Dairy leaders are celebrating the 2023 industry data that they say tracking firm Circana Inc. has just released. The numbers, as reviewed by the National Milk Producers Federation, show that plant-based beverage consumption last year fell 6.6 percent to 337.7 million gallons, marking the second straight year of declines and the lowest consumption in that category since 2019.
Looks like real fluid milk may have widened the lead in market share.
“The numbers give even more reason to put a stake in all that overprocessed hype — and to push even harder for integrity in labeling beverages that are being abandoned by consumers tired of inferior alternatives to dairy,” the NMPF said.
For years, we’ve seen the plant-based beverage market — including almond, coconut, cashew, and oat varieties — become leading players in this space. Much of the pushback from the dairy industry and dairy-friendly lawmakers has targeted the misleading nature of plant-based labels, specifically the questionable use of the term “milk” to describe something that wasn’t an animal secretion.
I mean, do we need to re-watch the viral Nut Milking video to remind ourselves why it does seem kinda ridiculous to call the juice from an almond “milk”?
NMPF cited the Circana report to highlight that sales volumes for almond drinks, the biggest plant-based category, fell 10 percent, and that soy beverages declined 8 percent. “Even the once-Next-Big-Thing, oats, only rose 1.4 percent last year,” they said.
NMPF went on to flex some snark by saying, “To be fair, like plant-based, its consumption also declined, and like plant-based, its sales volume number starts with a 3. However, that 3.137 is followed by the word billion — not million, which is where plant-based is stuck — and the drop was 2.7 percent, less than half the rate of decline for plant-based beverages. That means fluid milk last year lengthened its lead over plant-based.
“In 2022, fluid milk had 89.9 percent of the pie. In 2023, it rose to 90.3 percent.”
Unfortunately, Circana’s 2023 wrapup doesn’t appear to be publicly available on the firm’s website.
Early in 2023, Circana offered this advice for the dairy industry to leverage: “In this environment, dairy brands should exploit several key levers for ongoing success. They can win with effective differentiation, innovation, clear benefit/claims communication and winning pricing and promotion strategies.”
Several things have made waves in recent years, helping to reshape consumer perceptions and market share in relation to real milk and their plant-based alternatives. For example, plant-based beverages are becoming increasingly nutritious, particularly with better measures of protein and calcium. Also, late last year, Trader Joe’s grocery chain unveiled a product called “Non-Dairy Almond Beverage,” marking a rare instance in which a plant-based alternative was honest in labeling and didn’t try to co-op the term “milk.” Not to mention that once-powerful brand Oatly again struggled to keep pace with oat-beverage competitors throughout 2023, coming off allegations of phony marketing claims in the U.K. and a juvenile Super Bowl ad its CEO released that turned many people off from the brand.
With a new year, we will surely see new opportunities and an extended celebration from milk producers about their more solid market footing.