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Oat overtakes almond as plant-based milk sales soar in UK

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Plant-based milk sales are soaring in the UK and elsewhere, with a new number one passing almond milk in total sales.

The overall use of plant-based milks has soared in the UK, a new Mintel survey revealed—led by a new variety of choice. The survey of 2,000 British internet users 16 years of age and older, conducted during April 2021, indicated oat milk has surpassed almond milk as consumers’ plant-based beverage of choice as the overall market saw impressive growth.

Brits spent an estimated £146 million (equivalent to US$199.3 million) on oat milk in 2020, up from £74 million in 2019. Sales of almond milk also eclipsed the £100 million mark, rising from £96 million in 2019 to £105 million last year. Oat milk’s strong growth saw it surpass almond to take the top spot among plant-based milks for the first time. Overall, all plant-based milk sales in the UK, which includes oat and almond as well as soy, coconut, rice and others, reached an estimated £394 million, a 32% increase from 2019; traditional cow’s milk sales were estimated at £3.2 billion.

As predicted by its sales growth, use levels of plant-based milks among Brits also increased to all-time highs. The survey indicated nearly 1 in 3 (32%) Brits now drinks plant-based milk, up from 25% in 2019. Millennials aged 25 to 44 lead the way, at a 44% usage rate.

Perceptions of the healthfulness of plant-based milks continues to aid its growth. Nearly 1 in 4 Brits believe plant-based milks to be healthier than cow’s milk, and half agree one’s choice in milk (animal vs. plant-based) contributes to the health of the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has served for some as a catalyst for trying vegan/plant-based foods, with 26% saying the pandemic has made such dietary choices more appealing; for respondents under the age of 35, that figure rose to 38%.

“The plant-based trend continues to gain momentum in the UK, fueled by environmental and health considerations,” remarked Amy Price, senior food and drink analyst, Mintel. Price was bullish on the future of plant-based milks given the generational stratification.

“While almost 90% of Brits use cow’s milk, usage continues to be lower amongst younger Brits than older age groups, as it faces intense competition from plant-based varieties,” she said. “If they retain their plant-based milk habit as they age, this stands to drive usage across the population upwards over time, fueling long-term growth for the plant-based milk category.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

It isn’t just the UK where plant-based milks and other products continue to show increased demand. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods jumped 27% to reach $7 billion in 2020, according to recent data from the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). That growth nearly doubled the 15% growth shown by the total U.S. retail food market over the same period.

Increased demand means increased supply, and Innova Market Insights found just that, with data indicating the use of plant-based claims on global food and beverage launches grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37% from 2016 to 2020. Most interestingly, launches specifically marked as “vegan” grew just 10% over that time. Such a difference may highlight that many consumers seeking plant-based claims may not follow strictly vegan diets and instead seek plant-based for other reasons. Regardless of the reason—which could range from perceived healthfulness to concerns over the environment and animal welfare—the data clearly show plant-based products appeal to a wider audience than strictly vegan eaters.

PBFA data indicate nearly 6 in 10 (57%) households now purchase plant-based food and beverage, with oat milk showing especially impressive recent growth both in the UK and the U.S., where sales more than tripled in 2020 and have increased 25-fold since 2018 (almond remains king in the U.S., where it accounted for about two-thirds of all plant-based milk dollar sales in 2020). 

Plant-based sales were already skyrocketing even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke the barrier for entry for many consumers. With countless new potential customers opening themselves to plant-based food and beverage and the overall use of those products skewing toward younger consumers, expect growth to continue as plant-based bridges the gap to animal-based products.

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