Are non-dairy milks, creamers the plant-based market’s saving grace?

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	carlosgaw
Image Credit: Getty Images - carlosgaw

Related tags plant-based milk plant-based beverages

Plant-based milks and creamers are growing strong as they become a staple to many consumers, providing an example of what's needed to grow other alternative segments, according to experts gathered at Bridge2Food’s Summit Americas last week.

“When you go to the alternative dairy aisle, and you get your soy milk or oat milk, usually per household they won’t go and get animal-based milk, same for yogurt same for cheese, because the entire household uses that,​” said Miri Eliyahu, senior research analyst at Euromonitor International, during her session.

What we’ve seen with alternative dairy is a trade from animal milk to plant-based, and that’s why they have higher penetration rates. We have not seen that with plant-based meat alternatives because consumers treat them differently.​”

How plant-based milk became a staple

While the overall plant-based market was worth $8.0bn and grew 6.6% in 2022, plant-based milk grew 9% in 2022, propelling the category to $2.8bn, according to Plant Based Foods Association and SPINS data​, shared by Nicole Spoko, VP of Upton’s Natural, during a separate session. Though unit sales of plant-based milk were down 2%, “animal-based milk was also down that same 2% in unit sales but saw a 12% increase in dollar sales,​” illustrating the “outsize role of inflated pricing in the growing sales figures for animal-based,​" she added.

With optimal merchandising – honestly, maybe some of the best merchandising in the space – plant-based milk has grown to a very sizable share, so retailers have embraced the plant-based milk category and given priority on the shelf. The more shelf space means that there's more room for innovation and variety, and consumers are responding to that.​”

Plant-based milk also “carries a large part of the milk category on its own now,” Spoko said. Plant-based milk “hasn't been relegated to a separate section of the store," and it has been integrated into the animal-based milk space over the years, she added. Plant-based dairy products like cheese and yogurts are also slowly making their way into the same aisle as their animal-based counterparts. 

Additionally, plant-based creamers are faring well, with the category growing 24% in dollars and 12% in units for 2023, compared to a 1.4% decline in animal-based creamers, according to the Plant Based Association data. In addition to indulgent flavors like crème brûlée, dark chocolate truffle, and toasted marshmallow being popular flavors, plant-based creamers products are starting to claim more functional and nutritional benefits.

Boosting occasions to grow the plant-based milks, creamers

While the plant-based milk and creamer segments are seeing larger growth compared to the overall plant-based market, they still have an opportunity to expand through increased occasions and usages. Just as consumers have grown accustomed to having multiple animal-based types of meat in one occasion, they could be similarly encouraged to trade between animal-based and plant-based milks, Eliyahu pointed out.

We're used to having a variety of proteins in our hands; we're used to having sausage and chicken and steak, and sometimes, that happens even in the same dinner,​” Eliyahu said.  “We are not used to having oat milk and dairy milk in the same meal or in the same occasion.​”

[Editor's note: Interested in learning more about the plant-based dairy segment? Join FoodNavigator-USA's upcoming free webinar Plant-Based Dairy: From Oat Milk To Chickpea Ice Cream on May 17. Get all the details and register today​.]

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