The Rise of Plant-Based Milks

MILKLAB dives into the rise of non-dairy milk to discover why plant-based milks have become increasingly popular with baristas and foodies alike.
The Rise of Plant-Based Milks
March 15, 2023

Milk has changed massively in recent years. Back in the day — even as recently as the 2000s — most people thought of milk as an animal product. And at that time, alternative milks consisted of soy, and … not much else.

Today, that’s no longer the case. Now, there’s a wide and wonderful universe of plant-based milks, and they’ve exploded in popularity with coffee lovers and baristas alike.

Join us as we explore the rise of non-dairy milk with a MILKLAB Master Barista and find out why many coffee drinkers continue to make the switch away from traditional cow’s milk. 

Industry insight: Hany, Master Barista

Hany is a MILKLAB Master Barista and all-round coffee maestro — he’s even been called “the Michelangelo of the coffee scene” by Studio 10! Here are his thoughts on the rise of non-dairy milk.

Why do you think plant-based milks are on the rise?

Hany explains that sustained innovation in the alternative milk market “... has led to better pairing with coffee beverages. In fact, offering a minimum of three alternative milk options has become a necessary aspect of café operations.”

“One of the primary drivers of this trend is the health consciousness among consumers, where many opt for alternative milk due to allergies to dairy or the perceived health benefits of plant-based options.”

He continues, “Sustainability is also becoming a critical consideration, with the environmental impact of traditional dairy farming being a major concern … consumers are shifting to alternative milk to reduce their carbon footprint.”

How has the barista’s job changed now there’s so much choice for consumers?

Hany believes that the rise of dairy milk is great for both consumers and baristas, "As a barista, incorporating alternative milk options into a café's menu requires minimal adjustments, such as allocating additional space on the bar and refrigeration for extra milk jugs.”

“The benefits of this move outweigh the challenges, especially in terms of market opportunities … workflow and procedures should remain relatively unchanged, with the addition of a few more jugs being the only notable modification required.” 

He adds that cafés that offer more milk choices can “... attract a broader customer base, particularly among regulars who have specific milk preferences. In fact, after consulting with multiple customers, it has become evident that the availability of alternative milk options is a significant factor in their café selection process.” 

Food intolerances and dietary choices

Lactose intolerance is among the most common reasons people move away from dairy milk. Humans are born with the ability to produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose and makes breast milk easier to digest for newborns. But in many, the body’s ability to produce lactase wanes over time, which leads to some people becoming lactose intolerant.

Plant-based milks don’t contain lactose and are thus an excellent option for people with lactose intolerance who still want to enjoy milk as part of their regular diet. 

And naturally, for vegans and many vegetarians, dairy milk simply isn’t an option that they’d consider due to their dietary preferences. 

Healthy milks: plant-based benefits

For health-conscious consumers, plant-based milks offer some appealing benefits. For instance, many plant-based milks are far lower in calories than dairy — for example, almond milk has around half the calories of full cream dairy. This would make it a good choice for people who are dieting or are simply keen to reduce the impact of their daily coffee on their caloric intake.

Similarly, soy milk offers roughly the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, while also being much lower in saturated fat.

Environmental and ethical choices

For dairy milk to be produced, you need dairy cows, and land for them to graze on — a lot of it! In fact, producing a litre of dairy milk requires over 10 times the amount of land as you’d need to make the same amount of oat milk, according to this study

From an ethical standpoint, some consumers opt not to buy dairy products because of concerns about the welfare of dairy cows, which may be poorly treated by farmers seeking to maximise production and profits. Thankfully, many farmers in the dairy industry are now implementing changes to improve animal welfare.

(MILKLAB works exclusively with dairy farms that are committed to the humane treatment of cows).

Taste preferences

Given the choice, some people just prefer the taste of plant-based milk to dairy. While the rich and creamy taste of dairy is a major draw for many milk drinkers, others prefer the more delicate textures and aromatic flavours offered by plant-based milk. 

And hey, just because it’s not dairy, doesn’t mean it can’t be rich and creamy — just try our super creamy MILKLAB Oat, Macadamia or Coconut and you’ll see what we mean! These milks offer impressive creaminess in addition to the silky smooth texture that dairy lovers look for. 

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