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Vegan milk sales soar 70% in the UK as more Brits switch to plant-based alternatives

Sales of oat milk soared 71% in 2018. Photo: Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images
Sales of oat milk soared 71% in 2018. Photo: Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

Sales of plant milk are soaring in the UK, as vegan diets grow in popularity and Brits become increasingly health and environmentally-conscious.

Research by Mintel shows plant-based milks are causing something of a stir, as British shoppers are branching out in their tastes — including almond, oat, coconut, and pea.

Oat milk sales have surged by a whopping 71% in 2019, as Brits have bought over £36m worth of the dairy alternative.

READ MORE: What's big dairy's beef with plant-based milk?

Meanwhile, coconut milk sales rose 16% and sales of almond milk increased 10%.

Reflecting this, Swedish oat milk brand Oatly reported its UK sales shot up by 90% to £18m in 2018. The company expects UK sales will surpass £30m this year.

In March, Oatly announced it is eyeing the UK to be the location for a new factory due to this soaring demand.

READ MORE: How plant-based milk took on the $107 billion dairy industry

While plant milks continue to grow in popularity, they still make up just 4% of the milk market — 96% of milk sales in 2018 remained cow milk.

But while cow is still the most widely-bought and consumed milk, its popularity is now skewed towards older consumers, according to Mintel.

In a survey of 2,000 Brits, nine in 10 (92%) people aged 45 or older said they had drunk cow’s milk in the three months to January 2019. By contrast, fewer 16 to 24-year-olds are drinking dairy milk than every before — down 6% to 73% this year.

READ MORE: UK's Müller Milk & Ingredients to shut plant in Derbyshire

One in three Brits in this age bracket instead opts for plant-based milk, helping to drive the plant-based revolution.

On top of this, a quarter (26%) of women prefer non-dairy milk.

Concerns about “health, ethics, and the environment” — as well as “consumers’ love of variety in their diets” — are driving sales of plant milk, according to Emma Clifford, associate director of UK Food and Drink.

READ MORE: Vegan firm's use of word “cheese” grates dairy industry

The trend reflects a rise in veganism in the UK. The number of vegans in Britain has risen from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018, according to the Vegan Society.

However, 37% of 16 to 24-year-olds told Mintel health is the main reason they are drinking less cow milk, and 36% claimed dairy farming isn't good for the environment.

Here are some of the best plant milk options, according to sustainability consultants Eco-Age:

The best alternatives to dairy milk

Oat — Oat has very little environmental impact. The grain requires little water and can be grown in Europe, reducing its carbon footprint. It’s also a great source of fibre and takes just 10 minutes to make at home.

Hemp — Hemp grain requires very little water to grow and does so without the use of pesticides, making it great for the environment. It’s high in omega-3, making it beneficial to vegans, who often have less of it in their diet than omnivores.

READ MORE: Cheap, nutritious soy milk made this family a $1.5bn fortune

Coconut — While coconut farming is relatively low-impact, it can only be grown in tropical climates, meaning the carbon footprint of coconut milk is quite high. It is rich in healthy fats and anti-bacterial properties.

Rice — Rice milk requires a lot of water in its production, but not as much as almond milk, and it is ultimately better for the environment than diary. It provides calcium, vitamin B, and magnesium — all great for bone health.

Soy — Soy takes up vast amounts of land and is a top contributor to the deforestation of Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest. But this is partly due to its incredibly high production to feed livestock. Soy is very high in protein and tastes the most like dairy.