Plant-Based Milks Gain Prominence Among US Consumers, But Nutritional Profiles and Affordability Remain Challenges
Jun 27, 2023
A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, provides crucial insights into the shifting landscape of milk consumption. The research highlights the advantages of many plant-based milks for environmental sustainability but acknowledges that the nutritional profiles of plant-based milks fall short of cow’s milk in several key nutrient areas, and that despite their increasing prevalence, affordability is still a concern.
The study titled “Dairy and Plant-Based Milks: Implications for Nutrition and Planetary Health,” explores the retail sales, nutrient profiles, and known health and environmental impacts of dairy and plant-based milks. The authors used NielsenIQ datasets to analyze consumer purchases and prices. Data from the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies were also analyzed to assess the nutritional properties of dairy and plant-based milks.
The study explores the retail sales, nutrient profiles, and known health and environmental impacts of dairy and plant-based milks. The authors used NielsenIQ datasets to analyze consumer purchases and prices. Data from the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies were also analyzed to assess the nutritional properties of dairy and plant-based milks.
Findings from the study reveal that the majority of plant-based milks, with the exception of almond milk, are associated with lower environmental impacts compared to cow's milk. (Almond milk requires a great deal of water to produce, thus making it less ecofriendly than other plant-based milks.) This research supports the growing body of evidence in support of plant-based alternatives in terms of environmental sustainability. But the research also uncovered a concerning trend, which is that plant-based milks are less accessible to lower-income groups.
"The results highlight the urgent need for policymakers to ensure that plant-based milks are not only fortified with essential nutrients but also made affordable for all segments of society," said Rebecca Ramsing, lead researcher of the study. "Given the lower environmental impacts and the increasing consumer demand for plant-based milks, promoting accessibility and affordability becomes crucial in creating a sustainable and healthy food system."
The study also explores the factors driving the shift toward plant-based milks over the past century. One significant reason has been the prevalence of lactose intolerance, affecting nearly two-thirds of the global population over the age of 10. Perceived health benefits associated with plant-based milks and growing concerns for environmental sustainability have further accelerated this trend.
Dave Love, senior author of the paper, emphasizes the importance of closely monitoring the rapidly changing market and consumer preferences for plant-based milks: "Plant-based milks can no longer be ignored. They make up 15 percent of all milk sales and sales have grown year over year. Consumer food preferences have climate impacts because they influence the types and amounts of food and beverages produced. Switching to products like plant-based milks with lower environmental impact is a good thing for the planet." The study calls for further research to understand the demographic and social characteristics, nutritional concerns, and other motivations behind the choices of people who choose plant-based milks.
"Dairy and Plant-Based Milks: Implications for Nutrition and Planetary Health" was conducted by Rebecca Ramsing, Raychel Santo, Brent F. Kim, Daphene Altema‑Johnson, Alyssa Wooden, Kenjin B. Chang, Richard D. Semba, and David C. Love.