What are the best milk alternatives?

Zoe | April 4, 2022

This handy guide will help you tell your almond from your oat milk and understand which options are the healthiest and most sustainable for you and the office.

There was a time when the milk aisle was full of only cow’s milk, but fast forward to today, and you’ll find lots of different milk types on the shelf. As more and more of us explore alternatives to dairy, whether for our health, environmental reasons, trying out veganism, or just wanting to cut down on our dairy consumption, it’s challenging to know which plant-based milk to turn to.

It’s reported that a quarter of Britons now consume plant-based milk and another survey reported that 1 in 3 Brits now drinks plant-based milk with millennials aged 25 to 44 leading the way in usage. If you’re an office manager or facilities manager, it’s your responsibility to stock milk that your team will enjoy in their coffee so, with these statistics in mind, it’s likely you’ll have at least a few people in the office opting for plant-based. So what’s the best choice? Let’s take a look.

Firstly, there’s a tendency to think plant-based milk is healthier for you but actually, cow’s milk has very few competitors when it comes to protein and nutrients. Some plant-based milk can also have hidden sugars to make them sweeter so they’re not always the healthiest choice. We’ve rounded up our favourites below and start with what’s known as ‘the big four’ – oat milk (with a huge 30% market share), almond milk, coconut milk and soya milk.

Oat milk

This vegan alternative to dairy milk is made by blending water and oats, and then straining out the liquid. It’s the most popular plant milk in the UK recently taking over from almond milk. Shoppers spent £146m on oat milk in 2020, up from £74m in 2019 and in contrast, consumers spent £105m on almond milk up slightly from £96m.

Its popularity is due in part to its fairly neutral taste and its versatility. Many people prefer it over other plant-based milk like almond or soy since it can easily be frothed. Some companies like Oatly and Alpro sell a barista version that contains a bit more fat and is creamier which works best in your coffee.

Almond milk

Almond milk is highly versatile and a great milk substitute for vegans and people who are allergic or intolerant to dairy. It has a creamy texture and as you’d expect a mild, nutty flavour. It’s an excellent source of vitamin E and is rich in good fats, which promote a healthy heart and keep you feeling full.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk works well in coffee drinks and due to its high-fat content, it also makes a light and creamy foam. In spite of it being higher in calories than most other kinds of milk, it’s still a healthy option. It contains lots of health-boosting vitamins including vitamin C and E which have anti-oxidamt properties. As you’d expect, it does have a hint of coconut flavour and that will affect the taste of your coffee so if you’re not a coconut fan, it’s one to avoid. Coconut milk has quite a small environmental footprint, owing to the minimal use of water for growing coconuts so good for the environmentally conscious members of the team.

Soya milk

The original dairy alternative milk to hit the market was soya – also called soy milk or soymilk – and it started to gain popularity in the UK back in the 80s. Soya milk is made by soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out the remaining particles. Soya milk is also found to be the most comparable to cow’s milk in terms of overall nutrient balance, but check the label as some contain hidden sugar. Its taste is pretty neutral and is mild and creamy. It’s a pleasant replacement for cow’s milk as it doesn’t taste too dissimilar.

Rice milk

Rice milk is made using brown rice and brown rice syrup, and is often sweetened using sugar, and flavoured with common ingredients, such as vanilla. It’s sometimes fortified with protein and micronutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron, or vitamin D. Rice milk has a light and watery consistency and is a healthy alternative if you’re lactose intolerant or you have a nut allergy.

Pea milk

Yes, you read that right. Creamy and foamy in coffee, and also great in tea, pea milk is a surprisingly good accompaniment to your coffee. Pea milk is made from yellow split peas, which are naturally high in the amino acid lysine (a building block of protein) as well as iron.

And don’t panic, pea milk isn’t the bright green colour you might think, it’s actually like other plant-based milk and pale and creamy in colour.

Potato milk

Another new milk to hit the dairy-free milk market is potato milk. Touted as being deliciously creamy and capable of producing the perfect foam, potato milk may be a new contender for your coffee cup. It’s an ethical choice too because growing potatoes are twice as efficient as growing oats. Plus, potato milk has a lower carbon footprint than any other plant-based milk making it one of the most environmentally friendly options. As it’s so new to the market though, it’s not readily available everywhere yet but it’s certainly one to watch.

And should I consider budgets?

As a facilities manager, understandably you’ll be working to budgets so you’ll need to balance the cost of various milk types against the value you’re getting by supplying it to the team. Oat milk for example is around 4 times more expensive than cow’s milk and almond and soya milk is double the cost of cow’s milk. However, that cost can easily be justified if it means you’re providing your team with a quality coffee experience at work.

Something to consider is the issue of waste. Balancing choice for the team with the need to reduce waste from products that haven’t been used for their best by date, this tends to guide most offices in how many products they will typically stock.

And which milk will work best in our coffee machine at work?

Other things to consider are taste, how various kinds of milk will foam in coffee, which milk is compatible with your office coffee machine and also consider shelf life. An important consideration is whether you want to provide alternative milk simply as a lifestyle choice, or whether you are accommodating staff with an intolerance or allergy. It needs to be considered that for essential requirements such as allergies, it will become critical cross-contamination does not occur in any machine dispensing these milks.

Some plant-based milks are notorious for creating a curdled effect if you put it in coffee that’s too hot and some other milk varieties will not create a foam that will work successfully in a cappuccino..

So which plant-based milk should I choose for my office?

Like everything, it comes down to personal preference. We firmly believe that office culture should be inclusive and with more than a third of people in the UK interested in becoming vegan, it’s a good idea to cater for everyone and not exclude members of your team that prefer plant-based milk.

If you need a hand, our team are here to help and give you any advice – just give us a call.