UK – A quarter of British consumers are now drinking plant-based milk as a result of shifting trends towards health and wellness as well as environmental concerns, according to a new study by Mintel.

The research indicates that 23% of consumers in Britain (a quarter) used plant-based dairy alternatives in the three months to February 2019, up from 19% in 2018.

This is attributed to rising demand for alternative milks such as oat, almond, coconut, and pea, especially among younger consumers.

Also, producers are banking on this new category to bring to the market new product choices in line with changing consumer tastes and preferences.

Plant-based milk alternatives are further expanding in the market supported by high levels of innovation from companies producing almond, hazelnut and oat milks.

In 2018, plant-based milk alternatives accounted for 4% of volume sales and 8% of value sales of white milk in 2018.

However, the Mintel report notes that their use cooking and hot drinks remains limited with only 25% finding applications in cooking, compared to 42% for standard cow’s milk users.

42% of plant-based milk alternatives are used in hot drinks, compared to 82% for standard cow’s milk users.

“Plant-based milk alternatives continue to make further inroads into the mainstream, with high levels of innovation activity such as the entrance of Innocent Drinks to the market in 2018,” said Emma Clifford, associate director of UK food and drink at Mintel.

“Growth in this segment forms part of a much wider plant-based movement, driven by concerns around health, ethics and the environment, as well as by consumers’ love of variety in their diets.”

A threat to cow’s milk

Use of standard cow’s milk is sliding among 16-24-year-old consumers in Britain, falling from 79% in 2018 to 73% in 2019.

While cow’s milk still accounted for most white milk sales in 2018 (96%), usage of this family favourite is increasingly skewed towards older consumers, peaking at 92% among over-45s, Mintel research suggests.

This fall in usage among 16-24s comes as 37% of this age group say they have reduced how much standard cow’s milk they have used in the last 12 months for health reasons.

Environmental concerns are also playing a role, with 16-24s most likely (36%) to agree that dairy farming has a negative impact on the environment.

“With volume sales of cow’s milk already on a downward trend, the fact that more young consumers are turning away from these products does not bode well for this segment’s prospects in the long-term,” said Clifford.

“Efforts from the industry to remind young consumers of the benefits of using cow’s milk, and dairy more widely, for example in terms of health, are needed.”