Alt-milks – threat or fad? 

There is a lot of media space given to the range of dairy alternatives and substitutes posting strong sales growth and investment and dominating the volume of new product releases

Dairy alternatives mimic dairy in appearance, usage and name, but offer different tastes and nutritional values. These products offer plant-based protein from a growing array of sources. While soy milk has been around a long time, it has been over-taken in attention by almond and other nut products, while oat beverages have gained the highest global profile.

Potentially more threatening technologies have emerged from the laboratory that replicate “milk” using genetically modified yeast. Perfect Day is the most advanced example.

The expansion of dairy substitutes is part of a wider trend for alternatives to animal-based products,  driven by consumers seeking healthier diets, concern about the environmental impacts and ethics of livestock industries. The trend is also being influenced by marketers and activists, while policy makers increasingly amplify these concerns.

It has a strong foothold in consumer opinion which in the US has been shown to have support in more than half the consumer base. Converting that to sales is taking much longer.

The collective dairy industry resistance to the rise in these alt-dairy products has been largely focused on protesting or attacking use of terms such as milk, cheese and butter by alternatives.

A greater front-foot focus on the naturally-occurring, sustainably produced nutrition from dairy will be an important lead in competing with these emerging foods, while highlighting the many highly-processed ingredients and additives that lurk in these alt-dairy foods. Of course addressing the sustainability and welfare aspects will never recede in importance.

What does this impact?

The most direct effect observable from these products – which mostly impact fresh dairy demand – is in the outlook for fluid demand, which in turn affects the availability of milk for manufacturing products. This impact is greater in LongView scenarios where sustainability agendas have more influence on consumer preferences. At the same time, through different policy settings, those same agendas are expected to significantly limit growth in milk output.