Vegan Milk Sales Are Contributing to the Decline of Dairy: USDA Report

Vegan Milk Sales Are Contributing to the Decline of Dairy: USDA Report

Vegan milk sales are “negatively affecting” sales of cow’s milk, according to a recent USDA report.

Researchers from the Economic Research Service (ERS), an arm of the USDA, aimed to determine if plant-based milk sales are increasing at the expense of dairy milk. Data was collected by private market research company IRI for 2013 through 2017.

According to the report, dairy milk sales are still in decline. Weekly average purchases fell by 12 percent from 0.41 gallon per household per week to 0.36 gallon per household per week in 2017. Meanwhile, plant-based milk cases increased 36 percent from 0.028 gallon to 0.038 gallon per household per week.

Dairy milk sales are still significantly higher than vegan milk sales. However, plant-based milk sales are directly contributing to the decline in household purchases of cow’s milk.

Vegan milk sales are negatively impacting dairy. | USDA

The $2 Billion Vegan Milk Category

It’s estimated that every gallon of plant-based product brought into a household could be replacing an equal-sized dairy product. In short, the replacement rate is about one-to-one.

The report adds that while plant-based milk sales are contributing to the decline of dairy, they are not the primary driver.

Throughout the decades, marketing campaigns like “Got Milk?” and “Milk: It Does a Body Good” have sold Americans the idea that dairy is necessary for good health. But, fewer Americans are opting to have a glass of milk these days. And the USDA’s MyPlate dietary guidelines even acknowledge that fortified plant-based options can replace dairy in a healthy diet.

Since the 1940s, the consumption of cow’s milk has been on the decline. | iStock / Yazgi Bayram

Milk Consumption in Decline

The consumption of cow’s milk has been in decline since the 1940s, and that rate has significantly sped up in recent years.

The $2 billion vegan milk category accounts for 14 percent of all dollar sales of retail milk, according to the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to animal products.

Vegan milk is the most developed category in the plant-based food market. Options range from extra-creamy oat milk to coconut-cashew blends as well as classics like almond and soy. And perhaps soon, milk made with vegan dairy proteins will join the ranks of available options. Placement matters, too. Plant-based milk is staged next to cow’s milk in the grocery store, rather than being sequestered in its own set.

GFI notes that “moving plant-based milk to the refrigerated [dairy milk] set over a decade ago was key to introducing it to a much larger consumer base, thus increasing household penetration and rapidly growing category sales.”