Dairy-free milk may just be one of the food industry’s greatest underdog stories of all time. When dairy-free alternatives to milk first made their debut in the dairy aisle, they were a modest addition to the immensely popular section. Well, despite the humble beginning, dairy-free alternatives have taken the food world by storm, and in just the past five years the market has grown 250 percent to more than $894.6 million. Dairy-free milks now account for 20 percent of dairy case sales. With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that Danone, the French food company, has just agreed to pay $12.5 billion to acquire WhiteWave Foods, a major industry player who got involved in the dairy-free market early on.

In addition to a host of other products, WhiteWave Foods owns plant-based alternative brands like Alpro, Provamel, and Silk. They also acquired vegan brand, So Delicious, in 2014, a move that helped WhiteWave achieve a more than 40 percent share of the domestic dairy-alternative market. Danone specifically said that in addition to being able to double their U.S. business, the attractive vegan milk market is one of the main drivers for the acquisition.

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Danone’s move is a clear indication that the food industry is undergoing a seismic shift towards cleaner, plant-based products. Yes, milk has had a place in the hearts of many for decades now, and for some consumers, despite the conflicting evidence, the product is still associated with health and nourishment. Many consumers, however, are opting for a different route. Whether it’s due to lactose intolerance, concerns over antibiotics and hormone use, or simply wanting to purchase more environmentally sustainable food choices, consumers are ditching dairy and looking for cleaner alternatives. And the more the demand grows, the better the products become.

Dairy-free alternatives may have been somewhat obscure a decade ago, but those days are over. There are dairy-free options at coffee shops and on supermarket shelves, there are new alternatives popping up every month made from every nut you can imagine as well as protein-rich vegetables. Dairy-free alternatives even have commercials now! If there was ever a time to invest in the plant-based milk market, it’s now. And companies, knowing that consumers are looking to make powerful choices that are positive for their health and the environment, are happy to hop on the wellness bandwagon and put their money and power behind innovative brands. 

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“At Danone, we constantly seek to align our vision of the world, our mission and our businesses: we believe we have a special responsibility, as expressed in our manifesto, to help and support people in adopting healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking practices and constantly evolve our portfolio of brands and products to achieve this objective,” said Emmanuel Faber, Danone chief executive officer.

Faber said it perfectly. Companies like Danone and WhiteWave are hopping on board with this growing food revolution and helping to accelerate this burgeoning trend. It is clear that the food industry is in need of major revamping. With the growth of plant-based and dairy-free alternatives, we are seeing food become the driving force that is creating healthier and more sustainable world. Looks like the future of food is here – and it is, indeed, vegan.

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