How many milk alternatives is too many?

Alpro this Summer launched It’s Not Mlk brand as the “perfect” plant-based replacement for the cow’s milk that half of UK households remain attached to. Creating the closest possible replica of everyday milk and explicitly positioning it as the go-to alternative is obviously a solid marketing approach. But, it does make you wonder about the 36 other plant-based choices (plus flavours) that preceded its arrival. It’s Not Mlk indicates that Danone owned Alpro has recognised that its vast plant-based portfolio is still missing a power proposition to convert dairy drinkers. Interestingly, it also implicitly, endorses oat-based as the best alternative to dairy milk.

Note the implicit and explicit “the same as milk” cues

The big difference with this launch and the previous 36 is that it is not ingredient-led. For consumers committed to plant-based Alpro does a comprehensive service in allowing them to discover and find their favourite ingredient. For those attached to dairy taste those ingredients communicate a difference and something unfamiliar. For It’s Not Mlk the job is demonstrating it is (unbelievably) the same as milk without getting into what’s in it. (Look at the pack above and note the emphasis on cues of familiarity).

As a competitive response the launch also has logic. Despite a strength in protein choice, a future scenario where oat-based products becomes consumers’ preferred alternative to dairy would favour the likes of Oatly. Through the It’s Not Mlk brand Alpro can simultaneously push back on their single-minded Swedish challenger and challenge new competitors employing a simpler ‘milk-like but not-milk’ positioning.

Oat-milk is gaining share fast at the expense of Soya and a number of not-milk propositions have been launched

Alpro’s timing also makes sense. Oatly grew by 22% in Q2 2022, but Covid restrictions have slowed progress in Asia making gains in the US and Europe more important in the short-term for the loss-making business. It is probably not a coincidence that Alpro’s sister brand Silk in the US has launched Next Milk earlier this year with the exact same proposition and intent.

Oatly are single-minded as the originator and champion of the oat drink as the solution to displace planet-damaging dairy

Danone will have a lot more insight than me and Silk’s earlier introduction will have informed Alpro’s Europe-focused plans. My personal experience, however, certainly suggests the need for simpler choices. In European hotels I often see a selection of two, maybe three plant-based alternatives greeting me at breakfast and in office coffee areas it is sometimes just Oatly. For Amazon Fresh (see below) there was presumably a compelling convenience in one mainstream plant-based solution for their coffee machines. For burdened baristas needing to anticipate our ever-expanding personal preferences some consensus on the best / closest milk alternative must be helpful too.

Amazon Fresh self-dispensing coffee machine defaults consumers to one alternative – which is fine for me.

All in all, it looks like Danone has correctly identified a need for a product with the potential to successfully position itself as the default replacement of the dairy milk experience. Given the real possibility of oat-milk emerging as the most popular consumer alternative (alongside stronger climate caring credentials than Soya) it looks like a very sound strategic bet.

Despite a bewildering plant-based choice that is at odds with fridge capacity, supermarket shelf space and our instinctive decision-making a move to 38 alternatives makes sense for Alpro. The previous 36 ingredient-led choices offer something alien to dairy milk lovers, Its Not Mlk is promising something familiar.

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