Spilling the beans on milk alternatives

By Rhys Williams

Popularity for plant-based milk continues to grow exponentially, particularly with our morning coffee, leaving the dairy industry reeling as their domination on the market continues to be under threat.

The market for milk alternatives is burgeoning - it’s estimated that there are approximately 200 different dairy substitutes available on the market, with soy and almond being the plant-based favourites in cafes.

Barista at Docs Café in Corowa, Adam Looker, said he’s noticed that milk alternatives have really grown in demand over the last 18 months, estimating that over a third of the coffee’s he makes are done so with a non-dairy option.

“Over the last year and a half of making coffee’s I’ve seen almond and soy milk really start to take off and grow in demand,” he told The Free Press.

“I would say about 35% of people that come in here and order will order a dairy alternative.”

Outside of full cream and skim milk, Docs offer soy, almond, macadamia, lactose free and low-fat lactose free milk.

 “I think outside of dietary requirements people are moving towards healthier options,” Adam said.

“I find almond milk in particular is really popular here in Corowa.”

Over the last 12 months sales of soy drinks made up 41 percent of the non-dairy market, while almond milk grew to account for 37 percent.

Soy dominated the non-dairy market in 2007, but since almond was first introduced to Australian supermarkets in 2008 it has rapidly grown in popularity, and since then a wide range of other alternatives have followed. 

Despite the rise of popularity and rate of growth in the non-dairy market, white milk is still vastly the most popular choice among consumers according to Dairy Australia statistics.

During the past four years, sales of dairy alternatives grew 48 per cent to 132 million litres. In stark contrast, sales of white milk grew four per cent over the same period to 1.3 billion litres.

But despite dairy milk’s perceived dominance statistically, the non-dairy market it having profound ramifications on the dairy industry.

According to figures from Dairy Australia sales for milk alternatives has risen from 5 per cent to 7 per cent between 2010 to 2017.

That accounts for 95 million litres of milk.

This impact is now galvanising dairy farmers, who are calling on the federal government to ban the word “milk” being used by almond, soy and other substitutes on the market.

United Dairy Farmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford, said that farms were being snapped up at low priced due to the effect of the almond industry, which is now worth $165.8 million.

“There is a huge new agricultural industry emerging and it’s born out of corporations with very deep pockets,” he said.

“My concern is that these deep pockets are changing the demographic in the north and its exacerbating the problem for dairy farmers, because it’s pushing up the water prices.”

Mr Mumford and many other farmers are demanding that dairy alternatives adopt the word “extract” and “juice” because branding them as milk is misleading.

Australian Dairy Farmers recently started a petition that calls on Canberra to ban the “misleading labelling of plant-based products.”