Taking stock of the European dairy industry

With over 6 billion consumers globally, dairy has long been a stable and dominant sector within the food and beverage industry. The European Union is among the world’s largest producers and consumers of dairy products, yet over the past decade, the growth of dairy based products has largely been flat.

In comparison, in recent years the market for dairy alternative and plant-based dairy products has skyrocketed, with new, innovative products appearing on our shelves every day. Despite the growth in this area, at approximately 2.5% of the European market, the market share of dairy alternatives remains small when compared with conventional dairy, data from ING8 shows.

Nevertheless, according to analysis from Reading Scientific Services Ltd, the dairy alternative market is projected to grow by $15.3 billion in the next 50 years, reaching a value of $36.7 billion by 2050.

The plant-based dairy alternative boom

Within the dairy alternative space, plant-based milk alternatives are the most popular and sought-after products with consumers.

Over recent years, more and more consumers are swapping traditional dairy products for healthier, more sustainable, plant-based alternatives, and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic this trend has only been heightened. Since the pandemic began, one quarter of consumers claim to have increased their plant-based product consumption. A GFI study showed that 41% of households (US) currently purchase plant-based milk alternatives, demonstrating that there is generally a high willingness among consumers to try alternative products.

Consumption habits

Germany recently replaced the UK as the top consumer of dairy alternatives in Europe, with almond milk emerging as the most in-demand product. With a CAGR of 16.7% over the next five years, the UK’s Vegan Society expects almond-based products will dwarf all other plant milks by 2025.

Among the growing range of plant-based milk alternatives, oat, almond and coconut are also top ranking ingredients in terms of popularity, as consumers opt for products which seek to minimise the barriers associated with traditional dairy consumption such as health, environmental and animal welfare concerns.

As consumers continually give more attention to sustainable products and processes, several dairy companies have found value in highlighting specifically their sustainability credentials, including Valio in Finland and Globemilk in the Netherlands. According to Mintel data, the same trend can be seen with organic claims, demonstrated by the 25% increase in the number of dairy launches carrying an organic claim between 2015 – 2019.