The plant-based milk market has taken off in recent years as consumers are both looking to consume healthier dairy alternatives and reduce their sugar intake. In 2023, market research firm Data Bridge forecasted the North American plant-based milk market will be worth more than $10.8 billion by 2030, with the unsweetened milk segment accounting for 74 percent market share (approximately $7.4 billion).
This shift is underpinned by findings from a 2022 global study conducted by Kerry, which revealed that the primary motivation for reducing sugar is not weight loss, but rather long-term health. According to the study, seven in 10 respondents are cutting down on sugar to lead healthier lives, and almost six in 10 are doing so to prevent future medical issues.
Oatly gets ‘super basic’ with unsweetened oat milk
While Oatly’s vegan cream cheese and ice cream bars might be more exciting to some, the company is taking a pared-down approach to its newest product launch—the first innovation in five years that Oatly has made to its North American beverage portfolio.
To start 2024, Oatly introduced Unsweetened Oatmilk and Super Basic Oatmilk, both made with minimal ingredients. Oatly’s new products also cater to those looking for low or no-sugar options.
“As oat milk continues to move into the mainstream, now more than ever we see people unwilling to sacrifice great taste for dietary preferences—they’re looking for both,” Leah Hoxie, SVP of Innovation at Oatly North America, said in a statement.
“Our US R&D team spent nearly a year perfecting both of these oatmilks to strike this balance,” Hoxie said.
The new offerings bulk up the company’s oat milk line, which includes full-fat versions, chocolate flavors, and a barista edition that just added coffeehouse chain Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to its large roster of foodservice partners.
All of these vegan milks were created to cater to all instances where consumers are looking for an alternative to dairy.
“At Oatly, we believe that products should serve both people and the planet well. With this in mind, changing the food system requires a mass shift away from dairy,” Mike Messersmith, President, Oatly North America, said in a statement.
“That’s why our new oat milks were crafted to cater to different consumer preferences, like less calories, no sugar, or fewer ingredients. Ultimately, the biggest impact we can have as a business is to convert cow’s milk drinkers into oat milk buyers,” Messersmith said. “The introduction of Unsweetened and Super Basic continue to help us do that.”
Reinvigorating unsweetened vegan milk
Oatly is not the only company taking a second look at the unsweetened vegan milk category—where major players, such as Danone-owned Silk, Blue Diamond Grower’s Almond Breeze, and others, have offered options for years.
Califia Farms also recently expanded its range with USDA-certified Organic Oatmilk and Almondmilk, unsweetened milk specifically designed to meet consumer demand for simpler, more natural products.
“I can’t think of a better way for Califia to kick off the new year than with the launch of our deliciously simple Organic Oatmilk and Almondmilk,” Suzanne Ginestro, Chief Marketing Officer at Califia Farms, said in a statement. “With the addition of these two items, we’re making plant-based even more accessible to consumers looking for yummy, shorter label options without oils or gums.”
Released in January of last year, the unsweetened milk—which Califia released at the same time as its chocolate oat milk—was the base for Bella Hadid’s ‘Kinsicle’ Smoothie collab with Erewhon Market. Califia also made its existing unsweetened almond milk available in a larger, family-friendly 72-ounce size.
“We are so proud to continue driving the dairy-free category forward with innovation that sparks joy in the kitchen and gives people the versatility and taste they crave,” Ginestro said.
Last summer, another vegan milk leader, Ripple Foods, introduced Ripple Kids Unsweetened Original Milk, responding to parental demand for sugar-free plant-based milk alternatives for children.
“Parents consistently say Ripple Kids has been a game-changer for their family, due to the need for an alternative to dairy that provides great taste and optimal nutrition for children,” Laura Flanagan, CEO of Ripple Foods, said in a statement.
Brands are developing vegan milk specifically for consumers looking to cut their sugar intake. However, all of these brands—which offer flavored and full-fat vegan milk options—are also taking a 360 approach to help consumers make sustainable milk choices wherever they might reach for the creamy beverage.