Drivers of choice for fluid milk versus plant-based alternatives: What are consumer perceptions of fluid milk?

J Dairy Sci. 2017 Aug;100(8):6125-6138. doi: 10.3168/jds.2016-12519. Epub 2017 May 24.


Fluid milk consumption has declined for decades while consumption of nondairy alternatives has increased. A better understanding of why consumers purchase fluid milk or nondairy alternatives is needed to assist increased sales of milk or maintain sales without further decline. The objective of this study was to determine the extrinsic attributes that drive purchase within each product category. The second objective was to determine the personal values behind the purchase of each beverage type to give further understanding why particular attributes are important. An online conjoint survey was launched with 702 dairy consumers, 172 nondairy consumers, and 125 consumers of both beverages. Individual means-end chain interviews were conducted with fluid milk consumers (n = 75), plant-based alternative consumers (n = 68), and consumers of both beverages (n = 78). Fat content was the most important attribute for dairy milk followed by package size and label claims. Consumers of fluid milk preferred 1 or 2% fat content, gallon, or half-gallon packaging, conventionally pasteurized store-brand milk. Sugar level was the most important attribute for plant-based beverages, followed by plant source and package size. Almond milk was the most desirable plant source, and half-gallon packaging was the most preferred packaging. Means-end chain interviews results suggested that maintaining a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle was important to all consumer groups. Lactose free was an important attribute for plant-based alternative consumers and consumers of both dairy and nondairy. A distinguishing characteristic of those who only drank nondairy plant-based alternatives was that plant-based beverages contributed to a goal to consume less animal products, beliefs about animal mistreatment, and perceived lesser effect on the environment than fluid milk. Unique to fluid milk consumers was that fluid milk was perceived as a staple food item. These results suggest that the dairy industry should focus on the nutrition value of milk and educating consumers about misconceptions regarding dairy milk. Future beverage innovation should include the development of lactose-free milk that is also appealing to consumers in flavor.

Keywords: conjoint analysis; consumer liking; fluid milk; means-end chain analysis; nondairy alternative.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beverages*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Milk*
  • Perception
  • Taste