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Dairy Alternatives Are Challenging the Real Thing

It was a time way back in history when the world’s attention was more focused on the rise of waring despots than contemplating what we would be eating in the future, but that did not stop one iconic world leader from predicting the dietary options people all around the world would have within a half century. Winston Churchill penned an essay that predicted a time when food derived from nature would be challenged by those made by the hand of science. “Synthetic food will, of course, be used in the future,” he wrote. The artificial stuff would “be indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation. Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into proteins by which animals live, will be fostered, and made to work under controlled conditions just as yeast is now.”

The widespread acceptance of synthetic and plant-based foods may have taken a bit longer than Churchill predicted in 1931, but the trend to replace meat and dairy products with artificially made vegetable and synthetic alternatives is finding increased numbers of converts. Claims that farm-produced dairy products are less healthy and environmentally unfriendly is a message frequently experienced across the marketplace, particularly in recent decades. While the healthier claims abound, the messages may not fully be accurate, at least enough to attract and motivate large converts to abandon animal-sourced meats and dairy products.

Melissa Cameron, Dairy Australia’s human health and nutrition policy manager, says “People are not abandoning dairy. The commercialization of synthetic proteins and products to a scale that makes these products available widely to consumers is yet quite a while off. As our populations grow around the world, synthetic products will deliver complementary protein and products. There will be room for all.”

But the battle for market share between real milk and vegetable-based alternatives has begun. Oatly, the leading Swedish oat milk producer, saw sales increase 212 percent over the past two years. Their tagline is “milk, but made for humans.” Unsure what that means? You are not alone. While some unhealthy counterclaims concerning oat-based milk are trending in media outlets, it is fair to say that many are also generally overstated. But like so many new things in the market that surge in popularity, a backlash soon appears to emerge, usually from insecure competing sources. An attempt by Oatly to usurp real milk’s dominance in publicly-funded school lunches in Australia is a market-share, ankle-nibbling threat too annoying to ignore by the dominant real dairy behemoth in the space.

According to Precedence Research, the global dairy products market size is expected to hit $640.8 billion by 2030, but the demand for alternative products like soy milk, almond milk, non-dairy ice creams, cheese analogs, and whipped cream are rapidly increasing in the mainstream retail marketplace. The plant-based alternative dairy market is predicted to reach $5.2 billion in the next two years.

The California Milk Processor Board (CMPF), the creators of the massively successful “Got Milk?” advertising campaign in 1993, is not taking the challenge from milk alternatives lying down. A new “Get Real” campaign wants everyone to get real, a reference to the popularity of being authentic and genuine, particularly with Generation Z’ers.  Steve James, Executive Director of the California Milk Processor Board Executive Director says. “This campaign is in line with what milk stands for – authenticity. There is nothing more authentic than wholesome, nutritious, real milk. And we want to celebrate and encourage people to be their authentic selves.”