With nearly 65% of the world's population now eating more plant proteins, consumers' exploration into plant-based has rapidly moved into the mainstream. Expected to reach nearly $40 billion in annual sales by 2025, the global dairy alternatives market is one of the largest in the plant-based eating space—presenting food and beverage manufacturers a huge opportunity to create in non-dairy applications the satisfying flavors and indulgent richness consumers have come to expect from traditional dairy products.
Despite strong potential to connect with an audience open to plant-based dairy products, recent data suggests consumer taste and texture expectations remain largely untapped. A new study conducted by The Hartman Group in conjunction with The Edlong Corporation—a flavor manufacturer specializing in dairy flavors—sheds new light on what will motivate those consumers who have bought plant-based dairy products to buy more, and what will trigger non-purchasers to engage in the category.
Consumers pursue various paths to entry
Among the key findings highlighted in the study: a consumer's adoption of plant-based foods does not happen overnight. Driven by motivations including flavor, wellness, dietary variety and ease, consumers may pursue a number of paths when exploring new plant-based applications. Some start not by giving up animal products, but by simply "trading up" within animal products—such as buying only grass-fed, organic or pasture-raised offerings.
Another popular trend among consumers is simply reducing the frequency of animal product consumption or reducing portion size. While others are practicing trading in plants on their plates: increasing vegetable portion sizes, replacing some dairy with plant alternatives or incorporating more vegan-focused cuisines.
Huge opportunities in non-dairy ice cream, yogurt and cheese
The Hartman Group study points to plant-based milk as the typical consumer entry path to the dairy alternative category, noting 43% of consumers have purchased a plant-based milk. By comparison, just 16% of consumers have purchased a non-dairy ice cream, and just 12% have purchased a non-dairy yogurt or cheese.
Unlike the variety of flavored and sweetened options that make plant-based milks an easy option for consumers, the challenges manufacturers face in replicating the authentic dairy taste and creamy textures of traditional ice creams, yogurts, and cheeses is what's keeping consumers from fully embracing these non-dairy options.
Plant-based cheeses in particular pose the biggest hurdles with consumers, due to high expectations for delivering the rich flavor, texture and melting properties inherent in their dairy counterparts.
Authentic taste: manufacturers' key to category wins
While the plant-based category continues to enjoy rapid growth, winning over more consumers in the plant-based dairy space remains both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers. The companies best poised to win are those who demonstrate a thorough understanding of both plant-based purchasers' and non-purchasers' unique taste and texture preferences, buying motivations and underlying hesitancies—and respond with products that authentically deliver on the taste, functionality and foundational characteristics they crave.