Dairy’s Place in Diets in Question Amidst Rise of Dairy Alternatives

Published Aug 18, 2022

Toluna Corporate

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Dairy remains a favorite food group for many consumers across the globe, but its place in many diets has been the subject of scrutiny in recent years due to health factors and the rise of plant-based nutrition. Dairy alternatives, such as soy or coconut milk, have grown in popularity because they resemble the taste of dairy, but offer fewer calories and fats.

This year, we’ve also seen the rise of a global cost-of-living crisis. Consumers across the globe are feeling the pocketbook pinch in myriad ways, including higher prices in the grocery aisles. And these price hikes, which have been particularly prevalent in dairy, are making consumers even more conscious about the products they buy.

To understand dairy and dairy alternative consumption habits amidst the current cost of living crisis, Toluna surveyed 1,000 adults aged 18+ in both the United States and Germany. Here’s what we found.

Understanding the Decrease in Dairy Consumption

For many consumers across the globe, dairy is considered a key part of a balanced diet. In fact, about four in ten adults in both the US and Germany say that dairy is delicious and they will never reduce their consumption levels. But when you look beyond the dairy loyalists, it’s clear that many consumers are rethinking its place in their diets.

Over a quarter (28%) of Americans say they’ve reduced their dairy consumption in the past year, while 24% say the same in Germany. In each nation, 28% say they’re actively trying to reduce dairy consumption going forward.

Why, you ask? The answers vary by country. In the United States, almost two in three consumers cite health reasons as a prompt to reduce their dairy consumption—or remove it from their diets altogether. This is followed by a significantly smaller portion of consumers who cite concerns for animal welfare (28%) and the environment (28%). In Germany, it’s the opposite; consumers are much more likely to have reduced or eliminated dairy consumption due to ethical reasons like animal welfare (50%) and the environment (45%), as opposed to health reasons (35%).

Pitting Dairy Against Dairy Alternatives

As consumers in both nations seek to reduce or eliminate dairy from their diets, dairy alternatives are seeing an increase in consumption. Over three in ten Americans (31%) say they’ve increased their consumption of dairy alternatives/dairy-free products over the last six months, and one in three say they’ll consume more in the next three months. In Germany, these numbers are slightly tamer. Twenty-six percent have consumed more dairy alternatives in the past six months, and one in five plan to consume more in the next three months.

In spite of this spike in dairy alternative consumption, the fact of the matter is that people are still consuming dairy products much more often. In Germany, half of consumers (51%) say they consume dairy every day, and 90% at least once a week—as opposed to just 13% and 43% for dairy alternatives, respectively.

In the United States, the gap is slightly narrower, but significant still. Forty-two percent consume dairy every day, and twice as many (86%) consume it at least once a week. For dairy alternatives, those numbers are 17% and 50%, respectively.

Impact of the Cost-of-Living Crisis

Of course, there are other factors impacting dairy beyond the competition from dairy alternatives. The current cost-of-living crisis has hit grocery stores across the globe, and it’s been particularly true in the dairy aisle. In Germany, 63% have noticed that the price of dairy has gone up a lot in the past six months, and nine in ten have noticed at least some increase.

In the United States, the proportion is slightly smaller—with 52% noticing a significant increase and 86% at least some increase—but significant, nonetheless. In fact, American consumers are more likely to express their concern about the current cost of dairy products (36%) than their counterparts in Germany (26%).

With inflation and cost-of-living concerns set to remain in the picture for the foreseeable future, consumer behaviors will continue to evolve. That’s why it’s critical that brands develop an insights-driven approach to understanding consumers’ thoughts, predicting their behaviors, and developing strategies to respond to changes. In doing so, they can adapt their products and market/channel strategies to account for the current and future economic landscape.

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