• Left to right: Vitasoy Oat and Quinoa Beverage from Canada; Dream Blends Almond, Cashew and Hazelnut Drink from the US; Sanitarium's So Good Almond Milk from Australia.
    Left to right: Vitasoy Oat and Quinoa Beverage from Canada; Dream Blends Almond, Cashew and Hazelnut Drink from the US; Sanitarium's So Good Almond Milk from Australia.
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The global market for dairy-alternative drinks is expanding and, while soy milks still dominate the category, other plant-based milks and blends are increasingly being used, according to Innova Market Insights.

Soy milks featured in 78 per cent of dairy-alternative drink launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of October 2012, either as the main or secondary ingredient.  However, there was an increase in other plant-based alternatives, such as cereals like rice, oats and barley, as well as nuts.

Rice was the second most popular ingredient after soy, featuring in 17 per cent of introductions. This is ahead of oats in 11 per cent and almonds in 10 per cent.

Almond milks, already highlighted as a sector to watch by Innova Market Insights back in early 2011, have continued to grow in popularity. Their share of global launches has reached its present level of 10 per cent, rising from just 3 per cent in 2005.

Following a flurry of activity in almond milks in the USA in 2010 and 2011, there has been a rise in interest recorded in both Europe and Australia.  Sanitarium introduced So Good Almond Milk in February last year. A couple of months later, Blue Diamond, in partnership with Freedom Foods, introduced the bestselling almond milk in the US, Almond Breeze, to the local market.

Overseas there has been an increase in blended products, such as soy and rice, or multi-grain options. The move towards the combination of different non-dairy ingredient sources has been developing in recent years, again with the US leading the way. Last year saw the extension of Hain Celestial’s Dream dairy-free brand with Dream Blends, marketed as the ‘next generation of non-dairy beverages’ and featuring a combination of almonds, cashews and hazelnuts.

Dairy-alternative drinks have traditionally been marketed on a health platform and this has continued, with three-quarters of launches recorded by Innova Market Insights featuring a health claim of some kind. The most popular of these related to lactose-free formulations; the use of organic ingredients; low cholesterol content; and an additive- and preservative-free ‘clean-label’ image.

Over 35 per cent of global introductions featured lactose-free labelling, rising to over 50 per cent in North America and Europe.

Within the ‘active health’ or fortified arena, the use of added vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, was the most commonly used claim. Heart health claims, once frequently used to market soy milk, particularly in the USA, are no longer so much in evidence. This reflects regulatory concerns over claims, as well as disputes over their validity. About 6.5 per cent of launches featured heart health claims in the 12 months to the end of October 2012, which was lower than the level of claims for digestive and gut health, at 7.5 per cent.

Lu Ann Williams, Head of Research at Innova Market Insights, reports that, while non-dairy milk alternatives are still a relatively small market overall outside Asia, purchase levels are rising rapidly in some countries. This reflects the growing awareness of allergy and intolerance issues and the low fat, low calorie and cholesterol-free positioning of many of the products.

“Within the overall dairy-alternative drinks sector, soy is facing some problems with regard to health scares and the result, in many instances, has been a move to other, non-soy plant-based alternatives. This trend seems set to continue with an increasing variety of products being made available,” she said.