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With wider range, plant-based milk sector sees surge

While the availability of non-dairy milk has increased, it has a long way to go in competing with dairy products which are readily accessible. Additionally, costs remain prohibitive.
Last Updated : 18 October 2023, 22:53 IST
Last Updated : 18 October 2023, 22:53 IST

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Bengaluru: The plant-based milk industry in the country, particularly in cities, is seeing renewed favour after the introduction of non-dairy milk derived from oats, almonds, soy and cashews.

In fact, the industry has been seeing a growth of 20 per cent, year on year according to an insider. According to a 2023 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, there are presently more than 56 brands, 300 stock-keeping units (unique products) in the country’s plant-based food sector. In 2016, there was one plant-based food company established in India.

Abhay Rangan, the founder and CEO of One Good, a plant-based food company, explains that when the company was founded in 2016, vegan milk products were barely available in the country. “The demand is certainly growing. There are several organised businesses operating in the sector today,” he says.

While soy and almond milk are most popular, there is a growing consumer preference for oat milk. Millet-derived milk products are the newest addition to the market.

Vaibhav Krishnaswamy, founder of Tempe Wala and Vegan Heat, a cloud kitchen says, “The increase in demand has not been gradual, especially in the last two to three years.” Krishnaswamy has been in the space for six years. 

In fact, according to a report by Good Food Institute India (GFI India), among plant-based dairy users, packaged soy milk and almond milk had the highest penetration in 2021 (at 56% and 54% respectively) followed by plant-based cheese (31%), oat milk (29%) and plant-based yoghurt (21%).

Rhea M, a Bengaluru-based consumer of dairy and plant-based dairy products, explains that the range of products available in Karnataka and the country has certainly grown from 2017 onwards, when her family started consuming such products.

“At the time, there was a lot of good press about the health benefits of soy milk. My family was also fascinated with the concept,” says Rhea. Her family started consuming soy milk from the only option available at the grocery store.

Sunain D, a Bengaluru-based architect, and her vegan husband also started consuming plant-based dairy products around 2019 when options were limited. “We used to make coconut and almond milk at home. We switched to packaged vegan milk only later, at which point such products were easily available,” she says.

Such a development has benefited people who have ethical concerns with the consumption of animal-derived products and also a section of the population that is lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is common in India, with almost 60% of the population affected.

Prohibitive costs

While the availability of non-dairy milk has increased, it has a long way to go in competing with dairy products which are readily accessible. Additionally, costs remain prohibitive. 

“Plant-based dairy costs about four times the regular milk,” says Sunain.

“Even in cafes, which have a ready menu of different kinds of plant milks, a substitution could lead to a 15% increase in cost per drink,” says Rhea. A daily substitution in beverages and cooking could lead to a similar increase in cost. 

For these reasons, Rhea consumes plant-based dairy along with animal-derived dairy products. In fact, according to the GFII report, dual use of plant-based milk and animal-derived milk was common as 90% of plant-based milk users have also consumed animal-derived milk. Only 12% were using plant-based milk exclusively. 

Such a scenario is only temporary explains Abhay. “There is still a long way to go to make plant-based milk as readily available as animal-derived milk,” he says. 

To achieve this, the cold storage delivery chain or “business to consumers systems need to improve”, he says. It is likely that in the next 10 years, plant-based milk companies will gain a good foothold in the Indian market. 

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Published 18 October 2023, 22:53 IST

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