John Taylerson has worked at every stage of the supply chain in the dairy industry. He shares his thoughts on this up and coming market and reflects on the question, is plant-based a real alternative?
Plant-based is now a very fashionable, lucrative, high-growth, revenue opportunity that is generating incremental volume and value. Some industry people are embracing it; some people are resisting or ignoring it; and some are even claiming that it shouldn’t be allowed to call itself milk or even use the word dairy as it’s confusing the consumer.
The market drivers are obvious. The constant messaging from industry commentators that animal-based food production takes a disproportionate amount of resource, is starting to affect consumer behaviour. The frustration for individual consumers who are constantly being told climate change is happening and that red meat is unhealthy, means exercising choice in food and drink is one thing within their power they can change.
It turns out that consumers will pay a premium for products that appear to deliver on these issues.
But the issue is, is plant-based a real alternative?
The answer is of course; it depends! Cutting meat could be a sensible action as long as it is part of a balanced diet. The flexitarian approach means that meat is still part of the diet, but consumption is reduced.
Cutting dairy is more complicated. The simplistic messages that the industry and government have given out over the years about fat, salt, fibre etc means that consumers can be forgiven for reacting to simplistic messages with the potential unintended consequences that can arise.
Dairy has the advantage of superior nutrition and is a brilliant medium for carrying fortification or extra energy should a life-stage or diet require.
The fear of course is that once consumers switch to a non-dairy alternative, they will be lost to the dairy industry. The messages around the inadequacies of a plant-based diet are perhaps less compelling than a plant and climate crisis. The reaction of the industry to whom is allowed to use the word ‘milk’ or dairy, is also missing the point. Our ‘duck test’ demonstrates that if consumers use the dairy alternatives as milk then, that is what it is to them.
The real issues are the aspirations that dairy can offer in terms of health, wellness and protecting against non-communicable disease.
The future is then one of improving the environmental impact of dairy, improving animal welfare and ensuring the important messages of nutrition are reaching the consumers who stand to benefit from them.