What Makes Consumers Choose Milk vs. Milk Alternatives
For decades, milk consumption in the United States has been declining, whereas consumption of nondairy (or plant-based) alternatives has been increasing. However, more could be done to widen the consumption gap even further. Lower milk consumption would mean fewer animal cruelty incidents in the dairy industry; higher nondairy beverage consumption would ensure that people’s nutritional and emotional needs continue being met.
This study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, analyzes what makes people purchase milk or nondairy drinks. This report was the first to examine the relationship among product attributes, consumer values, and beverage purchase in the milk and nondairy alternative industries. A better understanding of consumer perceptions in this way would be helpful for promoting nondairy alternatives.
The authors conducted a statistical study with 702 dairy consumers, 172 nondairy consumers, and 125 consumers of both drinks, all based in Raleigh, North Carolina and part of a database maintained by the North Carolina State University. Consumers of both beverages answered two sets of questions — one for milk and another for nondairy — and each set was pooled into its matching category. The authors also conducted interviews to assess personal values and attitudes affecting people’s beverage choices.
Fat content, followed by package size and label claims, was found to be the most important attribute for milk drinkers. They preferred 1-2% fat content, gallon or half-gallon packaging, and conventional pasteurized milk (as opposed to longer-lasting milk). In addition, milk consumers paid attention to health benefits and taste.
For nondairy drinkers, sugar level was the most important attribute, and it was followed by plant source and package size. These individuals preferred drinks that are naturally sweetened or have no added sugar. Almond was the most desirable plant source, and half-gallon was the most preferred package size. Like milk consumers, nondairy drink consumers preferred tasty and healthy beverages.
When the authors looked at personal values underlying these preferences, they found interesting patterns. Many people, including both milk and nondairy drinkers, tended to like the drinks that their family, spouse, or partner also liked. Both groups aimed to achieve a “balanced diet” and “healthy lifestyle.” These findings relate each group’s beverage choices to values such as “long healthy life,” “family,” and “comfort.” They also show that there is much common ground between consumers of both beverages, and that it is highly feasible for milk drinkers to convert.
This study is useful for animal advocates because it suggests how nondairy beverages may be produced and marketed going forward to attract new drinkers. It also hints that more milk consumers could switch to nondairy alternatives as long as desirable attributes were delivered. Finally, given the significant value of family, it appears that nondairy beverage consumption could increase exponentially as more shoppers turn to nondairy alternatives; for each new nondairy beverage consumer, several new others — her parents and siblings for example — could follow.