Plant-based options take over beverage menus

green smoothie

From DanoneWave Away From Home.

Not so long ago, finding non-dairy milk in a supermarket dairy case was a challenge. But these days, that aisle is bursting with plant-based beverage choices—cow’s milk alternatives crafted from soybeans, nuts, grains or coconut, as consumer demand for these beverages has grown exponentially. According to Euromonitor, worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled between 2009 and 2015.

Millennials and Gen Zers, many of them already accustomed to drinking dairy alternatives at home, expect to see some of those same choices in college and university dining halls.

According to Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trend Report, 37% of consumers and 43% of millennials think restaurants should offer healthier beverages, and plant-based drinks, which are often lower in fat and cholesterol free satisfy those preferences.

What’s more, 70% of consumers ages 18-34 view foods high in protein as healthier, according to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, and 83% of consumers overall perceive items low in sugar as better-for-you. Plant-based options, such as unsweetened almondmilk or soymilk, are good ways to satisfy these preferences.

Consumers also choose vegetarian or vegan options, such as plant-based beverages, for a variety of reasons, according to Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report:

  • These options are healthier (42%)
  • Consumers like them (49%)
  • To have a nutritious diet (48%)
  • For responsibility/sustainability reasons (23%)

Aside from dairy allergies, that last reason is most likely to motivate plant-based eating among millennials and members of Generation Z as they head off to college.

Campus dining operators, sensitive to those concerns, have found ways to incorporate alternatives to cow’s milk into their offerings. At one end of the spectrum are facilities like the all-vegan Roots at University of California-San Diego, where it’s all plants, all the time. At the other end are colleges that provide dairy alternatives on request.

It’s more common for a campus dining facility to designate a cooler for vegans and vegetarians, which contains non-dairy cream cheese, yogurt, veggie burgers and other appropriate foods. Pennsylvania State University in State College stocks each dining commons with a “vegetarian living” cooler filled with soy, rice and almond milk, soy yogurt, veggie burgers and other items on request.

As demand for alternative milks has soared, more colleges are installing dispensers in dining halls and providing non-dairy options at coffee stations and in cafes. Ohio University in Athens installed almondmilk dispensers last year in response to student demand. Recently, the college introduced almond and coconut milk at all campus cafes, including Front Room Coffeehouse, with a 60-cent upcharge.

The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, covers all bases, providing cartons of soy and rice milk in a specialty foods cooler, supplying two coffee outlets with soymilk and stocking alternative milks in a convenience store.

Colleges and universities can expect to see demand for non-dairy milks to continue growing as more students gravitate toward plant-based diets.

For more tips on how to make plant-based beverages work on your campus menu, contact DanoneWave Away From Home here.

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