Dairy alternatives increasingly seen as complementary to dairy products: survey

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/carlosgaw
Image: Getty/carlosgaw

Related tags Dairy alternatives plant-based Nuts

Two thirds (67%) of European consumers see plant-based dairy as complementary, not a substitute to dairy products, and ‘an opportunity to try something new’ (65%), new research from ofi shows.

The company, which supplies cocoa, coffee, dairy, nut and spice ingredients, asked over 1,500 consumers in Germany, France, UK, Italy and Sweden about their attitudes to plant-based beverages, desserts and ice-cream market.

The survey revealed interest in plant-based products continues to grow, showing high potential for plant-based as something new and complementary for European diets. 61% of consumers indicate they are consuming more plant-based products than two years ago, and 58% expect it to increase in the coming two years.

Dairy alternatives specifically are carving out an identity beyond being a mere substitute, according to ofi. Two thirds (67%) of consumers see plant-based dairy as complementary to dairy products, and ‘an opportunity to try something new’ (65%), particularly for indulgent product categories including ice-cream, desserts and cocoa beverages.

But players are missing significant opportunities in this market, said ofi.  The plant-based beverages, desserts and ice-cream market is worth an estimated €5.3bn in 2022, according to Euromonitor data. Yet there is significant opportunity if key formulation challenges faced by manufacturers can be addressed. For example, over a third (35%) of the consumers polled are dissatisfied with the plant-based dairy product they tried.  Further, 8% of consumers switched back to dairy as they did not like the first plant-based product they tried. More than a fifth (22%) of all those polled do not believe plant-based products can taste great. Even current users (61%) say that bad taste and texture is preventing them from consuming more plant-based products. 

Nuts can play a role in addressing taste and texture in this category, ofi stressed. According to the survey, 48% of people believe nuts are tasty (compared to soy: 23%, and oat: 35%). 43% believe nuts are rich in nutrients (compared to soy: 24% and oat: 36%). 35% believe nuts are high in protein (soy: 26%, oat: 21%).

ofi’s Chief Innovation & Quality Officer, Kamesh Ellajosyula stressed that  in formulating plant-based proteins, nuts prove a popular choice, with the consumer survey revealing that nuts stand out compared to soy and oats as having a good taste and being rich in nutrients. Almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts were strongly associated with being tasty, natural, and healthy. “Manufacturers have a huge opportunity to dial up taste and health benefits but face ongoing formulation challenges,”​ he said. “Consumers who enjoy plant-based want wholesome products with real ingredients but instead may find products have added sugars, masking agents and stabilizers.”

“Equally, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Our dairy team is co-creating with our nuts R&D specialists to find exciting hybrid solutions that can combine the functional, nutritional and sustainability benefits of both dairy and plant-based.”

Ofi’s focus on reporting through granular data and metrics was recognized with its Cocoa Compass sustainability strategy and impact reports winning the Sustainability Innovation Award at Food Ingredients Europe. ofi’s Chief Marketing Officer, Briony Mathieson added: “75% of all consumers surveyed say they are willing to pay more for a sustainable product. ofi’s extensive farmer programs mean we can help customers source ingredients with a powerful narrative about communities and planet. We make this real through our product sustainability strategies such as Cashew Trail and Coffee LENS. By collaborating with our customers from plant to palate we can together be the change for good food and a healthy future.”

Laura Barber, Vice President Consumer and Market Insights at ofi, stressed that the need for a ‘new way of talking about plant based dairy products’. “This market isn't just cannibalising dairy,” ​she said. “This is adding something to the market which is exciting. Indulgent categories particularly like desserts and ice cream are seem as being something new that complements their diet, not necessarily a substitute. 

"There are big numbers to go after and make sure we are capturing that revenue opportunity and we expect as these categories grow, consumers tastes will become more sophisticated, and their expectations will continue to increase.”

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