the growth of plant based alternatives

The Fall of Traditional Dairy Milk

For years, dairy milk was a household staple in most households. It was advocated as an important part of a young child’s diet, providing them with protein, vitamins and minerals to help keep them fit and healthy as they grew up.

Fast forward to the present day, and dairy milk sales are declining. By contrast, plant-based milk sales are increasing and starting to take centre stage. Varieties like soy, coconut, almond, hazelnut, rice and oat milk are occupying larger portions of the supermarket shelves.

Growth of Milk Substitutes

The global milk substitutes market represents a $2 billion sector, which is set to reach a staggering $16 billion by 2018. Much of this growth and increased innovation can be attributed to almond milk. Almond milk initially became popular in the US, having soared from ‘virtually zero’ in the mid-2000’s to boasting sales growth of 250% (Nielsen) in the last few years. In fact, it has outpaced soy milk as the leading plant-based milk substitute, and continues to grow in popularity.

During that same period, the total milk market has decreased by more than $1 billion. The US dairy milk market, in particular, has steadily declined to $15.9 billion, and is expected to drop another 11% during the 2015 to 2020 period.

So, why is the milk market “going nuts”? And, why is cow’s milk falling out of favour with many consumers?

Health-Conscious Consumers Switch to Milk Alternatives

Unfortunately for dairy milk, it seems that the popularity of plant-based milk alternatives is not just a trend or a passing fad. It’s looking like a consumer preference that is here to stay.

Since the 1970’s what’s dubbed “real milk” has declined steadily by 37 per cent, according to USDA. Part of the reason for the decline is that consumers are increasingly looking for lactose-free, dairy-free and plant-based food products as lifestyle choices, instead of regarding them as purely for those with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.

Dairy Industry Slow to Innovate

Writing in Forbes, Hank Cardello has taken a slightly different approach to the downfall of the dairy industry. Instead he blames the industry for failing to adapt to market trends, as well as focusing on just one highly commoditised product. He also argues that the dairy industry has failed to listen to what consumers actually want.

As a result, highly profitable markets have been overlooked. These include Greek yogurt, meal-replacement shakes, protein drinks, which have served as milk substitutions, particularly among younger generations.

Dairy and Non-Dairy Milk, which is More Sustainable?


Market research firm Mintel found that negative health perceptions were also contributing to the decline in sales of dairy milk.

The dairy industry has faced criticism regarding saturated fat levels, hormone content, antibiotics used in dairy cows, as well as the environmental impacts of cow’s milk.

This isn’t to say plant-based milk, in particular almond milk, is more environmentally friendly. In fact, it still takes around 5 gallons of water to grow one almond. What’s more, many almonds are grown in areas that are more susceptible to droughts, such as California where water is considered a more extra-precious resource. Nevertheless, for many the eco-food print of dairy-free milk is considered smaller than that of cow’s milk.

There’s also been questions raised regarding animal welfare on dairy farms, with claims that many cows are kept in intense confinement and lead desperately unhappy lives.

almond milk growth

Almond Milk Healthier Than Cow’s Milk?

Many consumers consider almond milk a healthier alternative to cow’s milk. That’s because it contains fewer calories, is naturally rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol.

The dairy industry disagrees. It argues that almond milk doesn’t have the same nutritional value as cow’s milks with the latter offering a rich source of calcium. They point out that milk contains the valuable nutrients that are necessary for good health, including vitamin D, vitamin B12 and potassium.

One recent advertising campaign funded by the dairy industry claims that dairy milk has eight times more protein than almond milk. It also claims that milk isn’t an industrially-processed food and contains fewer ingredients and additives compared with its non-dairy counterparts.

plant based milk growth

So, What’s the Verdict?

The plant-based milk alternatives category is still a growing market, which is continuously posing a threat to the traditional cow’s milk industry.

Although there are still opportunities for the dairy sector to innovate and increase their market share, there’s no denying that the milk landscape and supermarket shelves have evolved as consumers’ demand more choice and apparently “healthier” alternatives.

What’s Has All This Got to do With Pigging?

HPS Product Recovery Solutions work with a wide range of businesses that process liquids, including dairy processors and producers of milk, butter, cheese and yogurts. We help companies in a wide range of sectors, including the diary industry, improve their operational efficiency, streamline their processes and help them save money.

Our proven solutions are in wide use throughout the world. They help increase yields, lower product changeover and cleaning times, reduce water usage and lower wastage through using our highly-effective product recovery technology (often referred to as ‘pigging‘).

As an example, HPS implemented an automatic pigging system for dairy brand St Ivel, Liverpool in their new butter oil processing facility. The system equated to them recovering approximately 200 kilograms of good product per run, that would otherwise be sent to waste. You can find the case study on how pigging benefits dairy production here.

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For more information about increasing your product yield, lowering your costs and speeding up processing through pigging and hygienic and sanitary product recovery systems, please contact HPS, or your local agent or representative.

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