Europe and US see significant rise in non-dairy milk substitutes

Sensemaking / Europe and US see significant rise in non-dairy milk substitutes

How will the growth in milk substitutes affect dietary habits, health and land use?

By Gillian Phair / 19 May 2015

There has been a significant rise in the market presence of dairy substitutes in recent years. In the UK, sales of dairy-free alternatives have increased by 40% in the last 3 years. Sales of dairy substitutes in Europe reached $1.5 billion in 2014. 

As a percentage of all new milk products on the market in 2014, non-dairy milk products made up 24% and 31% in European and North American respectively, according to Euromonitor International. The market shares in the Asian-pacific and Latin American markets are slightly lower at 14% and 17% respectively. 

Non-dairy products are produced from a diverse range of sources, including soy, oat, almond, rice, quinoa, hemp and flax. One American company is creating a vegan cheese from yeast which is genetically altered to produce a substance identical to cow’s milk. 

There have been several drivers of change which have bolstered the trend for non-dairy. There is a growing understanding of the carbon footprint and water intensity involved in producing cow milk. The popularity of milk substitutes is beneficial in reducing demand on milk, which currently outstrips supply. In fact, only 8 milk producing countries in the world have a surplus

In health and nutrition discourses, there have been links to the role of frequent high fat dairy consumption in type two diabetes, poor bone health and increased mortality. 65% of the global population have some level of lactose intolerance, this figure in much greater in East Asia, with a prevalence of 90%. Veganism has also had a positive image transformation in the media and among many celebrities.

It remains to be seen whether non-dairy milk product consumption will continue to grow in the foreseeable future, or whether issues of taste, cost and consumer acceptability will limit demand for these products. Crucially, Mark Driscoll, Head of Food at Forum for the Future, raises the question: "Will the non-diary industry be able to demonstrate the long-term health and sustainability benefits of these products, in a way that continues to drive changes in both product innovation and consumer behaviours?"

Image credit: Don Seno / Flickr 

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