Dairy-free alternatives to regular milk products are experiencing significant growth across the globe.
While dairy alternative drinks accounted for a relatively small five percent of the total dairy launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of October 2012, the market is definitely growing.
Soy milk is leading the dairy alternative race, representing 78 percent of dairy-free launches either as a main or secondary ingredient. Next in line are plant-based alternatives including cereals such as rice, oats and barley as well as nuts like almond, hazelnuts and walnuts.
The second most popular ingredient – albeit a long way behind soy – is rice with 17 percent of introductions. Oats had 11 percent and almonds came in with 10 percent of introductions in the 12 months to the end of October.
Despite its fourth place ranking, almond milk products have been labelled as the ones to watch by Innova Market Insights, jumping from three percent in 2005 to its current 10 percent.
Most dairy alternative beverages use health as a marketing platform and point of difference, with three-quarters of launches recorded by Innova featuring a health claim of some kind.
The most popular health claims relate to lactose-free offerings (over 35 percent), organic ingredients, low cholesterol content and additive- or preservative- free content.
Health is definitely a focal point for the marketing team at Sanitarium, which makes the So Good dairy free range of products.
Marketing general manager, Daniel Derrick, told Food magazine many consumers prefer how they feel after consuming dairy-free products, regardless of whether or not they medically require them.
"I think yesteryear was all about the [dairy] intolerance and it was almost a medical approach to milk, but thesedays many consumers are just wanting a wellbeing beverage, so they want products that give them all the goodness of a glass of milk without the bad stuff. So non-dairy beverages are free of cholesterol, they're free of saturated fat, they're free of lactose. That way it just allows people to enjoy their favourite breakfast without the guilt. It allows people to go back to enjoying what milk gives them.
"There's nothing wrong with milk, necessarily, but there are better alternatives," he said.
Derrick said two key factors have contributed to the growth in dairy-free drinks: technological developments which have improved the beverages' taste, and a rise in the number of people saying they feel better after drinking dairy-free beverages.
"When people drink non-dairy milk a lot of them are quite surprised at how light they feel. There's an effect that dairy has on a lot of people where it gives them congestion or bloating. And previously I think it's fair to say that non-dairy milks didn't taste great, but thesedays a lot of the technologies employed allow us to have really good tasting non-dairy milk," he said.
Almond milk is responsible for a wide number of consumers making the switch to dairy-free, Derrick says, with one in five Australian households stocking non-dairy milk in their fridge. And it's a similar story in the US where almond milk has been the most popular non-dairy milk for the past two years.
"Non-dairy milk is still an evolving niche. It's certainly still emerging, but what's helping emergence is the introduction of other non-dairy milks such as almond milk. So if you try our unsweetened almond milk it has 55 percent less calories than light milk. So it tastes great, it works well on cereal, but if you want to enjoy your cereal, enjoy your coffee, enjoy your drink without the calories, you can with our unsweetened almond milk," Derrick said.
"I think the current trajectory will continue, where people discover how to offer really great tasting, healthy alternatives to dairy.
Not only are dairy-free drinks becoming more popular for consumers – regardless of whether or not they're lactose intolerant – Derrick says more and more men are embracing dairy-free.
"I think more people are discovering that very normal people can enjoy non-dairy milk. It's not the domain of people that have a medical need. This is a product that has universal appeal."
Click here to see a range of dairy-free drinks available across the globe.