BY MEGAN KINDELIN
AWARDS MARKETING EXECUTIVE, FOODBEV MEDIA
Plant-based products and substitutes are nothing new, but the past 18 months have seen a surge in animal-free alternatives everywhere on supermarket shelves. Whether this has been fuelled by health incentives and lifestyle choices, increasing awareness of animal rearing practices, or simply from consumer diets, we have to ask: is dairy on its deathbed?
It’s no surprise that the dairy industry has taken a hit in the past few years; with social media movements such as #meatfreemonday and #veganuary making the rounds promoting plant-based living, it’s hard to compete when a new generation of consumers are getting the majority of their facts via their smartphones.
Since 20-somethings to 30-somethings have a majority share of platforms on the internet, it is easy to see why it appears that dairy and other animal-based products may be losing their edge based on the opinions of an elite few. For every Instagram post that sports a purple #acaibowl with star-shaped bananas in it, there is at least one photo of a grilled animal product oozing with cheese.
In the US, a potential class suit case against Blue Diamond Growers, one of the largest producers of almond milk in North America, was dismissed by the US Court of Appeals as it was determined the labelling of their almond milk was not misleading.
It was argued that dairy alternative milk should be labelled as “imitation milk” to distinguish the difference between the products. However, the court stated that almond milk is not an “imitation” of dairy milk within the meaning of federal regulations because it is a different product.
The general consensus is that consumers won’t be misled into believing that Blue Diamond’s almond milk products are nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk based on their package labels and advertising, the court said.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12, found in cow’s milk, is required for brain functions. In light of non-dairy milk sales increasing by nearly 30% since 2017, there is also little evidence to show that it is actually taking away market share from dairy milk as the two have different core markets.
Since it was deemed reasonable that consumers would not assume that two distinct products have the same nutritional content, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been somewhat reluctant to police the use of the term; under its standard of identity, milk is summarised as being “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows”. This non-stance has been present for nearly 20 years and dairy farmers are keen to get some clarification.
The dairy industry has worked tirelessly to establish the nutritional profile of milk, so it is no surprise that they are working fervently to protect its integrity. Soy milk has the most balanced nutritional profile amongst most non-dairy milk beverages. However, a study published in 2017 by the Journal of Food Science and Technology stated that “no plant-based milk product matches the nutrients provided by cow’s milk.”
While plant-based milk sales are steadily increasing year on year, other dairy alternative products such as cheese and yoghurt haven’t quite caught the success wave. In fact, traditional dairy cheese, yoghurt and ice cream have seen a slight increase in sales, suggesting that consumers are not adhering to strict dietary rules, but are cherry picking which products they would prefer to substitute.
James Wilde, the communications and market developer for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), says, “according to our research, veganism is growing, but from a small base and is still having little impact on overall sales of meat and dairy.”
In many homes, almond milk cartons will be placed right next to a 4L of semi-skimmed 2% milk as consumers adopt balanced ‘flexitarian’ lifestyles. Consumers are likely to have an oat milk latte in the morning whilst eating a cheeseburger for dinner. And dairy products as of April 2018 still have a 98% penetration in most UK homes.
In a recent Financial Times article, Danone, which is the world’s biggest dairy yoghurt-maker, and recently acquired plant-based American food group WhiteWave foods, downplay the rivalry between plant-based alternatives and traditional dairy.
“We believe that dairy and plant-based are two complementary health-focused categories and that there are growth opportunities for both,” Danone says. “Dairy and plant-based products can serve different dietary and lifestyle preferences. More importantly, an increasing number of consumers are so-called ‘flexitarians’ who opt for both dairy and plant-based proteins, depending on what suits them best in specific occasions.”
FoodBev believes plant-based alternatives have a place in the dairy aisle and that the trend is here to stay. So this year, for the first time, we have created a category in our World Dairy Innovation Awards to recognise excellence in innovation in this growing sector: Best dairy alternative. You can see all 22 categories and read more about the application here.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020