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 that have gone DefaultVeg.
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.
Historically, coffee shops have upcharged for plantmilks, financially penalizing those who forgo cow’s milk for environmental, ethical, or health reasons—including those with lactose intolerance, which is particularly prevalent in communities of color. But with skyrocketing demand for oatmilk, many cafes aren’t just removing the upcharge—they’re making it the automatic choice through DefaultVeg.
Trendsetters like Bentonville’s Onyx and Sacramento’s Pachamama both began serving oatmilk by default—with the choice to opt in to dairy—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 and Portland-based Stumptown. All have cited sustainability as a major reason to flip to oat: every dairy latte switched to oat saves two showers’ worth of water, and every three lattes save the equivalent emissions of driving a mile.
Employees and students are driving a similar shift in office and campus settings. In 2022, through a pilot with BFF-incubated organization Greener by Default, LinkedIn started serving oatmilk by default in their San Francisco office’s cafe. Downcoast, University of San Diego students worked with BFF and Farm Forward to make USD the first American university to pilot an oatmilk default, as of spring 2023. 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 meeting space, 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, creating a more inclusive, sustainable, and humane norm. 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!
Whether you’re a coffeeshop owner, a student or employee at an institution that serves coffee, or just a coffee enthusiast, you can be a part of the shift to DefaultVeg.
Sign up to learn more about implementing plant-based defaults in your life and in your community!
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.