Plant-based milk could soon fill half of all drinks in Australian cafes as dairy alternatives grow in popularity, with oat milk leading the way.
- New data shows plant-based milk is on track to capture half of all beverage sales in Australian cafes
- Oat milk is the fastest growing plant-based milk on the market and may soon be Australia’s most popular dairy alternative
- Companies are investing in processing infrastructure to make oat milk entirely in Australia
Barista Daylen Tuckford started working at a cafe in Williams, Western Australia two years ago. During this time, they saw the arrival of oat milk and saw its popularity increase.
“Probably about a year ago — mid-year, I think — oat milk started to really take over,” they said.
A survey of more than 900 cafes found that a quarter of Australians chose plant milk in 2021 and the most popular option was almond, followed by soy and oat.
Coffee market analyst Sean Edwards says plant-based milk is on track to capture half of the coffee drink market in the next few years, and oats could soon be the alternative Australia’s best-selling dairy.
“Two years ago oat milk was 0.2%, now it’s 20% of the market,” Mr Edwards said.
“It’s mainly because when people try oats, they see the silkiness and creaminess of the drink. It mimics dairy better than most other plant milks.”
Glass half full?
While oat milk’s creamy texture and mild flavor may have endeared it to customers, dairy farmers were less impressed.
“It’s about tampering with a product to pass it off as a popular product. Otherwise you won’t win the market,” said WAFarmers chairman Ian Noakes.
Despite years of campaigning by the dairy industry, plant-based milks are not restricted to using dairy terms such as “milk” and “creamy” in their labeling.
Last February, a Senate inquiry recommended that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission restrict the use of meat labels such as “beef”, “pork” or “chicken” for meat products. vegetable proteins, but refrained from recommending the restriction of dairy descriptors.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that Australians’ dairy milk consumption is relatively stable despite a 43% increase in plant-based milk over three years.
Mr Edwards said the rapid growth of plant-based milk did not come at the expense of dairy products.
“I don’t think dairy has lost volume, but it has lost market share,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr Noakes said dairy farmers were concerned about the changing trend.
“There is no doubt that people have moved away from dairy products because of a perception of carbon [emissions],” he said.
“But as an industry, we are working very hard to reduce our carbon footprint.
“To these people, I would say, give us a break. We’ll get there.”
From farm to coffee
The surge in oat milk sales has opened the door for Australian farmers and processors.
Late last year, Wide Open Agriculture secured $20 million to build WA’s first oat milk processing plant in Perth.
While the oats he uses in his dairy product are grown and ground in WA, the processing took place in Italy before the milk was sent back to Australian supermarkets and cafes.
Managing Director Ben Cole said the Perth facility was the last step needed to produce oat milk entirely in the state.
“His [about] source and risk management. You don’t have long supply chains, you don’t have currency disruptions or disruptions related to pandemics and now war in Europe,” he said.
Steven Ford, one of two Western Australian farmers selling oats to Wide Open Agriculture for oat milk, expected many more farms would be needed to supply the new facility.
His oats are sold at a premium and marketed as “regeneratively grown” because he grows with fewer pesticides and fungicides than most WA farms.
“If the consumer wants plant-based milks, if they can be grown in WA and processed in WA and create opportunities for people in WA, that’s a good thing,” he said.
“If those premiums are there and big enough, it will give us farmers the opportunity to maybe go deeper into those principles of farming and produce food with maybe more integrity.
A learning curve
The growing popularity of plant-based milk has coincided with major investments to make it tastier and easier to use in cafes.
Michael Perich is managing director of Noumi, which sells dairy, lactose-free and plant-based milk under the Milklab and Australia’s Own brands.
“It’s the result of better processes, better technology to make sure it can be more closely aligned with a dairy milk.”
Daylen Tuckford said the proliferation of plant-based milk was a challenge to be brought under control.
“You can really tell sometimes when you’re using alternative milks. Some separate a lot easier and some brands froth a lot better,” they said.