Over recent years, plant-based foods have become increasingly trendy. As research by Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), The Good Food Institute (GFI), and SPINS (a wellness-focused data technology company) shows, the US plant-based food market has seen continuous year-on-year growth between 2018 and 2021, almost doubling in size in just three years (as seen in the graph below).
On the global level, a study by Bloomberg projected in 2021 that the plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion, up from $29.4 billion in 2020.
Moreover, according to Food Matters Live, a new record was set for Veganuary this year with 706,965 sign-ups from nearly every country in the world. Veganuary is an example of how plant-based diets have been made less intimidating, and more palatable to the global population. Every January, people all over the world can sign up to “Veganuary” and pledge to commit to a vegan diet for the entire month. This challenge appeals to many who want to start their year feeling healthy, and as the statistics show, it is only growing in popularity.
Plant-based milk, which now accounts for around 20% of all retail milk sales, has become the trailblazer of the plant-based market, with US retail sales of plant-based milk rising by 6.4% between 2021 and 2022, driven by the 50.52% growth of oat milk sales. Especially with the increasing awareness of the horrors of the dairy industry, with stories of animal cruelty and pollution, more and more people are choosing to ditch dairy products.
Another notable trend in recent years has been the popularity of oat milk. In the past couple of years, the global oat milk market has increased massively. For example, in 2020 the global market size amounted to $2.2 billion, whereas in 2023 it stands at $3.05 billion, according to reports by Grand View Research and The Business Research Company.
The cause of oat milk’s increasing popularity can be accredited to the success of the Swedish brand Oat-ly!, which brought oat milk into the limelight.
“Oatly” was first founded in the 1990s, but was rebranded in 2012 as “Oat-ly!” when Toni Petersson took over as CEO, and became oat milk’s pioneer and champion.
The creation of Oat-ly! “Barista edition” in 2016 was what made the company skyrocket into the global plant-based milk market.
The unique selling point of this product is that it has double the fat content of ordinary Oat-ly! (3% compared to 1.5%), meaning that the milk can foam and hold together better when frothed or steamed. Since other plant-based milks do not work the same way because of their protein structures, oat milk is unique in its capability to create a perfect latte.
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In addition, soy milk’s lack of success meant that oat milk had the space to grow and dominate the market. In the early 2000s, the discovery that soya contains phytoestrogens, oestrogen-like compounds that can mimic the hormone’s impact in humans, caused a stigma to be built up against the product because of the fear that soy milk would disrupt male hormones and “feminise” men. The derogatory term “soy boy” even began to circulate to describe men that lack masculine characteristics.
Clinical studies have proven over and over again that the fears of soy milk’s hormonal impact are overstated. However, some groups with extreme conservative views have continued to push the theory that soya milk is a liberal conspiracy to emasculate men, drinking cow’s milk at rallies to demonstrate “digestive superiority,” as reported by the Guardian.
Increasing circulation of conversation surrounding plant-based milk has resulted in a trending aesthetic and set of beliefs associated with oat milk in particular, the current trailblazer of the plant-based industry. Especially amongst Gen Z, oat milk has become a staple of a specific aesthetic.
— carlee ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ (@casch_96) September 3, 2020
Tried oat milk for the first today. What’s next ? Wearing uggs and drinking through those metal straws for the ✨aesthetic ✨
— KEYBOY🔑 (@_cameronkeys) April 26, 2022
The rise of the internet and social media has resulted in an elevated awareness of climate issues, and a stronger urge to live more sustainable lifestyles. Social media means that we can advertise a carefully cultivated image of ourselves, and as environmentalism grows more and more popular, more people are showcasing their plant-based, eco-friendly lifestyles.
Although 39% of consumers cite environmental sustainability as an influence on their food and beverage purchases, Arla, UK food company that specialises in dairy products, claims that it is social pressure and a herd mentality that are pressuring so many people to give up dairy; as if people are mindlessly following a trend rather than coming to their own decision to cut back on dairy products.
An article on their website cites a study by OnePoll from 2022, stating that a shocking 65% of people in the UK said that they felt pressured to give up dairy even though they didn’t want to.
They add that “⅓ of UK residents admit to adopting options on nutrition they see on social media.” If social media is indeed the catalyst for global conversation surrounding plant-based food and drink, is this necessarily a bad thing?
Surely, even if oat milk has become an increasingly popular trend, isn’t the decision to abandon dairy products still an individual choice?
The fact that plant-based milk has become arguably a more desirable option than dairy milk to perfect one’s image could also be a sign that the world is becoming more climate-conscious.
Social media have evidently amplified the spread of information and anxieties surrounding the environment, yet this has also meant that there is a wide and accessible platform now by which we can be educated on world issues.
Almost 90% of Gen Z in the US are worried about the environment, according to a study by Porter Novelli. The trendy and fun image that oat milk presents has allowed sustainability to become a digestible trend that prevents environmentalism from appearing intimidating to those who don’t know how to start making sustainable changes in their lives.
However, some have claimed that since healthy food products are usually associated with exclusivity and wealth, the oat milk aesthetic cannot help but be viewed as lacking in diversity and inclusivity.
Co-founder of Ghost Town Oats, Ezra Baker, explained that the target audience for dairy substitutes largely overlaps with wellness adherents, mostly white and affluent. That is why, along with Michelle Johnson and Eric J. Grimm, he founded the first Black- and queer-owned oat milk company, based in LA.
Baker expressed to Saveur that “we want to be the bridge” to a wider and more diverse customer base.
Developments such as these confirm that oat milk is an industry that will keep growing, both in popularity and demand, especially amongst younger generations.
According to VegNews, the global vegan milk market is predicted to grow to more than $123 billion by 2030, compared to its size of around $30 billion in 2021, and this is just the beginning of a societal movement towards sustainable diets. If we can use social media to popularise plant-based milk and make groundbreaking steps in food trends, what can we do next?
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A latte. Featured Photo Credit: Maureen Sullivant.