Change is brewing
Oatmilk, by default.
Light roast or dark roast? Pour-over or French press? Dairy or oatmilk?
Coffee has become such a cornerstone of our culture that for many of us, our coffee choices are part of our identity. The sanctity of a cup o’ joe might waver from person to person, but its ubiquity remains unchallenged: 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee every week, and 6 in 10 drink coffee every day.
Increasingly, people are making plantmilks a part of this daily ritual, with a helpful nudge from cafes.
Plant-based milks have been around for centuries, but in the past five years the industry has grown to a market value of $20 billion. Part of that rise is fueled by eco-minded1 and racially diverse2 young people, who are consuming 550% more plant-based milk than previous generations, but Americans of all ages are partaking. Oatmilk in particular has gained a massive following thanks to its creamy consistency, growing 44 times in popularity in the past three years alone. It’s so popular, in fact, that not only does oatmilk exist as an option in many cafes, but it is becoming the default.
Trendsetters like Bentonville’s Onyx and Sacramento’s Pachamama both adopted oatmilk defaults early on. Around the same time, we partnered with Guilder Cafe in Portland, OR, to pilot the removal of their dairy default; plant-based drink sales increased by 18%, decreasing drinks’ carbon footprint by 12%. Multinational chain Blue Bottle Coffee announced its transition to an oatmilk default the following June, followed by Birch in New York. All five businesses cited sustainability as a major reason to flip to oat—and they’re not alone in noticing the connection.
Employees and students are driving a similar shift in office and campus settings. This year, through a pilot with BFF’s “Greener by Default” initiative, LinkedIn started serving oatmilk by default in their San Francisco office’s cafe. Meanwhile downcoast, University of San Diego students (in partnership with nonprofit Farm Forward) launched an “Oat Milk Initiative” to make oatmilk the default in all drinks across campus. Many students elsewhere in the U.S.—and around the globe—are pursuing similar policies.
However and wherever you drink it, coffee brings us together. It’s a meetingspace, a common interest, and a social lubricant. Just like any other culture, coffee culture is formed in community with other people. The implications of this are huge: coffee-drinkers everywhere have the power to transform how coffee is served. A drink so ubiquitous offers opportunities to all kinds of social spaces, meaning plantmilk defaults aren’t limited to coffeeshops, or even to the restaurant industry at large!
1 Dairy is detrimental to our ailing planet, generating more greenhouse gasses than its plant-based alternatives while also requiring more water, land, and fertilizer. Studies suggest that GenZ is more concerned than previous generations about products’ environmental footprints—and is willing to spend extra to support companies with sustainable business practices.
2An estimated two-thirds of the world’s population struggles to digest lactose, mainly people of African and Asian descent. In the United States, that figure drops to 36%, which is still over one-third of the nation! Notably, GenZ is the most racially diverse adult generation, at just 52% white non-Hispanic. Serving coffee with oatmilk rather than cow’s milk allows businesses to serve a wider (and younger) customer base and be inclusive of historically marginalized groups.