There are few beverages that compare with milk – the creamy, versatile, naturally protein-packed beverage humans have been drinking for millennia. We feed it to babies, we serve it with cookies, we use it to make butter, cheese, and yogurt. It’s a foundational food with its own spot in the food pyramid. Its properties, taste, and texture are unique, so can it really be replaced? 

Milk entered the arena of plant-based experimentation a long time ago with almonds being deemed a worthy source of milk. Oat milk is one of the most recent plant-based milks to become commercialized, hitting the market around 2018, and growing in availability since then. How is demand for oat milk doing compared to cow and almond milk? What makes people seek out an oaty, milk-like drink and which brands are most popular?

Oat Milk Continues to Drive Curiosity

Over the last several quarters, CivicScience data show the percentage of people who have “tried and liked” oat milk has increased while the percentage of those who say they aren’t interested in it has steadily decreased. Right now, 18% of the Gen Pop has tasted and enjoyed oat milk and 16% have sampled it but decided it wasn’t for them. Fifteen percent still plan to give oat milk a try.

One way to look at its popularity is by recognizing that more than one-third of U.S. adults have tasted oat milk and 5% of milk drinkers claim it as their favorite milk beverage. CivicScience polling results also show most milk drinkers (dairy or plant-based) prefer traditional cow’s milk (66%) over any other kind of milk. Almond milk is the only substitute that comes close to cow’s milk’s place in the dairy aisle (14% of milk drinkers), while other milks fall at 5% or below. 

Nearly 1-in-10 Adults Under 35 Opt for Oat Milk

While many have tasted oat milk, few claim it as their favorite. However, plant-based milk trends among younger adults who drink milk, whether dairy or plant-based. Only 34% of Gen Z adults prefer to drink cow’s milk compared with 81% of people aged 55 and older. While almond milk has made inroads with other age groups, oat milk barely fills the glasses of people over 35, whereas nearly 1-in-10 adults under 35 claim it as their preferred milk type.

Adults under 35 are the most likely to have tried oat milk and to intend to try it, helping to fuel its growth. But while Gen Z is the most likely to say it plans to try oat milk (29%), it is also the most likely age group to have tried but did not like oat milk (22%), outweighing Gen Zers who tried and liked it (18%). Other age groups are less likely to be interested in oat milk, but the percentage of tries and likes exceeds the percentage of tries and dislikes among older adults. 

Taste’ Comes First

What makes a person choose oat milk over all the options available to them? If you have been to a grocery store in the last two years, you know the options for “milk” are overwhelming and almost endless. The answer is likely because of taste. A recent CivicScience poll indicates oat milk drinkers have many reasons for choosing oat milk over other milks, but the most prominent among them is taste. That’s followed by the belief that it’s a healthier option than other milk types, suggesting it draws a more health-conscious consumer.

It’s likely that price is a factor in oat milk adoption. U.S. adults making $100K or more per year are the most likely to have tried oat milk – and are much more likely to like it compared to those earning less. People making $50K or less per year are the most interested in trying oat milk in the near future (24%). But based on the rate at which these consumers have tasted but disliked oat milk (nearly equal percentages of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’), adoption may be much slower going among lower-income groups, should they decide to purchase it.

Is oat milk likely to stick around? When it comes to plant milk, while oat milk can’t beat the popularity of almond milk, consumers continue  to want to give it a try. The trouble is that the drink doesn’t seem to be winning milk drinkers over, but it still appears able to compete with coconut, soy and other plant-based milks among young adult consumers, capturing a percentage of this demographic as the preferred option. 

Additional insights from the data:

  • Women prefer oat milk more than men.
  • People who prefer oat milk are also very likely to regularly drink two different kinds of plant-based milks.
  • Oat milk is most popular among people who shop at specialty stores and co-ops (e.g. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s), as well as membership clubs (e.g. Costco), and less popular for supercenter grocery shoppers (e.g. Walmart).
  • Among the brands studied, Silk’s Oat Yeah is the most popular oat milk brand, followed by Planet Oat and Chobani Oat.

Want more forward-looking insights into the grocery and CPG markets? Let’s chat.