Lactose Intolerance, Food Allergies, & Sensitivities Create New Opportunities for Plant-Based Dairy

Lactose Intolerance, Food Allergies, & Sensitivities Create New Opportunities for Plant-Based Dairy

After infancy, approximately 65% of people have a reduced ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in many dairy products. Although milk and dairy products are a staple in many populations, increased awareness of lactose intolerance has led many people to reduce dairy consumption, avoid dairy altogether, consume plant-based dairy alternatives, and look for dairy products without lactose.

Significant adoption of plant-based milk over the last decade has been due to confirmed or perceived lactose intolerance and avoidance of dairy milk. The growing popularity and usage of plant-based dairy and egg products has created a $4.3 billion market that is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 6.0% through 2024, reports Packaged Facts in Dairy & Egg Alternatives: Outlook for Plant-Based & Cell-Cultured Consumer Products.

Additionally, food allergies affect up to 10% of the world population. More than 26 million adults in the U.S. have food allergies, while another 24 million believe they have food allergies due to symptoms from other conditions, meaning food allergies affect the food decisions made by about 50 million U.S. adults.

The most common food allergens include:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • shellfish
  • soybeans
  • tree nuts
  • wheat

Because allergies to milk and eggs are relatively common, many consumers with allergies to these ingredients may turn to plant-based dairy or egg alternatives to be able to enjoy the functions or flavor of products they normally cannot eat.

Intolerance and sensitivity to certain ingredients also affect a number of consumers. Approximately 1% of consumers in the U.S. (3 million) have celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity may affect even more. Many people avoid gluten, with some believing they have a sensitivity to gluten and others simply thinking that gluten is unhealthy. Similarly, many people believe they have a sensitivity to soy or believe that soy is unhealthy without having a diagnosed soy allergy.

However, plant-based alternatives to dairy in particular often contain common allergens including soy or tree nuts (e.g., almonds and cashews), meaning that people allergic to these ingredients may be unable to consume a large number of plant-based dairy products. As such, products such as coconut milk are important for consumers with allergies since coconut is not a common allergen and is not typically exposed to allergens such as soy or wheat during production.

Nonetheless, almond milk remains the best-selling dairy alternative on the market, and oat milk has become the second largest plant-based milk category (and oats are often not safe for people with celiac disease, wheat allergies, or sensitivities due to often being exposed to wheat during production).