Appetite for plant-based dairy is growing among mainstream consumers, claims Cargill

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / AsiaVision
Photo Credit: GettyImages / AsiaVision

Related tags Cargill plant-based dairy

Consumer appetite for plant-based dairy is growing, according to survey data from Cargill, which saw a jump in consumption between 2021 and 2022.

Seeking to pinpoint consumer consumption behavior and attitudes around plant-based dairy, Cargill conducted two surveys over one year apart with baseline research completed in February 2021 and a follow-up survey completed in July 2022.

Results from the survey showed that fewer consumers reported following a vegan or vegetarian diet (9% in 2022 vs. 14% in 2021) and an even larger dip was seen in the number of consumers actively avoiding animal-based dairy products (<30% in 2022 vs. 40% in 2021).

At the same time, consumption of plant-based dairy products increased during the 17-month period. 

According to its survey data, six in ten consumers reported a jump in plant-based dairy consumption when asked in July 2022 with plant-based milk as the main driver of purchases. 

“Clearly, there’s a growing swath of plant-based dairy consumers who are open to both categories. Look in their refrigerator, and they may have conventional milk and a plant-based alternative sitting side-by-side,”  ​said Mark Fahlin, business development manager for Cargill.

“It’s further evidence of just how mainstream the plant-based dairy movement has become.”

Consumers also showed a heightened interest in other products within the broader plant-based dairy category. Half of shoppers said plant-based ice cream was a likely future purchase, while a third indicated plant-based cheese might soon be on their shopping list, according to the survey.

“More so than other plant-based sub-categories, we’ve seen purchases of one plant-based dairy product open the door for shoppers to trial another segment. Plant-based milk is a common starting point, and often serves as a gateway to plant-based ice creams, creamers and more,"​ added Fahlin.

Animal-based dairy perceptions

While the research found strong interest for plant-based dairy products overall, it did highlight a few areas where consumers perceive traditional dairy products still hold an advantage.

Nutritionally, more consumers rated animal-based dairy as a better source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. The survey also revealed opportunities remain to close the perceived texture gap between plant-based and animal-based products. Four in 10 (37%) consumers said they prefer the texture of animal-based products, while less than one in three (26%) favored that of plant-based offerings. 

These consumer perceptions highlight opportunities for plant-based manufacturers to improve the nutrition of their products through plant-based ingredients such as the company's PURIS 2.0 pea protein solution, noted Fahlin.

"PURIS 2.0 can be used at higher concentrations without diminishing product quality, enabling brands to address consumer demand for plant-based dairy alternative formulations with significantly higher protein levels, while also offering improved texture and flavor​."

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  • Ricky Cassini, ​​​CEO and co-founder, Michroma​​​
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  • MODERATOR​​: Elaine Watson, senior editor, FoodNavigator-USA​

PANEL: Dairy 2.0​​​: Plant-based milks now account for more than 15% of the fluid milk market, while plant-based cheese, creamers, yogurts and ice cream continue to gain traction. So where is the market going next, where’s the white space in the category, and what is the potential of a new wave of ‘animal-free dairy’ products made with real milk proteins and fats, minus the cows?

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