Whether delivering a nutritional boost, replacing a meal or satisfying a snack attack, dairy-alternative foods and beverages are expanding their reach when it comes to flavor, innovation and texture. In fact, the market for dairy-alternative foods appeal to a wide range of consumers: those with lactose intolerance, dairy-free consumers (vegans), those who don’t prefer dairy-laden products, and those looking to venture out and try new flavors.
While dairy-alternative drinks account for a relatively limited 6% share of total global dairy launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2015, the market has seen ongoing penetration outside its more traditional Asian market. This is reflected in the static launch numbers for the region over the past five years, while rising activity in Europe has taken its global share up from 30% to 38%.
“The non-dairy milk drinks market has seen considerable development in recent years in the light of rising interest in lactose and dairy-free options," said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Its initial spread from traditional markets in Asia to the West was via specialist health-food outlets, but in recent years it has moved more squarely into the mainstream and grown beyond its reliance on soy to a whole range of other plant-based foods, led by nuts and grains."
Soy milks traditionally dominated the sector and still featured in more than 60% of dairy alternative drinks launches globally in 2015, either as a main or secondary ingredient, although this has fallen from nearly 75% in 2011. Almond milks, which have seen dynamic growth in recent years, have increased their share to feature in more than 28% of launches, ahead of rice, coconut and oat milks.
The other notable feature of market development has been the stronger move of dairy-alternative drinks out of the white milks subcategory and into flavored variants, with increasingly upmarket and complex flavors and blends in line with the milk drinks market as a whole. Also in line with the milks market as a whole, there has been a strong move into fashionable milk-based coffee drinks.
Soy milk has traditionally been marketed on its health benefits and its newer, plant-based competition has continued this trend. Over 90 percent of dairy alternative drinks launched in 2015 were marketed on a health platform of some kind.
The most popular individual claim was lactose free, used on more than 47% of introductions, up from about one-third in 2011, probably as a result of improved allergen labeling, as well as growing awareness of lactose intolerance and interest in free-from foods in general.
Interest in clean label appears to have boosted the use of natural and no additives/preservatives claims and these were used on 36% of launches, rising to nearly 64%, if organic claims are also included. There is also rising use of non-GMO claims, despite legislation in many markets including the EU that means GM ingredients have to be declared in any case. The United States has seen growing levels of concern in recent years, with nearly half of dairy alternative drinks launches in the country in 2015 carrying non-GMO claims, compared with just under a quarter globally. Even in the EU, where GM ingredients have to be declared, nearly 11 percent of introductions used GM-free labeling.
“The dairy alternative drinks market is booming and further growth is expected with growing interest in dairy-free and lactose free products as a lifestyle choice, rather than simply an option for those with allergies and intolerances," Williams said. “In the move to offer something new, we are also starting to see not only a wide variety of increasingly sophisticated flavor options, but also blends of milks from different sources."