The growing lactose intolerant population together with the swiftly changing consumer dietary patterns worldwide have amplified the importance of plant-based options in the food industry. The increasing burden of digestive disorders and the rising popularity of vegetarian or vegan diets are paving the way for several substitutes for dairy products. Fitness enthusiasts are increasingly shifting toward healthy alternatives and low-fat consumption, which will positively influence the development of the plant milk market in the forthcoming years. 

Lately, soaring calorie concerns and the higher prevalence of hypercholesterolemia have steered newer food product developments in functional and specialty beverages. In effect, the demand for plant-based milk alternatives made from soy, almond, pea, oats and nuts, among others, is showing an increase. They not only cater to health-conscious consumers but also serve as an inexpensive alternative in underdeveloped countries with insufficient cow milk.

Plant milk, in addition to comprising a rich content of vitamins and minerals, is low in cholesterol and boasts a healthy combination of both mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Plant-based milk, when compared to dairy milk, offers an edge with respect to global greenhouse emissions, water usage and the required land since it is more efficient to produce. To that end, it is attracting a lot of attention amid the rising need to embrace sustainability and animal welfare. 

Consequently, several investments led by key manufacturers to meet the rising product proliferation are supporting the growth of the plant milk industry. For example, in November 2021, Danone invested over $49 million for the transition of its France-located dairy production plant into a facility dedicated to manufacturing oat milk products under its Alpro brand. A slew of innovations is also paving the path for increased revenue sales and improved customer engagement. To illustrate, in January 2022, Blue Diamond unveiled Almond Breeze, its all-new, extra creamy almond milk as a plant-based swap for whole dairy milk.

Increasing Instances of Capacity Expansions to Foster Unsweetened Plant Milk Consumption  

Considering the rising incursion of several functionally active components in milk to offer health-promoting properties, the demand for unsweetened plant milk is on a meteoric rise. Mainly crafted with simple ingredients, such as nuts and water, this formulation of plant-based milk provides consumers with a dairy-free alternative without added sugar. It has also grown largely favored in baking, pouring into tea or coffee, and blending into smoothies on account of its fewer calories as well as less sugar and fat.

In light of its growing acceptance, some leading plant milk industry contenders are constantly ramping up their production capacities to cater to the rising demand. For instance, in July 2020, Elmhurst 1925 expanded the retail distribution of its unsweetened milked almonds, oats and cashews. The increasing influx of different brands and the surging popularity of unsweetened almond milk due to its low sugar and carbohydrate content will further add to the industry progression. 

Rising Innovations in Carton Packaging to Drive Plant Milk Demand 

Dairy packaging is significantly evolving past the use of glass bottles as producers look to effectively store and distribute their products. The demand for cartons has thus picked up considerable usage for the packaging of milk products because they are watertight paper containers and are ideal for retail distribution. Milk cartons are witnessing increasing adoption as their manufacturing process is extremely efficient with very little waste. The adherence to stringent standards for hygiene and safety requirements set by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is also likely to contribute to product penetration. 

Several brands are focusing on deploying advanced technologies, which has amplified the production of more sustainable packaging options. For instance, in January 2022, the well-known Spanish milk brand Central Lechera Asturiana developed a plant-based milk packaging solution deploying sustainable sugarcane-based plastic for providing sustainable cartons to customers.

The Road Ahead

Although cow milk is largely accepted worldwide, its consumption is limited by challenges like milk allergies, lactose intolerance, dietary restrictions and potential health risks. On the contrary, plant-based milk substitutes are not only healthy, but their production chain is environmentally friendly and helps promote lower carbon emissions as opposed to dairy products. They are also largely preferred to meet the current demand for non-dairy beverages. 

Health benefits aside, the increasing attention to alternate options in formulations and the emergence of innovative technologies will also support the growth of the plant milk market in the years to come. Some of these include ultrasound, pulsed electric field, supercritical CO2 and ohmic heating for manufacturing substitutes and controlling their impact on the sensory, nutritional and safety aspects of emerging beverages.