The study, from the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center, North Carolina State University, was published in the Journal of Dairy Science.
Fluid milk consumption has declined for decades while consumption of non-dairy alternatives has increased.
The objective of the study, which was funded in part by the National Dairy Council, was to determine what drives purchase within each product category.
Based on previous studies, a more targeted evaluation and understanding of why consumers purchase milk, both milk and plant-based beverages, or only plant-based beverages is needed if the dairy industry hopes to maintain or gain market shares of beverage sales.
An online survey was launched with 702 dairy consumers, 172 non-dairy consumers, and 125 consumers of both beverages.
A distinguishing characteristic of those who only drank non-dairy plant-based alternatives was that plant-based beverages contributed to a goal to consume less animal products, beliefs about animal mistreatment, and perceived lesser effect on the environment than fluid milk.
Unique to fluid milk consumers was that fluid milk was perceived as a staple food item.
A balanced diet and healthy lifestyle were values for all consumers. Health factors such as lower fat and lower carbohydrates were attributes that drove purchase of non-dairy alternatives.
A beverage that tastes good was a must have for both milk and non-dairy alternatives.
The researchers said the results suggest consumers who drink milk do so out of habit or because they like the flavor.
Recommendations for dairy
The authors said the results suggest the dairy industry should focus on the nutrition value of milk and educating consumers about misconceptions regarding dairy milk.
Future beverage innovation, they added, should include the development milk or milk-based beverages that are lactose free or reduced carbohydrate with more protein and calcium.
These could be successful in bringing consumers of both beverages back to solely consuming fluid milk and dairy milk-based beverages.
Drivers of choice for fluid milk versus plant-based alternatives: What are consumer perceptions of fluid milk?
Source: Journal of Dairy Science
Authors: K.S. McCarthy, M. Parker, A. Ameerally, S.L. Drake, M.A. Drake