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Nov. 16, 2019, 12:55 p.m. EST

People are willing to pay nearly twice as much for plant-based milk

Dean Foods files for bankruptcy, spurred in part by ’a challenging operating environment’

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By Jeanette Settembre, MarketWatch


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Sales of cow’s milk have declined 3%, according to a new report.

The plant-based milk industry keeps growing, while sales of cow’s milk are slipping.

Dean Foods  is Exhibit A. The Dallas, Texas-based milk processor and distributor said Tuesday it has filing for bankruptcy, spurred in part by “a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption.”

But people’s growing preference for plant-based milk, like oat milk or soy milk, isn’t cheap.

Plant-based milks such as almond, oat and soy cost $3 or more for a half gallon (64-ounces), and as much as $5.99 for a quart (32-ounces) for a brand of peanut milk, a steep increase compared to dairy, which costs $2.69 on average per gallon and $2.17 per half gallon (64-ounces).

Consumers are making the switch for health reasons, intolerance to dairy, ethical concerns about animal abuse in modern dairy farming practices, or simply for wanting another alternative to dairy, even if they have to pay more for it, industry experts say.

“Consumers want to reduce, not eliminate, the amount of animal proteins we consume. They’re pro-protein, they just don’t want to have more meat or more milk to achieve these goals,” Darren Seifer, a food consumption business analyst at NPD Group, told MarketWatch.

Sales of plant-based varieties have grown 6% over the past year, now comprising 13% of the entire milk category, according to data released in July from The Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association. Sales of cow’s milk, meanwhile, have declined 3%, according to the report.

Indeed, 11% of consumers say they’re trying to consume less dairy, according to NPD group. Seifer says almond milk is the plant-based market’s biggest driver, ahead of soy milk at the No. 2 spot. Other new iterations like oat milk, coconut, cashew or rice milk are also gaining traction, though they’re being consumed in coffee to mimic the creamy texture of milk, smoothies or in cereal, he added.

“They’re rarely used for just a glass of milk on its own compared to dairy milk,” Seifer added.

Some people are willing to pay big money for non-dairy varieties, particularly oat milk. When the Swedish oat milk brand Oatly sold out of its Barista Edition Oatmilk variety in December, one Amazon  seller posted a 12-pack of the milk cartons for $226 (a 32-ounce carton retails for $4.99).

Even coffee shops have been expanding their milk offerings to keep up with rising demand outside of dairy. California-based chain Blue Bottle Coffee  offers oat and almond milk in addition to its typical dairy offerings.

“Our data shows a clear shift away from dairy milk and towards non-dairy alternatives, like almond and oat milk,” Michael Phillips, director of coffee culture at Blue Bottle said, adding that he introduced oat milk to cafes in 2017.

Plant-based yogurt has also seen a 39% growth, while regular yogurt declined 3%; plant-based cheese is up 19%; compared to conventional cheese growth which remains flat; and plant-based ice cream has grown 27%, while regular dairy ice cream has seen only 1% market growth. What’s more, sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year, valuing the total plant-based market value at $4.5 billion, up from $3.3 billion last year.

Meanwhile, the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a dairy marketing cooperative, said sales declined by $1.1 billion in 2018. Net sales were $13.6 billion in 2018 versus $14.7 billion in 2017. Dairy-industry executives say the milk beverage category remains competitive, while the dairy market as a whole has seen growth.

“Milk consumption across all categories is down, but whole milk and flavored milk is showing an uptick. Consumers want more choice in the market,” Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, told MarketWatch.

New parents should proceed with caution when feeding babies nut milks. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies less than 1-year-old drink breast milk or soy-based infant formula. Almond milk shouldn’t be a replacement for infant formula. However, toddlers can drink almond milk between eating other foods when they’re over 12 months old, Medical News Today reported.

Consider these factors on nutritional value, intolerances and flavor profile when shopping for the best milk fit for your diet:

A fiber-rich boost and frothy foam to add to your latte

Oat milk has more fiber than other alternative milks with two grams of per cup and is said to help lower cholesterol. The lightly sweet, slight nut-tasting milk is also perfect for latte foam, coffee experts suggest.

“Oat milk is popular for the way it mimics the velvety texture of dairy milk in steamed milk drinks. It’s the most suited for lattes and a favorite for guests who have nut allergies and can’t consume almond milk,” Phillips said.

To pair with cereal or add flavor to coffee and smoothies

Those without a peanut intolerance and looking to add a little flavor to plain cereals or liven up a cup of coffee may be inclined to try peanut-flavored milk. The Elmhurst Plant-Based Milks brand made waves earlier this year for launching a milk made from crushed-up peanuts with filtered water, cane sugar for added sweetness and salt and natural flavors.

Seifer said consumers are most likely to experiment with flavored milks like peanut with cereal, or in blended beverages like smoothies.

Cow’s milk has more protein than a hard-boiled egg

Cow’s milk has a strong nutritional profile containing more protein than a hard boiled egg with eight grams of protein per cup and is high in bone-building calcium. Still, the varieties that aren’t fat-free are higher in saturated fats and calories.

Soy milk packs the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, a study by published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found. Added sugar in soy milk makes it taste less like beans and more like the creamy rich texture associated with milk.

This story was July 18 and updated on Nov. 12.

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