The most common argument dairy industry critics like to roll out is that there are ‘plenty of alternatives to milk.’ Turns out, one of the most popular ‘plant milks’ isn’t as great as advertised.
If you were asked to name the hottest new beverage in the dairy case these days, would you guess correctly?
The answer is almond milk.
According to the WhiteWave Food Company, one of the leading marketers of “plant milks,” the firm’s first-quarter sales of almond milk were up 50 percent from the same period in 2013. In an earnings report for investors in May, CEO and founder Greg Engles told Bloomberg Businessweek that almond milk now comprises about two-thirds of all plant-based milk sales in the United States, well ahead of early arrival soy milk, with a 30 percent share, and rice and coconut milks.
Plant-based alternatives to dairy milk are indeed gaining significant market share. According to a report in TIME magazine, U.S. sales of plant-based dairy alternatives such as soy, almond, and rice milk have averaged an annual growth rate of 10.9 percent since 1999. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that in 2013 the non-dairy milk category has become a $1.4 billion market, one that’s expected to hit $1.7 billion by 2016.
And almond milk is the king of the category.
Of course, dairy milk still comprises 90 percent of all fluid milk sold in the United States. But cow’s milk consumption is dropping. To quote from a 2103 USDA report, “Dairy consumption has held steady at 1.5 cup equivalents, [although] Americans are drinking progressively less fluid milk. Since 1970, per capita fluid milk consumption has fallen from 0.96 cup-equivalents to about 0.61 cup – equivalents.”
A big piece of that lost market share has been captured by almond milk. Why? Ask most consumers, and organoleptic considerations aside, a substantial majority will typically agree that almond milk is a better “environmental choice” than cow’s milk. The reasoning goes something like this: It’s made from nuts, and nuts grow on trees, and trees are green, so voila! Almond milk must be “green.”
Plus, cows make manure, which smells terrible, so almond milk has to be a better for the environment, right?
Not so fast. Let’s dig a little deeper.
A watered down nut slurry
As a food product, almonds themselves are highly nutritious, with just one ounce (a handful) providing six grams of quality protein, three grams of fiber and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, plus a fair amount of vitamins and minerals. However, it’s a different dietary story with almond milk.