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Plant-based dairy alternatives: Products Available in Supermarkets on the Island of Ireland, and Consumer Behaviours and Perceptions

Plant-based dairy alternatives: Products Available in Supermarkets on the Island of Ireland, and Consumer Behaviours and Perceptions

This report provides an overview of the different types and the nutritional content of plant-based dairy alternatives to milk, cheese and yogurt, available online from a range of supermarkets on the island of Ireland. The report also looks at understanding people’s attitudes and behaviours to consuming these products.

The research shows that these products vary in nutritional content and we would advise everyone to check the labels and look for dairy alternatives containing sources of protein, that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium.

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Plant-based dairy alternatives: Products Available in Supermarkets on the Island of Ireland, and Consumer Behaviours and Perceptions (PDF, 1.48 MB. Opens in a new window)

Executive summary

Aims

  • Provide an overview of the different types and the nutritional content of vegetarian, plant-based dairy alternatives to milk, cheese and yoghurt available online from supermarkets in Ireland and in Northern Ireland.
  • Investigate consumer perceptions of the nutritional content of plant-based dairy alternatives, their reported purchase and consumption of these products.

Methods

The report presents findings from an online audit of vegetarian, plant-based dairy alternatives to milk, cheese and yoghurt available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland between 4 May and 1 June 2021.

Consumers’ purchasing behaviours and motivations for choosing vegetarian, plant-based dairy alternatives were determined through the safefood Ipsos MRBI survey of 2,000 consumers: 1,000 people in Ireland from 9 to 23 February 2021 and 1,000 in Northern Ireland from 15 to 28 February 2021.

Key findings

Findings from audit of plant-based dairy alternatives available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland

How many vegetarian, plant-based dairy alternatives are available?

The audit identified 201 products, the majority of which were milk alternatives:

  • Milk alternatives (105 products)
  • Cheese alternatives (38 products)
  • Yoghurt alternatives (58 products)
What is the nutritional profile of the products surveyed?
  • The calcium content of the products surveyed ranged
    • Between 118 and 189 milligrams per 100 grams (average 130 milligrams per 100 grams) in milk alternatives
    • Between 150 and 600 milligrams per 100 grams (average 183 milligrams per 100 grams) in cheese alternatives
    • Between 55 and 211 milligrams per 100 grams (average 125 milligrams per 100 grams) in yoghurt alternatives.
  • Of the 105 alternatives to milk, fifty-eight per cent made claims related to calcium: 30 per cent (31 products) claim to be a source of calcium, 4 per cent (4 products) claim to be high in calcium and 24 per cent (25 products) claim to contain calcium.
  • Of the 38 alternatives to cheese, fifty-nine per cent made claims related to calcium: 32 per cent (12 products) claim to be a source of calcium, 3 per cent (1 product) claim to be high in calcium and 24 per cent (9 products) claim to contain calcium.
  • Of the 58 alternatives to yoghurt, sixty-seven per cent made claims related to calcium: 45 per cent (26 products) claim to be a source of calcium and 22 per cent (13 products) claim to contain calcium. No yoghurt alternatives claimed to be high in calcium.
  • The protein content of the products surveyed ranged
    • Between 0.1 and 3.5 grams per 100 grams (average 1.1 gram per 100 grams) in milk alternatives
    • Between 0.1 and 7.0 grams per 100 grams (average 1.1 gram per 100 grams) in cheese alternatives
    • Between 0.5 and 5.8 grams per 100 grams (average 2.9 grams per 100 grams) in yoghurt alternatives.
  • Thirteen per cent of milk alternatives made claims related to protein: 4 per cent (4 products) claim to be a source of protein, 7 per cent (7 products) claim to be high in protein and 2 per cent (2 products) claim to contain protein.
  • Five per cent (2 products) of cheese alternatives claim to be a source of protein, no cheese alternatives claim to be high or rich in protein or claim to contain protein.
  • Thirty-one per cent of yoghurt alternatives made claims related to protein: 2 per cent (1 product) claim to be a source of protein, 29 per cent (17 products) claim to be high or rich in protein and no yoghurt alternatives claim to contain protein.
  • When the plant-based dairy alternative products are profiled according to front-of-pack “traffic light” labelling:
    • Milk alternatives tend to be low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.
    • Cheese alternative products tend to be high in fat, saturated fat and salt and low in sugars.
    • Yoghurt alternatives tend to be low in fat, saturated fat and salt and medium in sugars.
  • Thirty-two per cent of products (64 out of 201 products) had no data provided on the level of micronutrients.
How do the vegetarian, plant-based dairy alternative products compare with dairy products?

A comparison of the average of the range of plant-based dairy alternatives surveyed shows that they are different from dairy milk, cheese and yoghurt and that there was great variation in the nutritional profile of the samples surveyed.

  • The average calcium value for alternative to milk was similar to that of dairy milk.
  • The average calcium value for alternatives to cheese was less than that of dairy cheese.
  • The average calcium value for alternatives to yoghurt was similar to that of dairy yoghurt.
  • The average protein value for all plant-based dairy alternative products was less than their dairy equivalents.
  • Both milk and cheese alternatives had more energy than their dairy equivalents; however, plant-based yoghurt alternatives had less energy than their dairy equivalents.
  • The average milk, cheese and yoghurt plant-based dairy alternative products contain more carbohydrate than their dairy equivalents.
  • Both milk and yoghurt alternatives had more sugars than their dairy equivalents; however, plant-based dairy alternative cheeses had less sugars than their dairy equivalents.
  • Plant-based dairy alternatives to yoghurt contained both less fat and saturated fat than dairy yoghurt equivalents. Cheese alternatives contained more saturated fat but less total fat than their dairy cheese equivalents. Milk alternatives contained less saturated fat but similar total fat to their dairy milk equivalents.
  • Plant-based dairy alternatives to milk contained less salt than their dairy milk equivalents. Yoghurt and cheese alternatives contained more salt than their dairy equivalents.
  • Micronutrients cannot be compared due to the lack of data.
  • The dairy alternatives surveyed contained several ingredients and were processed in nature.
Findings from consumer survey on plant-based dairy alternatives
  • One third of adults on the island of Ireland report that they consume plant-based dairy alternatives, with 10 per cent stating they always consume plant-based dairy alternatives.
  • Milk and milk-drink alternatives are the most popular plant-based alternative to dairy, consumed by 84 per cent of those who consume these products, followed by yoghurt alternatives (36 per cent) and then cheese alternatives (29 per cent).
  • Two thirds (71 per cent) of those who report consuming plant-based dairy alternatives do so at least weekly.
  • The main reason for choosing plant-based alternatives to diary is “healthier/better for me” at 20%, followed by “a change/variety” (18 per cent), “I like the flavour/taste” (15 per cent), “dairy intolerance/unable to have dairy (myself/family member)” 14 per cent and “health reasons (myself/family member)” 14 per cent.
  • Half (51 per cent) of those who consume the products agree that plant-based alternatives to dairy are better for the environment.
  • One quarter (26 per cent) of consumers used the Internet to source information about plant-based dairy alternatives when making the decision to try them.

What is the guidance for consumers on dairy foods and alternatives?

  • The plant-based dairy alternatives that were surveyed ranged in nutritional quality so adjustments may be needed when using these products to directly replace dairy products, due to their differing nutritional profiles.
  • Consumers are advised to read labels and look for unsweetened products containing sources of protein and added calcium.
  • The “Healthy Eating Guidelines” in Ireland recommend 3 servings a day of milk, cheese and yoghurt (and 5 servings a day for those aged 9 to 18). Consumers are advised to
    • Choose reduced-fat or low-fat varieties.
    • Choose low-fat milk and yoghurt more often than cheese.
    • Enjoy cheese in small amounts [1].
    • Consume no more than the recommended portion; examples of a “single serving” are 200 millilitres of milk, 125 grams of yoghurt and 25 grams of hard cheese [2].
    • If choosing plant-based dairy alternatives such as soya milk and yoghurts, choose those with added calcium.
  • The guidance for consumers in Northern Ireland in relation to dairy products is set out in “The Eatwell Guide”, which advises consumers to o Eat some dairy or plant-based dairy alternatives.
    • Choose lower-fat options when possible.
    • For products like yoghurt, check the label and choose those lower in fat and sugars [3].

Consult a trusted source of information if you are seeking guidance on eating a balanced diet as a vegetarian, for example safefood: https://www.safefood.net/how-to/vegetarian-diet.



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