Are plant-based milks entering a vegan renaissance?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Plant-based and fermented milks are driving fresh consumer interest
Plant-based and fermented milks are driving fresh consumer interest
As consumer demands for vegan milk varieties and 'refreshing' milk gather pace, we ask Caroline Roux, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, whether we’re entering a new era of milk?

Gone are the days when the appeal of plant-based milk was only related to its perceived health benefits, notably as shoppers sought allergen-free and lactose-free products. In fact, that time has 'long gone',  Roux told FoodNavigator.

Amid the rise of plant-based milk varieties, consumers are consciously choosing to 'drink plant-based milk for its taste'. In Spain, for example, 32% of consumers prefer the taste of plant-based milk to dairy milk.

Unsurprisingly, plant-based milk brands are bringing new varieties to the market. “Watch out for chia or hemp milk,''​ Roux predicted.

Innovation is also rife in other adjacent categories, such as ready-to-drink coffee and smoothies. From an economic perspective, this is a strong commercial approach as these categories deliver increased margins through multiple routes-to-market including impulse and foodservice.

The meaning of refreshing

For British drinkers of carbonated soft drinks, hydrating (60%) and cooling (50%) are the qualities most associated with a refreshing drink, Roux reported. Milk is better served chilled then, in order to be interpreted as ‘cooling'. Acidic flavours, such as mint or citrus, can also help to elevate these cooling perceptions.

So what is it about plant-based and refreshing milk that has got consumers captivated and driving the trend forward? “Similar to on-trend fermented drinks, dairy can offer refreshment with health benefits​,” Roux noted.

Turning to the wider globe, several probiotic waters have recently been launched, predominantly in North America and Australia. Probiotic launches are largely influenced by kombucha, sparking the inspiration for 'old new' fermented drinks.

Is gut health leading the way?

For European brands wanting a piece of the new milk sphere, understanding and promoting marketing messages that focus on refreshment and health benefits primarily linked to gut health are in a strong position. Commenting on how to achieve favourability in the plant-based and refreshing milk segment through emphasising the importance of gut health, Roux explained: “This could give inspiration to milk brands to deliver refreshment through flavour and texture as dairy is already well known for its gut health benefits.”

Sustainability and health

Commenting on how the popularity of plant-based and refreshing milk will take shape in 2020, Roux emphasised: “The dual on the sustainability credentials of dairy milk versus plant-based milk will continue and drive innovation strategy.”

“Although the rise of plant-based dairy draws consumers' attention to the environmental impact of dairy production, the latter has strengths to leverage.”

In recent years, dairy brands have engaged and connected with consumers by “championing transparency on milk provenance, using locally produced milk, and displaying information on farmers and cows”.

Following the cow milk blueprint

We’ve got used to seeing the provenance of ingredients clearly stated on packaging, demonstrating specific 'control over sourcing'. The focus is now on plant-based dairy brands, which have some to work do to lower their food miles and to achieve comparable levels of transparency relating to ingredient provenance.

The next step now for dairy brands is to tangibly lower their environmental footprint and focus on strengthening their sustainability credentials to encourage consumers to “reappraise – maybe even reinforce - their health credentials”.

Associating food with ‘better-for-you’ food is on the up. “If the superior health benefits of sustainable food have yet to be demonstrated, the ‘feel-good’ factor provided by the consumption of eco-friendly food is already leveraged by brands,”​ Roux relayed.

Looking ahead, with sustainability, health and pleasant taste at the core of plant-based variety appeal, it does appear we’re heading into a milk renaissance where nature-friendly milk alternatives create a strong and progressive presence.

Related topics: Market Trends

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