Gone are the days when your local coffee shop might just have soy milk if you're lucky: the UK is in the midst of a mass shift away from cow's milk, with a quarter of Brits choosing plant-based milk over dairy. A new study from market research company Mintel found that 23 percent of Brits used a plant-based milk in the three months up to February 2019 — an increase from 2018, when 19 percent of Brits used a plant-based milk in the same time period.
26 percent of women chose plant-based milks, according to Mintel, along with a third of 16 to 23 year-olds. In particular, oat, coconut, and almond milk have seen a significant rise in sales: in particular, sales of oat milk increased by 71 percent between 2017 and 2018, while coconut milk sales rose 16 percent and almond milk rose 10 percent.
There are two areas wherein Brits remain sceptical of non-dairy milk, however: cooking and hot drinks. Of those who use plant-based alternatives, only a quarter use them in cooking, Mintel found (42 percent of cow's milk users opt to cook with it.) And only 42 percent of plant-based milk users put them in hot drinks, while 82 percent of cow's milk users do.
That figure could change, however: 65 percent of those who use plant-based milk "would welcome advice on how to use plant-based milk/cream alternatives in cooking/baking," according to the survey, while 24 percent of those who don't use plant-based milks would also be interested in the tips. What's more, 21 percent of Brits think nut milks "add more flavour to drinks than cow's milk."
Emma Clifford, Mintel's associate director of UK food and drink, said in a press release, "Plant-based milk alternatives continue to make further inroads into the mainstream, with high levels of innovation activity such as the entrance of Innocent Drinks to the market in 2018. Growth in this segment forms part of a much wider plant-based movement, driven by concerns around health, ethics and the environment, as well as by consumers’ love of variety in their diets."
Speaking of ethics and the environment, not all plant-based milks are equally impactful, the BBC reports — so if you're dodging dairy with hopes of preserving the planet, it's worth doing some research into which alternative to choose. A recent University of Oxford study found that producing one glass of dairy milk creates "almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milks," also demanding vastly more land and water to produce, according to the BBC.
But almond milk and rice milk, while requiring less water than dairy milk to produce, use significantly more than soy or oat milk. In particular, producing one glass of almond milk requires 74 litres of water — which, the BBC points out, is more than your average shower. There's also the matter of where your chosen milk was produced — the further it has to travel, the larger its carbon footprint. Uncertain just how much your food choices are impacting the planet? Use the BBC's calculator — and try not to wallow in shame.