Increasingly, consumers are seeking new personalized, sensory experiences with non-dairy products and turning away from traditional dairy. More choices are available than ever before, and dairy aisles have undergone a significant transformation in the last 10 years. Plant-based milk alternatives have joined the standard five milk products – whole, reduced-fat (2%), low-fat (1%), fat-free (skim) milk, and ultra-filtered milk.
Today, consumers can choose oat, almond, soy, coconut, macadamia, barley, and more, with soy, almond, and oat-based products being the most popular. Consumer demand for these products is booming, and the industry has reached over $3 billion in sales in the United States and $20.9 billion worldwide.1 The market is still growing too, at a CAGR of 11.9% between 2022 and 2029.2
Uncovering the motivation behind the plant-based milk craze
The drivers behind the increased consumption of plant-based milk alternatives are mostly concerns about health but also planet stewardship. These products fill a clear niche: They provide a solution for consumers living with hypercholesterolemia, milk allergy, or lactose intolerance, which in the US affects 36% of people.3 In addition, the freedom from reliance on dairy farming makes plant-based milk alternatives attractive to the growing vegan community and those that want to mitigate animal cruelty or the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.
At Sensegen, we support brands that care about these issues and want to deliver products that meet and exceed their customers' expectations. We provide access to cleaner, sustainable, all-natural, and (importantly) more flavorful ingredients. As the growth of milk alternatives accelerates, we’ve become intrigued with learning more about the motivations behind this blossoming product class.
To uncover the answer, we went straight to the source: We surveyed over 500 Americans who had purchased a plant-based milk alternative in the last month about their plant-based product preferences.
What we found validated some of the initial consumer motivations mentioned above: 27% of respondents chose milk alternatives because of dairy allergy or intolerance, and 29% listed animal welfare as a motivating factor. The environmental impact of dairy cows has been a well-defined and accepted negative consequence of the milk industry, and our respondents also reported that sustainability (32%) and environmental impact (29%) influenced their decision to purchase plant-based milk alternatives.4
Furthermore, there is a perception that plant-based milk alternatives are healthier and have greater nutritional value than traditional milk products. Nearly half of our respondents purchased their favorite almond, coconut, soy, or other brands based on this belief, despite a lack of scientific consensus. In fact, most of them did not even recognize the nutritional panel of the milk alternatives: If they were to pick solely based on the nutrition facts panel, they would have chosen the traditional dairy product, 2% milk.
Taste and flavor: a major driver in the rise of milk alternatives
Taste is king, even in the dairy alternative milk category. In our study, the primary driver of purchasing decisions was taste, with 62% of respondents listing it as a key motivator. Additionally, 46% of respondents listed flavor as a significant influencing factor.
Several studies have found that this varies across brands and that some consumers find the taste of specific milk alternatives to be off-putting, preventing broader adoption.5 This finding is reflected in our survey: When study participants were asked what could be improved about their favorite products, respondents said they wanted more flavorful and sweeter-tasting plant-based milk alternatives.
But are consumers happy with the taste of dairy milk alternatives today? To investigate this further, we designed and completed a “sensory hedonic study” that identifies key product characteristics defining a well-liked dairy alternative product. Whether participants were testing oat-, almond-, or soy-based products, the sweetness was a primary driver. Surprisingly, another significant motivator was the mouthfeel of these products, with those that felt oily, milky, or creamy most likable. Put succinctly, participants wanted their milk alternatives to mimic dairy milk better.
Enabling the development of more flavorful, creamier plant-based milk alternatives
Now, with a better understanding of what’s missing in plant-based milk alternatives, we believe that our custom portfolio of nature-inspired flavor tonalities and lactones is a natural fit for developing next-generation milk alternatives. Our unique ingredients, manufactured using our novel bioconversion process, can help maintain health credentials and come closer to a dairy milk experience. By enhancing sweetness and mouthfeel, we can improve the performance of your newest plant-based product formulation.
To learn more about how we can support the design and development of your next milk alternative, contact us at sensegen.com.
- Plant-based milk alternatives top $3B in sales. Dairy Foods website: https://www.dairyfoods.com/articles/95774-plant-based-milk-alternatives-top-3b-in-sales. Published July 21, 2022. Accessed September 21, 2022.
- Plant-based Milk Market Worth $42.86 Billion by 2029 - Exclusive Report by Meticulous Research. GlobeNewswire website: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/06/24/2468686/0/en/Plant-based-Milk-Market-Worth-42-86-Billion-by-2029-Exclusive-Report-by-Meticulous-Research.html. Published June 24, 2022. Accessed September 21, 2022.
- Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance. NIDDK website: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts#common. Published February 2018. Accessed September 18, 2022.
- Peterson CB, Mitloehner FM. Sustainability of the Dairy Industry: Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. Front Anim Sci. 2021;2:e760310. https://doi.org/10.3389/fanim.2021.760310.
- Sethi S, Tyagi SK, Anurag RK. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016;53(9):3408-3423. doi:10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3