Alternative milks continue to boom
Suppliers in the alternative milk sector claim that it is continuing to grow, with consumers demanding more non-dairy options.
Options can include anything from Almond to Oat to Coconut with the demand being driven by a range of reasons from health to dietary requirements such as being vegan.
Bertel Haugen, head of innovation, at Rude Health says while it has traditionally focused on selling alternative milks direct to the supermarket channel it is seeing growth in the food service sector.
“It is an area that we are investing in. Over the last two years we have put more focus into our food service sector and that has been the fastest growing area for us,” he says.
“We have traditionally only had account managers that deal with supermarkets but we now have account managers for food service and that team is growing.”
Growth is coming mostly from the coffee shop, casual dining and food to go sectors where, he argues, where people are looking for healthier breakfast and lunch options.
He says this trend is set to stay.
“There are a few different things that play into this. Veganism has had a lot of press attention although the number of people that are vegan is still small,” he says.
“A lot of restaurants and food service outlets are looking to show they are vegan-friendly so offering dairy alternative versions will continue to grow.”
This view is backed by Rhys Prosser, café specialist at Califia Farms, the US based company, who says the alternative milk market has been witnessing steady growth.
“This is based around people wanting a healthier lifestyle and getting more conscious about what they are consuming in terms of dairy, sugar and the quality of it,” he says.
The good news is that there is “hyper awareness” from consumers about where products are coming from and they want value for money. In turn operators are keen to showcase their sustainability credentials, he says.
“The speciality and food service industries are after something different. All of the smaller food service operators, even down to greasy spoon places, are having to follow suit as consumers want it,” he says
In the US market cafes are making their own cold brews and offering alternative milk options with this instead of with standard coffees, he reveals.
“Alternative milks both in and out of home is going to increase. In the coffee industry hemp looks like it is becoming more popular but at the moment we are seeing the steady rise of oat milk and that is not going to end anytime soon.
While the industry has been seeing the growth of milks such as almond and oat the traditional soya was the first alternative to hit the market.
Community Foods national sales manager David Mills that has Bonsoy soya milk in its portfolio says that it was a “pioneer”.
He says that while its sales as a premium soya milk have remained strong soya has been impacted by the popularity of other alternative milks, in the last two to three years. He says the market has been impacted by consumers interest and increased knowledge in plant-based milks.
“People want flavours and want to be able to have a different type of coffee experience,” he says.
“The purists out there that appreciate coffee back at roaster level want their coffee to be centre of the cup. It is the primary ingredient and what you add to that can’t take anything away from the coffee.”
There are two factors with soya, he explains.
“The old soya milks used to have an aftertaste and a kick which a lot of people did not like. Ours does not have an after taste, which makes it one of the premium brands,” he says.
Secondly, milk has to be “non-tainting” so it does not take anything away from the coffee and the flavour profiles. This, he says, explains the popularity of oat milk, which is thought to be a good match for speciality coffee.
However, he says that the dairy market is fighting back.
“They are doing a lot of barista type milks and adding more richer blends to give it higher protein,” he says.
There is a downside as many operators need to factor in the costs and the bottom line. However, this is not a major issue for the artisan café and coffee shop chains who are interested in quality, he agues.
"These artisan cafes are the ones that are burgeoning at the moment and that is where our soya milk fits in with that premiumisation because it is all about quality,” he says.
Mills says that while there are lots of alternative milk flavours hitting the market, including pea, eventually milk will have to “get back to basics”
“Operators are consolidating their choices and having three alternative milks and having best in class. They want to have the edge over the competition,” he concludes.
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