A 2018 survey by US-based Dairy Management Inc of more than 2000 people involving those that only drink milk, those that only drink plant-based alternatives and those who use both, found that consumers expect products labelled as ‘milk’ to be comparable to dairy milk in terms of nutrition. More than 20% associated almond and soy ‘milk’ with dairy milk. Among those who drink both dairy milk and plant-based alternatives, 30% associated plant-based alternatives with dairy milk. And, in terms of key drivers for purchase, 62% of those that only use plant-based alternatives said it was because of nutrition and 65% because of health benefits.
Nutrition value of dairy milk
The reality of those perceptions is quite the opposite. Cow’s milk is one ingredient from a totally natural source and is minimally processed. Most plant-based alternatives include multiple added ingredients including sugars, oils and fortified vitamins and minerals.
The perceived environmental benefits of plant-based drinks are a key driver for some people, but it’s important to understand the whole picture. For example, almond ‘milk’ production can have a much higher environmental footprint than dairy through extensive water use and carbon emissions. There’s also very limited evidence because few scientific life cycle analysis studies have taken place on these products, so claims are made without proof.