Brits moving to non-dairy pastures: Mintel report

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Asked if they trusted the dairy industry to fully purify milk, 70% of  under-25s said no.
Asked if they trusted the dairy industry to fully purify milk, 70% of under-25s said no.

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There is a growing trend towards dairy alternatives in the UK, with volume sales of cow-milk alternatives such as soya, rice and buffalo milk up 155% between 2011 and 2013, according to a Mintel report.

This took volumes from 36 million litres in 2011 to 92 million litres in 2013, it said. Meanwhile lactose-free milk saw growth of 55% between 2011 and 2013, reaching 17 million litres in 2013.

This was part of a general trend of dairy alternatives, the market researcher firm said, with volume sales of fresh dairy cream declining by 2% in the UK in the same two year period, and non-dairy alternatives increasing 12%. Dairy cream volume sales dropped to 52 million litres in 2013, while non-dairy varieties rose to 19 million litres the same year. Despite this, three quarters of Brits (73%) said they had used cream in the past three months.

Kiti Soininen, head of UK food, drink and food service research at Mintel, said this could be a result of consumer’s health perceptions around dairy and non-dairy, as well being upped marketing activity by the dairy-alternative sector. She also suggested this could be unlined by a mistrust of the dairy industry.

The cat that got the alternative cream

Soininen said: “The opposing trends of health concerns over cream’s fat content, price fluctuations and the boost to scratch cooking and baking originally sparked by recession have seen a volatile performance in the cream market in recent years. However, sales of dairy alternatives and lactose-free produce have benefited from increased marketing activity as well as improved availability in terms of variety and distribution.”  

“Many consumers may well be turning to dairy alternatives or lactose-free cow’s milk for perceived health reasons as our research shows that a number of people feel drinking milk can upset their digestive system and leave them feeling bloated,”​ she said.

Soininen said this trend was likely to be bolstered by UK tennis star Andy Murray’s admission that he would be avoiding dairy in the run up to the world tennis tournament Wimbledon.

According to the research report, 11% of Brits drink soya milk, 7% drink other cow’s milk alternatives like goat’s, rice or almond milk and 5% drink lactose-free milk.

Within this survey, it was revealed that over a quarter (27%) agreed that plant-based milk was healthier than cow’s milk while 8% said drinking milk could upset their digestive system and make them feel bloated.

Who do you trust?

The firm said that milk consumption in the UK remained high – with 98% of UK consumers consuming it and 53% using at least four pints per week – but some held reservations about the safety of its production. Asked if they trusted the dairy industry to fully purify milk, 58% said no. This figure was even higher for under-25s at 70%. 

According to the researchers, six out of ten British consumers wanted more information on the product’s origins, for example farm or farmer details. This statistic was higher with respondents from the South West and Wales at two thirds. 

Overall, only a third said they thought supermarkets were doing enough to support British dairy farmers. Earlier this year, British supermarkets entered into a milk 'price war' - which saw Tesco, Morrisons and Asda competing to be the cheapest per pint. At the time our sister site Dairy Reporter said industry group Farmers for Action stated the price reductions of £1 or less a pint could be the "demise"​ of the British dairy industry​, and urged producers to take action.   

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