Derided by many as a strange-tasting alternative to cow’s milk, sales of the product have grown rapidly over the last couple of years, as the quality of the liquid has improved and consumers have embraced its relatively healthy status.
Sales of dairy free milk hit more than £136 million during 2010, compared with almost £103m in 2008 and £87 million in 2006, according to Nielsen, a market research company which tracks food and drink sales.
Soya is now regularly bought by over 4 million of Britain’s 26 million households compared to 3.4 million in 2006.
Starbucks, the leading coffee chain, said that it had completely taken off in the last two years, from being a niche product offered to people who asked especially for it, to now being regularly on the menu. The company now uses more than 500,000 litres of soya milk a year in its British shops, and this summer will start selling a soya frappuccino, a version of its cold, milky drink that it sells when the weather is hot.
Claire Waugh, head of brand development at Starbucks UK, said; “A few years ago, we noticed that customers here were starting to ask for soya milk and after offering the option, we’ve seen the trend keep on growing. More people want drinks made exactly to their taste and in trials we saw that it was one of the most popular choices to customise the new frappuccino.”
There has been a steady increase in the number of consumers, including children, diagnosed as lactose intolerant, with the NHS estimating that 5 per cent of all Britons and as many as 100 per cent of Asian-Britons suffering from the condition, which can cause stomach pain.
However, many people who have started to drink the product are doing so because they perceive it be healthier or better for the environment, according to Alpro, the country’s biggest manufacturer of soya milk.
John Allaway, the commercial director at Alpro, said: “Five years ago it didn’t taste like dairy. But the quality has much improved.
“A lot of people who now drink it do so because they like the fact it is a plant-based product not an animal-based one. It’s better for the environment and it’s becoming trendy.”
It has less saturated fat, more protein and fewer calories compared with cow’s milk, and though its production uses up less carbon and water, many environmentalists have complained that large tracts of forests in South America have been destroyed in order to plant soy beans.