Milk is trending big with Gen Z and Millennials right now—the kind that doesn’t come from cows that is. The non-dairy milk industry has exploded in the last few years, and young consumers are lapping it up (sorry). Animal cruelty and environmental activists have leveraged the internet to popularize their once-fringe platforms, veganism has become a top food trend (even among meat-eaters), and the clean eating movement has denigrated dairy. These factors started to pile up in 2012, causing dairy sales to plummet 15% since. And according to The Guardian, we haven’t even hit “peak plant milk” yet. Millennials’ interest in vegan options has helped fueled the rise of milk alternatives, and the global market for dairy-free drinks was predicted to reach $16.3 billion in 2019.
New non-dairy options have entered the market, creating new competition for old standbys. Soy milk is so yesterday. Even almond milk is now facing steep competition. According to Square and Refinery29, oat milk is the new almond milk, with sales skyrocketing 425% in 2018 over the previous year. There was even an oat milk shortage that made headlines. It became a barista favorite, mainly thanks to industry upstart Oatly, which is opening a new factory to up their production. But thanks to popularity paired with the shortage, big brands like Pepsi Co.’s Quaker Oats, Danone’s Silk, and Califia Farms are all getting in on this grain-based trend. Oat milk also has an environmentally friendly edge over competitors. One 23-year-old oat milk convert explained to Refinery29, “It takes three gallons of water to grow ONE almond, and my conscience couldn’t handle that.”
So just how big is non-dairy milk among young consumers? We recently asked 13-36-year-olds about the food trends that they’ve tried, and out of a list of more than 20, including avocado toast and the media-favorite fake (plant-based) meat, the popularity of non-dairy milk was clear:
Avocado toast might be the stereotypical symbol of a generation, but in actuality, it’s trending far below other buzzy food and beverage items—including non-dairy milk. While 29% of 13-36-year-olds tell us they’ve tried avocado toast, 40% say they’ve tried non-dairy milk. That’s an increase from 34% who said they had tried it in 2018. The dairy-free milks are even more popular among young females: 50% tell us they’ve tried one. When we look at the differences between generations, non-dairy milk has been tried by 31% of 13-17-year-olds and 42% of 18-36-year-olds, making it more popular than avocado toast amongst both groups.
It looks like big brands are smart to jump onto this bandwagon. Swedish-based startup Oatly, which, as mentioned above, has helped drive the popularity of the trend, is still seeing demand outpace their production. Founder Toni Peterson tells Cheddar, “‘We simply cannot produce enough and that’s it. We are trying as hard as we can. There is a huge movement going on in the world, especially driven by young people trying to make this world better.’” We’ll just hope that despite its growing popularity, non-dairy milk doesn’t somehow end up the unwanted mascot of a generation.
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