The Market for Plant Milks

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

A recently released survey of 995 households in the United
States compared consumers who used plant milks with those using dairy milk.
About 60% of the households surveyed used dairy milk exclusively or almost
exclusively. About 23% of the households used plant milks, mainly almond milk, exclusively
or almost exclusively. A little more than 15% of households surveyed use both
dairy milk and plant milk. 

     These results,
suggesting that more than a third of households use plant milks, are supported
by trends in dairy milk consumption in the United States. Per capita dairy milk
consumption declined by 41% between 1975 and 2018. We should note that overall
per capita dairy product consumption has increased over this period.
Plant-based yogurt, cheese, and butter are increasingly available, but have
seemingly not yet had a large effect on consumption of dairy yogurt, cheese,
and butter.

     Survey
respondents whose households used plant milks, either exclusively or along with
dairy milk, tended to be younger than those whose households used dairy milks
exclusively. This has potential implications for future trends in plant milk
consumption. Those respondents whose households used plant milks either
exclusively or partially were likely or somewhat likely to use plant milks in
place of dairy milk as a beverage, in coffee or tea, in cooking, on cereal, in
smoothies, in desserts, and for children.

     Interestingly,
almost 10% overall of the households that were surveyed said that at least one
person in the household was vegetarian or vegan. Eleven percent of households
almost exclusively using plant milks had at least one vegan or vegetarian in
the household compared to 27% of households which used plant and dairy milk and
4% of households which exclusively used dairy milk. No information was provided
as to how the survey defined “vegetarian” or “vegan.”

Reference:

Wolf CA, Malone T, McFadden BR. Beverage milk consumption
patterns in the United States: Who is substituting from dairy to plant-based
beverages? J Dairy Sci. 2020;103(12):11209-11217.

For nutrition information on coconut, nut, seed, pea, grain,
and soy milks, see: https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/milk_alternatives/index.htm

For VRG’s national poll on what Americans expect from a
beverage labeled as soymilk, see: https://www.vrg.org/blog/2020/10/30/what-do-american-adults-expect-from-a-beverage-labeled-soymilk-questions-asked-by-the-vegetarian-resource-group-in-a-national-poll/