Where dairy once reigned supreme, modern consumers now increasingly choose an alternative. Ashley Pollock, Senior Innovation Consultant at Ayming, looks at our evolving milk preferences and offers suggestions on how the dairy and alternatives industries might navigate a steady course to ensure a place in our future diets.
The world is rebelling and things are changing. Trump is in power, Brexit is coming and climate change is actually happening. Events such as these can potentially have significant impacts, so we must be more conscious of our actions and the implications they could have. Even down to the kind of milk we drink.
The uptake of dairy alternatives is gaining momentum every day. Across the globe, we are seeing a movement away from classic cow’s milk to plant-based substitutes such as almond, soya and oat drink. Over the past four years, sales of dairy-free milk have risen by more than 30 percent in the UK. But similar trends have come and gone in the past. What’s to say that the rise of dairy alternatives will be any different?
Milk has long held a prized place in the heart of our nation. One of the few goods not to be constrained by post-war rationing, milk quickly became key to daily lives when the Atlee government introduced free milk for those under the age of 16. The extent of the nation’s obsession with milk was revealed when the UK descended into collective hysteria at the then Education Secretary, Margaret Thatcher’s, decision to remove this allowance for those between the ages of seven and 11. Despite this episode, however, the milk industry’s dominance remained relatively unchallenged in subsequent decades. The rise of soya milk, for example, never seriously threatened it. Dairy farming was able to become the single largest agricultural sector in the UK and is currently worth £3.8 billion. But recent trends and changing demographics have seen this success stagnate, and dairy alternatives are returning with a vengeance. Milk sales have fallen by 15 percent in the US since 2012.
In sharp contrast to dairy’s struggles, the alternative milk industry is now estimated to be worth $16 billion globally. There are several reasons for this success – the transition of vegetarianism and veganism into the mainstream being among them. But there are other reasons too. It has also been attributed to the general body anxiety that is sweeping the Western World, which manifests itself in a refusal to consume anything that could disturb the peace of our bodily temples. Despite a lack of scientific consensus, teenagers now consider cow’s milk to be less healthy than its alternatives. Regardless of the validity of this belief, it poses an existential threat to the dairy industry as we know it.
A more obvious contributing factor is the environmental concern sweeping the nation. The likes of David Attenborough and Greta Thurnberg are a compelling presence on our TV screens. As a result, anything deemed to be damaging to the planet not only incurs the disdain of activists, but also much of the general population too. It was never likely, therefore, that the dairy industry would escape the wrath of this movement. Although not solely the responsibility of the dairy industry, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than road, shipping, and aviation vehicles combined. It’s therefore undeniable that our dairy consumption is damaging the planet.
Whilst alternatives still have a significant environmental footprint (almond crops are responsible for 10 percent of the water supply in California), they are less environmentally damaging than traditional dairy options. Research by Oxford University even claimed that adopting a vegetarian/vegan diet was the most effective way to reduce your environmental footprint. For those concerned about the destruction of their planet, alternatives are the obvious way to go.