Plant-based ‘milks’ offer lactose-free alternative to dairy

BEVERAGES MADE WITH MILK – whether served hot or cold – are a must-have for today’s café operators. But these days there’s such a plethora of choice available to consumers that it’s hard to know what you need to offer to capture the maximum potential of your local market.

One thing is clear – you must offer an alternative to everyday cow’s milk.

The two most popular options are soy and almond milk, and in recognition of their growing importance on the café menu, companies like the Alternative Dairy Co are making varieties designed specifically for use with coffee.

“Traditional soy and almond milks sold in retail channels are designed primarily to be used cold, such as on cereal or in a smoothie – they’re not made to perform under heat,” explains  Alternative Dairy Co Senior Brand Manager Emma Seberry.

“Our dairy free milks have been specially crafted in collaboration with baristas, café owners and non-dairy milk consumers to achieve the perfect formulation to complement espresso. The ingredients and process is a little bit different, to create a really silky texture that will provide the stretching and texturing performance your customers expect with their latte or cappuccino.”

Having launched last September at Fine Food Australia, the Alternative Dairy Co’s soy and almond milks are relative newcomers to the market – “and the feedback has been very positive,” Emma tells us. “We did an awful lot of testing and development to make sure we got the formulation right, so we went to Fine Food very confident that we had a great product, but certainly we’re really pleased with the marketplace response which has been ongoing.”

And while research shows that dairy free milk currently constitutes only around 10 per cent of coffee sales in cafes, this figure is on the rise. Emma adds that the number of consumers choosing dairy free milk across both retail and out of home is growing – “in the grocery market, almond milk is growing at 19 per cent and soy at 6.3 per cent annually, according to Nielsen data. We know soy milk isn’t declining and almond milk is growing, so it’s bringing in new consumers. That means for people new to dairy free milks, the majority are choosing to go with almond. But in cafes, soy is still much bigger.”

Customers are drawn to plant-based milks for different reasons – “people traditionally came to soy for dietary reasons such as lactose intolerance,” Emma says, “but now they are choosing almond milk due to the perception that it’s a healthier choice.


Typically plant-based based milks have lower sugar and fat than full cream dairy milk, and as people are drinking more coffee, they’re looking for a lighter milk option with it. That said, there are also ethical reasons around sustainable farming which encourage some customers to choose plant-based over dairy.”

Given that soy still enjoys higher demand in cafes than almond milk, do you need to offer your customers both options? Emma says this depends upon your location and the demographic of your customer base. “Many cafes typically provide at least two choices, but with so many options available – not only soy and almond but rice, oat, coconut and lactose-free dairy – you can also have the difficulty of trying to manage too many varieties. This can be problematic for your barista because if they’re juggling all those milks, it will slow down their coffeemaking.”

Another interesting point about the adoption of plant-based milks is the variety of their flavour profiles. In contrast to dairy milk, which arguably tastes the same regardless of brand or supplier, research suggests consumers are choosing almond milk for its distinctive nutty taste profile. “We’ve done sensory testing with consumers and baristas to ensure optimum taste and performance,” Emma says, “and came up with taste profiles that are liked by a majority of people and will also perform as required – because in the café market, performance is just as important as taste.

“The key requirement with dairy free milk is that the milk mustn’t overpower the coffee. Your customers are buying a coffee and that’s what they want to taste, so we have crafted our dairy free milks so that the coffee flavour shines through, not the milk.”