If you’re in foodservice in 2017, your customers are probably asking, “Do you have any dairy-free options?” or “Do you have any vegan flavors?”
Questions like these are only becoming more common. As a business owner, it’s in your best interest to understand these customers, and cater to them by offering products that will attract and delight them. By doing so, you will be positioning yourself to profit from this major shift in the market.
More Consumers Ditching Dairy
Dairy cows are increasingly moving on to greener pastures.
It’s no secret that the dairy industry has been declining for some time now. Sales are down, consumers are looking for alternatives, and producers are getting desperate. And these are not short-term trends—over the past decade, cow’s milk has been steadily losing ground to non-dairy alternatives such as soy, almond, and coconut milk. Big business is even starting to get in on the action.
So what does the mean for you, as the owner of an ice cream shop, restaurant, or other foodservice establishment? First and foremost, it means you need to understand the forces that are driving the shift to non-dairy alternatives.
Once you are able to empathize with and relate to customers looking for dairy-free options, it will be much easier for you to make them happy and keep them coming back. Let’s look at some of the factors encouraging people to ditch dairy:
We all know someone who is “lactose intolerant.” What you may not know is that 75 percent of the world’s population—and 25 percent of the U.S. population—is unable to effectively digest dairy. So really, it’s the “lactose intolerant” people who are normal, and the “lactose tolerant” folks who are the exception!
Even for people with the ability to digest dairy, there are plenty of reasons to avoid it nonetheless. Dairy consumption has been linked to higher cholesterol, increased risk for several types of cancer (including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer), and a host of other health issues.
Bottom line: consumer behavior is being seriously swayed by negative perceptions of cow’s milk. And nondairy alternatives are experiencing a boost as a result. Recent market research reveals that 49 percent of Americans consume nondairy milk, and that nondairy milk is seen as preferable for its perceived heart-health and weight-loss benefits.
Many doctors are turning against dairy!
Lots of people these days are concerned about the effects of climate change, which scientists say is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases . Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and is emitted in copious amounts from dairy farms.
In popular culture, films like Cowspiracy have helped make the case that dairy (and beef) production takes a heavy toll on the environment. With the support of celebrities like Leo DiCaprio and Arnold Schwarzenegger, more people are changing their minds on the issue on dairy consumption.
Social media has also made it much easier for consumers to share their opinions and habits, thus accelerating the transformation of the market. Want proof? Check out the “vegan” hashtag on Instagram, with more than 40 million posts to date.
For some people, the inhumane conditions and cruelty of the dairy industry are enough to cause them to reduce or eliminate dairy from their diets. Compared to the images of suffering associated with the life of a dairy cow, it’s much easier for them to stomach the idea of soybeans or coconuts being harvested and turned into dairy-alternative products.
If a customer tells you that they are vegan, chances are they have been converted to the cause by a film such as Earthlingsthat highlights the problems with animal agriculture in general. If you want to these customers to continue supporting your business, you must respect their moral position and make sure to offer them menu items that are consistent with their beliefs.
It's Not "All-or-Nothing
While some customers are 100% dairy-free or vegan, there are many more who follow a “ flexitarian” or “reducetarian” diet. These customers might eat dairy occasionally, but may prefer non-dairy options if available. If you give these customers dairy-free options, they will surely appreciate the choice, and are more likely to return to your shop and recommend you to their friends.
So What Can you Do?
Now that you have an understanding of the diverse reasons that cause people to seek dairy-free and vegan options, you can capitalize by expanding your menu to include nondairy choices. Until recently, this was not any easy task due to a lack of high-quality, easy-to-use vegan products on the market.
Luckily, there is now a wide range of new companies (including us!) entering the industry to provide solutions for vegan foodservice. It’s a great time to get started on catering to this new and growing market segment!