Milk has long been a staple of healthy diets, but today’s consumers are looking for additional benefits then when they pick up their glass. On a Midwest Dairy webinar, Midwest Dairy Senior Manager Maureen Windisch and the account manager for marketing intelligence agency Mintel, Mike Mancini, gave a presentation on milk’s appeal compared to that of nondairy options.

Since neither milk nor non-dairy beverages can claim true environmentally friendly victory (and, according to data presented by Mancini showing that only 14% of nondairy consumers choose plant-based options because of environmental reasons, they can’t), the debate between dairy milk and plant-based beverages is not so much ethical as it is preferential. Ultimately, Mancini said, it comes down to the priorities of today’s consumers. Lately, those priorities include value (in the wake of inflation), health (in response to processed foods), and diversity (as in, application), all of which, according to data from the past two years, consumers believe to be upheld by dairy over non-dairy products.

In her presentation, Windisch noted that, overall, value-added milk has shown the most consistent growth in sales year-to-year. Value-added milk includes dairy milk that is lactose-free, organic, or ultra-filtered, and milk that has added nutrients such as DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). Mintel’s data showed that these milks outperformed plant-based beverages by 30% in 2023 and into 2024. Eighteen to 34 year olds, in particular, indicate a preference for products that fulfill their nutritional goals, and value-added milks are perceived to be healthier than both nonvalue-added milks and nondairy alternatives. Such an increase in popularity for this kind of milk presents a significant opportunity for the dairy industry as a whole.

When it comes to marketing, Mancini considered dairy’s strength to lie in its simplicity compared to increasingly complex and decision-heavy plant-based alternatives. Consumers are looking for milks that adhere to their budgets, health, and ease of mind. Today, there are a myriad of choices to be made about practically every facet of living; people don’t want their kitchen staples to be a laborious choice, too.

While plant-based drinks may serve a specific role, milk is proving its relevancy by remaining true to its inherent value: it’s pure in its form and true to its definition. Also, its nutritional values consistently outperform nondairy alternatives, making it a preferred beverage of choice for parents of young children and health-conscious adults.

Mancini also emphasized that consumers are interested in meeting a variety of needs with their beverage choices. Many households purchase both milk and plant-based alternatives to fulfill diverse uses. Even as almond or oat milk may occupy a home refrigerator, dairy milk is more often than not right beside it. Because of this, it is critical to acknowledge benefits of each kind of beverage, rather than advertising one as superior, which may alienate some consumers.

Further, although neither dairy milk nor its opponents can objectively claim they are the more sustainable option, consumer data from Mintel showed that sustainability is still a concern for shoppers today (Gen Z and Millennials in particular). Thus, emphasizing a brand’s commitment to environmental and animal welfare efforts can only aid in the growth of dairy milk popularity.

Overall, dairy milk consistently maintains its relevance and continues to be a beverage of choice among all age groups, with value-added milks holding the most potential for advancement.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
June 27, 2024
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