Rise in milk alternatives has US dairy feeling the heat

Global Business

Rise in milk alternatives has US dairy feeling the heat

Dean Foods, the largest milk producer in the United States, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month in part because of changing U.S. consumer tastes which are moving away from dairy milk.

While this may be a challenge for business, it may be good news for the environment.

CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

Zach Ness is a regular coffee drinker. He used to take it with milk but in recent years he’s switched to milk alternatives like almond milk.

“I find it to be lighter – more refreshing – probably closer to water but with a little bit of extra added pizzazz,” said Ness.

Hany Mohamed, the owner of “About Coffee” in New York City says about 50% of his customers now order coffee with milk alternatives.

“Definitely almond was a big seller but now oat is definitely taking over,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American consumption of dairy milk has fallen 26% over the last two decades.  

At the same time, market research shows sales for non-dairy milk rose more than 60 percent from 2013-2017. 

Dean Foods – the country’s biggest milk producer just filed for bankruptcy – after reporting deep losses – in part because Americans’ taste for dairy milk is souring.

Some Americans cite concern for animal welfare. For others, it’s because of dietary restrictions. Ness has his own reason. 

“I think the primary driver would definitely be environmental reasons. It’s just the most pressing issue facing our world today,” said Ness.

According to a study by Oxford University, milk production has a significantly higher negative impact on the environment than any of the non-dairy alternatives– creating more greenhouse gas emissions – and using a lot more water and land.   

“Beef is generally considered the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in terms of animal sourced foods. But dairy is actually number two. So dairy is a significant factor as we look at our own diets in terms of reducing our own impacts on the global climate,” said Mia MacDonald, Executive Director at Brighter Green.

Dairy consumption is rising in China, but MacDonald says there’s also growing awareness about the environmental impact. She hopes China will take a leadership role in tackling the problem.

“I see China as really crucial to shaping that discourse going forward and to helping the world produce better more sustainable more ethical more climate compatible food systems,” she said.