is no blood spilled to milk a cow and those who milk cows know how compassionate it is to milk them and the cows appreciate the milking.Since the early times cheese and wine and meat were served most notably at the Last Supper.

Paul Chittenden    
schodack landing, ny  |  January, 20, 2012 at 03:52 PM

Those people that are concerned will never find antibiotics or growth hormones in their milk. All milk is tested for antibiotics before being processed and most processers only buy milk from untreated cows for fluid consumption when it comes to hormones

Martinsburg, Pa.  |  January, 22, 2012 at 05:34 AM

I would like to see information as to the assimilation of the nutrients from cow's milk in the human body compared to dairy alternatives.

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