Plant-Based Milk Brands Take Aim at Coffee Category

CHICAGO – Plant-based milk brands largely stole the spotlight at the recent Specialty Coffee Expo, organized by the Specialty Coffee Association.

It’s no longer just vegan and vegetarian coffee drinkers who seek plant-based options, with 44% household penetration for plant-based milks in the U.S., according to 2023 National Consumer Panel (powered by Circana) data. Plant-based options are growing in coffee shops for health and sustainability reasons.

Dairy alternatives are benefitting from a growing awareness that a large proportion of the U.S. population suffers from lactose intolerance – about 30 to 50 million Americans are believed to be lactose intolerant. In addition to the familiar oat and almond milks, exhibitors in Chicago offered plant-based milks made with bananas, chickpeas, coconut, macadamias, and pistachios.

Oat milk

Oat milk is becoming the default plant-based milk option in U.S. specialty coffee shops. In contrast, almond milk continues to lead sales in U.S. supermarkets. Retail sales of almond milk totaled $1.56 billion while that of oat milk totaled $660.5 million for the 52 weeks ending July 16, 2023, according to US retail data from SPINS cited by AgFunderNews.

“With the global food system responsible for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and about 50% of those emissions coming from the livestock and animal agriculture industries, the greatest impact [companies like] Oatly can have is to convert dairy milk drinkers into oatmilk drinkers,” Drew Martin – EVP of Commercial Sales, Oatly North America – told The Food Institute.

Martin added that “we’ve recently expanded our oatmilk range to include even more varieties that cater to different consumer preferences – whether that be less calories and no sugar (Oatly Unsweetened), streamlined ingredients (Oatly Super Basic), or a more indulgent coffee experience (Oatly Oatmilk Creamers).”

Companies are beginning to add more flavors to oat milk, too. At the Specialty Coffee Expo, Chobani sampled its limited batch Cereal Oatmilk and a new Barista Vanilla Oatmilk, for example.

Pistachio milk

It’s not just oat milk producers who are touting their environmental superiority to almond milk. Táche Pistachio Milk Barista Blend is a plant-based milk made with pure pistachios.

Roxana Saidi, Founder & CEO of Táche told FI: “Táche is not just another milk alternative; it’s a commitment to health and sustainability.”

Coconut milk

Consumer demand for coconut milk is rising. Retail sales of refrigerated coconut milk and RTD coconut milk increased by 33% and 43% YOY for the year ending Dec. 3, 2023, according to Circana data.

Califia Farms introduced a new Coconut Barista Blend at the Chicago event, highlighting that it “foams and steam perfectly for all your coffee creations with the added flavor and creaminess of coconut.” The company served a signature coffee coconut foam mocktail.

The Vita Coco Company, maker of Vita Coco coconut waters, brought its Vita Coco Barista MLK to the show. The product is a blend of coconut water, coconut cream, and coconut oil.

Banana milk

Mooala showcased its range of plant-based Mooala Bananamilk alongside its Oat Milk Barista Edition and Organic Oat Milk Barista Blend.

Jeff Richards, Founder/CEO at Mooala said their Mooala Organic Bananamilk “gives a banana bread flavor” when stirred into coffee. The product is made with organic bananas in addition to filtered water and organic sunflower seeds.


Numilk co-founders Ari Tolwin and Joe Savino appeared on “Shark Tank” in March of 2021 and secured a $2 million investment from Mark Cuban. For coffee shops looking to save money and backroom space when buying plant-based milks, Numilk offers a line of plant-based ingredient pouches that make fresh plant-based milk. The company says that coffee shops can expect “10-15% average savings” by switching to Numilk. Numilk states that plant-based milk is about 95% water and that its pouches “uses 8x less packaging.”

The company partnered with appliance company Hamilton Beach to create a countertop machine available for foodservice accounts that use shelf-stable ingredient pouches to make fresh plant-based milk and cold lattes on demand.

“Cafes are often forced to choose between quality and cost.  Numilk’s Commercial plant-based milk machine is a win-win, typically saving cafes ten- to twenty percent on their plant-based milk spend, while also improving drink quality and freeing up backstock space,” Ari Tolwin, Co-founder and CEO said.

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market researcher. She has advised companies on innovation and market entry opportunities in consumer packaged goods at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Instagram, TikTok, and X at @VirginiaALee.

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