8 key stats on the rise of milk alternatives

More than a quarter of 16-24s no longer use regular cow’s milk, according to a survey of 2,000 internet users by Mintel.

19 July 2019
image credit: Getty Images

  • More than a quarter (27%) of 16-34s say they no longer use standard cow’s milk. The principal reasons given are related to health (37%) and environmental concerns (36%).
  • A third of 16-24s drank plant-based milk alternatives in the year to February 2019. That’s compared to 23% of the British population as a whole, up from 19% in 2018.
  • Oat-based milk alternatives were the fastest-growing option between 2017 and 2018 (volume sales went up 71%), topping coconut (up 16%) and almond (up 10%).
  • However, plant-based options still only accounted for 4% of volume sales and 8% of value sales in 2018, as older consumers stuck by cow’s milk.
  • While Brits aren’t cooking with alternative milks as much as cow’s milk (25% compared to 42%), 24% of non-users of plant-based variants would be interested in advice on how to incorporate them into their meals. Naturally, that figure was higher (65%) for those who already purchase milk alternatives.
  • Around two-fifths (42%) of consumers who use milks alternatives put them in hot drinks, compared to 82% for standard cow’s milk users. Overall, a fifth (21%) of Brits believe nut milks add more flavour to drinks than cow’s milk – though there was no indication if they thought this was a positive or negative attribute.
  • Looking at the ethical concerns of milk, milk drinks and cream users, 33% want containers to be made wholly or partly from recycled plastics. Around 27% want a guarantee that the milk they consume is sustainably farmed, while 15% are interested in on-pack statements about how many days the animals spent outside.
  • While the price of milk has been steadily going down this year, 40% of cow’s milk users say they would pay more than £1.20 for a four-pint bottle of milk, up from 35% in 2018, which Mintel says “reflects milk’s relatively small role in the overall grocery budgets.”


“Plant-based milk alternatives continue to make further inroads into the mainstream, with high levels of innovation activity such as the entrance of Innocent Drinks to the market in 2018. Growth in this segment forms part of a much wider plant-based movement, driven by concerns around health, ethics and the environment, as well as by consumers’ love of variety in their diets,” said Emma Clifford, associate director of UK Food and Drink at Mintel.

“The shift towards the higher-priced plant-based alternatives will carry on, helping to add value to the market overall. Consumer interest in advice on how these alternatives suit different usage occasions signals marked potential to boost usage among current users and non-users alike.”

Clifford also suggested that the dairy industry may need to remind people about the health benefits of cow’s milk to stall the slide in consumer interest.

“With volume sales of cow’s milk already on a downward trend, the fact that more young consumers are turning away from these products does not bode well for this segment’s prospects in the long-term,” she said.

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