Why more and more consumers are ditching dairy

Many consumers regard foods that are low in sugar, salt or fat as being a more healthy option. However, some shoppers are going a step further, and avoiding milk and dairy products too. Whether as a result of intolerance and associated digestive problems or a desire to ditch products of animal origin, more and more people are now turning their backs on dairy staples, but what really drives consumer behaviour when it comes to decisions on dairy products and plant-based alternatives, and what role can clean labels play in this?

If only those with diagnosed lactose intolerance were to give up milk, there would be little impact on the market, at least in Europe and North America. Between 5%and 15% of Europeans are believed to be deficient in lactase, an enzyme that is crucial for the digestion of milk sugar. However, this does not automatically mean that lactose cannot be digested at all or that those affected will have symptoms. That said, there are also consumers who suffer flatulence and bloating after drinking milk, despite not being lactose-intolerant.

Ultimately, consumers who, irrespective of intolerances, consciously decide to avoid milk are driving the market for plant-based alternatives. And it’s not just vegans, either, because demand for plant-based alternatives is soaring among meat-eaters too. According to a consumer survey by the market research company Health Focus International, half of the respondents were very or extremely interested in plant-based foods and beverages. In the Americas, 20% of those questioned avoid dairy products, in Europe it is 18% and in Asia 28%. It’s no surprise, that the share of vegan and ‘no animal ingredient’ claims have more than doubled during the last five years.

Dairy Copyright: Shutterstock/ Rangizzz
Digestive problems are one reason why people limit their consumption of dairy products. But there are many others too, from general health and wellbeing to sustainability. Shutterstock/ Rangizzz

Demand driven by health

“For many people, it’s not about strictly avoiding ingredients of animal origin at all costs. Instead, they are rethinking their diet. Animal products such as milk, but also meat, are still important to many – just not on a daily basis,” says Myriam Snaet, head of market intelligence and consumer insights at Beneo. Her team recently studied various consumer surveys on the plant-based market. “One of the most interesting things we discovered is that people are not only concerned with animal welfare, but health benefits are far more important.” According to Health Focus International, 70% of consumers worldwide prefer more plant-based nutrition as they see it as an important contribution to long-term health. Not surprisingly, frequent reports that animal products can have a negative impact on health have led to consumers becoming unsettled – even if such statements are arguably controversial. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that when it comes to nutrition, striking the right balance is key.

COVID-19 has also given the plant-based sector another big boost. According to extensive market research by the market research company FMCG Gurus, among the 23 000 consumers surveyed worldwide, 1 in 4 want to increase the proportion of plant-based foods in their diet as a result of the pandemic, with 2 in 5 looking to buy plant-based meat or plant-based milk. Myriam Snaet comments, “At first glance, this is somewhat astonishing, since there seems to be no direct link between a plant-based diet and COVID-19. However, it is actually a profoundly human reaction. With a virus keeping this planet in suspense and striking us all to the core, many people are concerned about sustainability and looking for ways to positively contribute to the future of the planet. This includes environmental protection as well as a partial abandonment of animal products.”

Rice starch for indulgent, clean label alternatives

Regardless of whether consumers are forgoing milk for health reasons or because of sustainability concerns, the vast majority still do not want to sacrifice indulgence. That’s why the Beneo team uses rice starch to create full-bodied alternatives that are more than a match for milk based products. Beneo offers an extensive portfolio of rice ingredients for the production of plant-based milk alternatives with appealing sensory properties, including organic varieties and the recently launched Remypure S52 P, the world’s first instant functional native rice starch.

Remypure rice starches provide high stability for foods with demanding processing conditions, such as low pH values or high shear forces. Furthermore, rice starch is mild in taste and neutral in colour, and is particularly appealing to consumers who suffer not only from lactose intolerance, but also other digestive issues. That’s because it is easy-to-digest and hypoallergenic, which makes it an important ingredient in baby food too. The new instant variant called Remypure S52 P is particularly suitable for products that are processed cold, such as desserts or bakery cream.

Lean and clean

Thanks to its enduring appeal, clean label can no longer be considered a trend. For more than a decade, an ever-increasing number of manufacturers have been responding to consumer demand for a simplified list of recognisable ingredients. According to market analyst Mintel, 29% of new product launches worldwide is are now clean label.

Rice starch and rice flour score highly in this context: people perceive them as a natural and familiar cupboard ingredient, with 61% of consumers worldwide regarding rice starch as natural and 71% feeling the same about rice flour. When asked about key starch and flour ingredients (rice, corn, potato, tapioca and wheat), rice came out on top as a ‘cupboard ingredient’ (67%), ‘healthy’ (58%) and ‘easy to digest’ (51%). And a combination of various rice derivatives results in tasty, plant-based alternatives to dairy products. “For example, with just water, rice syrup, rice bran oil, rice starch, rice flour and an emulsifier, you can create a cleaner label, lactose-free, easy-to-digest, plant-based milk substitute,” says Benoit Tavernier, product manager, Specialty Rice Ingredients.

The Beneo-Technology Center supports its customers in developing new milk- and lactose-free formulas in various applications, while the Beneo-Institute has dedicated expertise in nutritional issues and provides advice on intolerances.

Lactose intolerance – a regional issue

Many of the original milk alternatives were not primarily aimed at vegans and flexitarians, but were a plant-based, lactose-free alternative to milk for those with an intolerance. About half of the world’s population is considered lactose intolerant. The ability to produce the enzyme lactase beyond childhood and thus digest lactose is basically a genetic mutation that the Northern and Central European population has only acquired over the past 7 500 years. The body has simply adapted to the continued consumption of milk in adulthood. In many other regions of the world, such as Africa, Asia or South America, cow’s milk plays a much lesser role in the diet. As a result, more than 90% of the adult population in these regions cannot break down lactose. In Germany, the current estimate is between 15 and 20%. 


  • Health Focus International, Global trends Study 2020
  • New Nutrition Business, 10 Key Trends in Food, Health & Nutrition 2020
  • Mintel GPND
  • FMCG Gurus 2021: Global COVID-19 Survey in 18 countries.
  • Mintel GNPD, Jan 2015 – Feb 2021. Clean label launches are food & beverage launches with “All natural product”, “GMO-free”, “No additives/preservatives”, “Free from added/artificial additives, colourings and/or flavourings” or “Organic” claims on the packaging.
  • Health Focus International, 2018
  • BENEO’s Clean Label Consumer research, Haystack 2018.
  • https://www.spektrum.de/news/die-milch-revolution/1203870 (Abruf am 8. Oktober 2020)
  • https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laktoseintoleranz (Abruf am 20. März 2021)
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