Plant-based milk gaining ground in China's beverage market

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There’s a new way to flavor coffee now – with milk made from plants.

In many cafes across China, oat milk is taking over an increasing share from cow’s milk to become coffee’s best mate. And with so many coffee drinkers in China these days, there are plenty of domestic and international plant-based milk brands in the market. The price is higher than milk from cows but consumers don’t seem worried about the extra cost.

And there are niche brands with plenty of products. In addition to oat milk, you’ll also come across milk from soy, coconut, and even pea. The newest addition in this nascent market is potato milk, which already has its fans online.

Hyung Woo Kim from research company Internet Personality said consumers will choose potato milk with curiosity. “Making milk from potatoes? It’s a great idea, and you can make a variety of flavored drinks with potato milk. As the Swedish oat milk brand Oatley is getting more popular in the world and being welcomed in China, I think potato milk has plenty of potential as well,” said Kim. 

It looks like a market with a large potential is in its early stages of development. A survey by medical research firm Somur shows over 99 percent of its samples of 5,471 Chinese people have trouble to some degree with digesting the sugars in animal milk. Add to that an increasing demand for healthier food options these days. 

Meanwhile, market research company Mintel found that 65 percent of its respondents have increased their frequency of healthy eating compared pre-COVID-19 era. 

“44 percent of our respondents think that healthy diets should include both animal and plant protein,” said Joy Yin, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “On the other hand, we also observed consumers are considering plant-based drinks to be more natural than milk and dairy beverages.”

In foreign markets like the UK and the U.S., sales of plant-based milk are recording a double-digit growth every year. Projections from market research platform Research and Markets show that the global plant-based milk market will be worth $22 billion in 2024.

Plant-based food and beverages are not only healthy dietary options but also a major lifestyle trend. Louisiana Waring, senior insight and policy officer of the Vegan Society explains that healthy dietary trends in the developing world are boosting plant-based milk consumption.

“Consumers are much more aware and interested in improving their health. Eating more plant-based food really fits in the lifestyle. Plant-based milk properly account for ten percent of the total global milk market,” she said.