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The future of plant-based beverages

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Technological innovation, in addition to increased investments and partnerships, is helping to scale up the availability and accessibility of plant-based beverages.

Plant-based beverages is a subject of rising popularity and innovation globally. Such products deliver sensory experiences that match the taste profile of mass-consumed beverages, allowing consumers to accept and make a shift toward plant-based beverages more easily.

Technological innovation, in addition to increased investments and partnerships, is also helping to scale up the availability and accessibility of plant-based beverages.

Currently, the landscape for plant-based beverages is not just populated by start-ups but also by mainstream companies responding to the consumer demand and finding innovative ways to deliver more of what consumers want.

The ongoing pandemic has alerted people to the current climate crisis even further. The need to change our consumption patterns across board has become indispensable and has further accelerated the adoption of plant-based offerings as consumers have become more aware and health-conscious.

As a result, there has been an increased demand for plant-based alternatives including mock meat.

The opportunity in this sector

Dairy has been an important part of our food system in India for several centuries. Similarly, plant-based beverages like coconut and almond have been used for a very long time. Both dairy and plant-based alternatives can very well co-exist as they are catering to a wide array of consumers whose preferences are different.

Multinationals like Danone and Nestle who are massive in the Dairy segment, have recently pivoted towards plant-based alternatives to address the growing demand from the consumers.

India has committed to going carbon neutral. Adoption of plant-based nutrition can be the single most effective way to achieve the goal as our food system is responsible for a large portion of greenhouse emissions.

Also, it has been observed that the global population is expected to reach 10 billion in the next few decades. The current food system cannot cater to the growing need as it requires a huge amount of land and resources, which also contribute to climate change. Plant-based nutrition requires less space, less energy, and fewer resources in comparison to traditional animal-based products.

Only Earth, a new entrant in this category has been sharing anecdotes on how a lifestyle shift and what you consume can have an impact on the environment. It further reiterates that plant-based alternatives are not only for consumers who have shifted to veganism but also, in general, have a large impact on our planet.

There is also a big misconception of how plant-based beverages don’t have alternative uses. This question has been answered and verified through social influencers and vegan chefs who are often seen using almond/oats beverages in several recipes, including in their coffee/tea.

Lastly, a fact that may be unknown to many, plant-based beverages have a higher shelf life and even when opened can be used up to 10 days. This is a great benefit, especially for a country where temperatures are between hot and moderate.

Concerns and threats

With every new category, comes challenges that start with pricing. In India, milk has been part of every tradition and culture. The plant-based category can never compete with that. We stand as an alternative for those who want to choose something lighter and easier on their stomach. Very much like how today we find alternatives to regular flour, to make baking healthier. As the plant-based industry is at its nascent stage, prices are high. However, as the category grows larger volumes will allow for efficiencies of scale and eventually lower prices. However, there are inexpensive ways to make plant-based beverages at home as well.

Every consumer must choose the right product for themselves and their diet. Some questions have been raised about allergies associated with plant-based ingredients, such as soy and almonds but with more variants coming into the market like rice, coconut and oats, a consumer can find a product that fits into their lifestyle.

Progress that brands are making

Popular international brands have entered the Indian market and are expanding the plant-based menu for consumers by offering plant-based beverages in several cafe chains across the country.

Starbucks was one of the early adopters of plant-based milk menus in India with almond and soy milk being available since its inception. The coffee company recently added oat milk beverages to its menus.

The Indian dairy alternative market stood at $20.9 million in 2018 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 20.7% to reach $63.9 million by 2024, on account of increasing participation of the young population’s growing consumer inclination towards low-fat milk beverages

Among regions, north India accounted for the largest share of around 40% in the Indian dairy alternative market in 2018, owing to rising awareness towards health-consciousness and the need for physical fitness in the region. Moreover, with changing lifestyles, consumers in north India are comparatively less price-conscious. However, we are seeing growth across regions with easy availability of various beverage options

What’s next?

There is more awareness on the health benefits of plant-based beverage products and how they help the environment with a much lesser carbon footprint. The majority of the population globally is lactose intolerant.

There can be a simple solution to the lactose-intolerance health issue. Café and restaurant chains are slowly adapting to offering a plant-based menu for those who have made the shift. These changes will make it easier for one to try a plant-based diet or just find the right beverage that works perfectly well with your coffee.

The writer is founder & CEO of Only Earth