Plant-based and lactose-free drive liquid milk segment growth

16 Feb 2022

Liquid milk sales have been on a decade-long decline trajectory, but according to a new report from market research firm IRI, there may be a bright spot for the segment: lactose-reduced milk. Plant-based milk is another segment of the category that is continuing to grow, but the types of plant-based milks that are driving that growth are also changing, according to SPINS data.

Traditional milk enjoyed a brief moment in the sun last year when people were forced to once again make breakfast at home. In 2020, IRI data showed fluid milk volume grew 2%, reversing a negative five-year compound annual growth rate.

Plant-based and lactose-free drive liquid milk segment growth

However, that blip in sales was not long-lived and for the 13 weeks ending Dec 26, 2021, whole milk, reduced fat, low fat and fat-free milk sales declined 3%, 7.3%, 12.2% and 12.8%, respectively. At the same time, value-added milk sales — a category that encompasses lactose-free, health enhanced and organic milk — rose 15.5% in 2021 as compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, the sales of plant-based milk are also evolving. Soy milk, which used to be the king of plant-based options, is now posting sales that put it in third place behind almond milk and oat milk. Still, soy milk sales are growing with a 1.2% rise in dollar sales for refrigerated soy milk in 2021 when compared to 2020. Although it is still one of the top-selling plant-based milk choices, almond milk sales declined 0.8% over the same period.

Newer alternative milks also suffered sales declines in 2021. Coconut, cashew and flax milks saw double-digit sales declines. To fill in the gap, pea milk stepped up and filled in with an 18.3% year-over-year sales growth. Despite such large growth, pea milk sales only totaled $52.8 million while almond milk sales netted $1.28 billion, per SPINS data.

These trends indicate that not only is demand for milk shifting toward alternatives that provide more than just calcium-enriched dairy, but these sales declines also offer an inkling that lifestyle changes are impacting the overall consumption of milk products.

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