Dramatic Rise in Plant Milk and Dairy Free Market, Shaky Future for Cow’s Milk Products

6th March 2017

Rise in Plant-Based Milk Sales whilst Sales of Cow’s Milk Fall

Sales of dairy continue to fall whilst the popularity and sales of plant milks (non-dairy alternative to milk drinks) continue to dramatically rise. For the food industry and retailers, it’s important to note that on google trends ‘Dairy free’ barely registers as a search trend whereas ‘vegan’ is mostly running roughly double that of ‘vegetarian’ and ‘gluten free’ search terms. Even if the all Dairy Free consumers aren’t yet vegan clearly it would appear they associate their habit with aspirational vegan choices.

The Daily Mail 7th September 2016 led with ‘Milk Industry in Crisis’ in an article based on a piece in the Farmers Weekly:

“Younger generations are drinking far less milk than their parents and grandparents did. Speaking at the European Federation of Animal Science conference in Belfast, David Dobbin, chief executive of United Dairy Farmers said: ‘In the past children consumed a lot of dairy, but today’s children and teens don’t necessarily eat it”. Health professionals were blamed.

BCC Research reported similar fate for dairy in the USA “The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2011 that U.S. beverage milk sales were half of their 1980 levels. This finding speaks to a rise in the consumption of milk-alternative products not just in North America, but globally. BCC Research reveals in its new report that the global milk-alternatives market should experience robust growth due to the growing popularity of dairy-alternative beverages.

Dramatic Rise in Sales of Vegan Foods

In a report by Infiniti Research Limited Nov 2016 they forecast the global coconut milk market to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 15.4% during the period 2016-2020 and global packaged vegan foods market to grow at a CAGR of 10.16% during the period 2016-2020  (Infiniti Research Limited Nov 2016)

Jack Peat Reporting in http://www.thelondoneconomic.com quoted statistics from an Ocado (on-line supermarket) Press Release for World Vegan Day 2016

  • Ocado Vegan food sales are up by 1,500 per cent in the past year.
  • Sales of Alpro Unsweetened Almond Milk up by 2,343 % since 2015
  • Vegetarian meat alternatives are also up by thousands of percentage points
  • Alpro Vanilla Soya Custard up 1,142 % during Christmas period
  • Rakusen’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Digestives up 1,643 % during Christmas period
  • Booja Booja Hunky Punky Chocolate Ice Cream up 2,756% during Christmas period

Jacques Thudichum, Buying Manager, Chilled Prepared Foods, at Ocado was quoted in the article saying “Consumer appetite for vegan-friendly foods in the UK is showing no sign of slowing down. We have hugely expanded our vegan selection (in 2016) adding new and exciting products each week to become one of our strongest categories.”

It’s not just the UK global sales of vegan products are up. According to new Mintel statistics, the number of vegan products in Australia has increased by 92% since 2014.

Predicted Increase Sales of Dairy Free Plant Milks

BCC Research predicted “The global market for milk alternatives reached $5.8 billion in 2014 and should reach nearly $10.9 billion by 2019, reflecting a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.3%.

  1. Soy Milk worth $4.4 billion/ $8 billion in 2014 /2019, 5 Year with CAGR of 12.5%.
  2. Almond milk $886.8 million / $1.8 billion in 2014 / 2019 5 year with CAGR of 15.8%.
  3. Rice milk, $291.8 million in 2014 to $571.9 million in 2019.  the third-largest category five-year CAGR of 14.4%,
  4. Coconut milk, oat milk and hemp milk, are in their budding stage projected to grow at 5 year CAGR of 15.9% because of health benefits over regular dairy milk.

Asia-Pacific held the highest market share (50.4%) North American market second (30.6%), with Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) remaining 19% market share.

BCC attribute rise to “vegans, and health concerns about the antibiotics and growth hormones often found in cow’s milk. Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are key drivers for new product development, which is growing the market. Other factors for market growth include more consumers converting to dairy-free alternative diets.”

Vegan Category Gains, Plant based and Dairy free

It’s not just plant milk sales that have seen a dramatic rise in sale.

As above more recent sales figures for plant based dairy alternatives and other vegan foods are even more striking. With the acquisition of Alpro by Danone and thus bigger marketing budgets we will see more advertising for vegan dairy free products.

New milks have easily attracted financial backing as investors see more profit in the simplicity and certainty of plant based products rather than a dairy industry burdened with legislation, disease, environmental concerns and health scares.

Sainsbury’s have reported that demand for their new vegan cheeses outstripped expectations and forecasts by 300%. A similar experience was reported by Zizzis restaurants who are using 4 times as much vegan Rice milk Mozzarella as they expected and January 2017 alone saw a further rise 150% rise in sales of vegan menu items.

A new pea milk called ‘ripple’ has been launched and a new almond yoghurt called ‘noosh’. Swedish oat dairy alternative company Oatly launched a new Oat Fraiche product at VegfestUK London Olympia 2016 to replace crème fraiche. It’s currently only available at Tesco and is reportedly selling as fast as Oatly can make it. In a phone call to Oatly’s distributor in early February 2017 they had also sold out of their new Barista Oat Milk too and were waiting for a new delivery.


At the end of 2016 The Grocer magazine reported sales of meat (down £328M), fresh milk (down £54m), cheese (down £73m), butter (down £83m) were down and sales of vegan foods were up (Alpro up £23m)

Slam Dunk for Plant Milks

Critics of plant milks claim it hasn’t got as much calcium and vitamin B12 as cow’s milk. Nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston says “with the leaps and bounds in nutrition science and the rate of discovery of functional ingredients it won’t be long before Plant milks are superior to cow’s milk in every way”

B12 has been found in tempeh and seaweed but not reliably and frequently enough to make a claim on a packet. Scientists have recently found that by allowing bacteria into algae growth vitamin B12 is produced and the algae flourishes. It seems there is a synergistic symbiotic dependence between bacteria and algae.

Bacteria is also getting scientists very excited whilst studying the relationship between human digestive health and optimum cognitive function / optimum human immune system function.

As algae is also a source of omega 3 EPA and DHA essential fats and calcium it may not be long before algae-derived ingredients are a regular extra ingredient of plant-based super-milks too.