Even as the average American drinks less dairy, thirst for plant-based alternatives such as almond milk is growing. Silk, the best-selling brand in the U.S., with an offbeat talking-almond ad campaign, posted a 45 percent increase in sales last quarter, according to an earnings report from WhiteWave Foods (WWAV).
The latest data from Nielsen show a very similar gain in dollar sales of all almond milks in the U.S., which increased more than 46 percent in the 12 months ended July 26. Almond milk is now an almost $738 million business, and the nutty drink has replaced soy as America’s preferred plant-based milk. Soy milk sales were only $341.1 million for that period, and have been declining for years.
The Silk brand alone represents about half of total almond milk sales, according to WhiteWave. In the last two years, top manufacturers such as WhiteWave and Blue Diamond, which makes Almond Breeze, have been posting roughly 50 percent gains, according to Rick Zambrano, food research editor for Packaged Facts. Now private labels are hopping on the trend.
“We have seen higher levels of promotional activity recently, and we will be focusing our marketing initiatives toward maintaining Silk’s market-leading positions,” said WhiteWave Chief Executive Gregg Engles on an earnings call on Thursday.
The rapid growth of almond milk in the U.S. has started to draw some skepticism. “The almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds,” warned a recent backlash article in Mother Jones. WhiteWave spokeswoman Molly Keveney responds that the product continues to enjoy a generally positive perception due to the healthiness of almonds and the low calorie count of the unsweetened milk.
To branch out beyond the crowding U.S. market, WhiteWave is plotting a way to increase the appetite for almond milk in Europe. Net sales in Europe increased 25.6 percent last quarter, “principally by continued strong volume growth, led by almond beverages,” WhiteWave reported in its quarterly filing.