The popularity of plant-based milk-alternatives has not eroded Australia's real milk market, but the dairy industry should learn from the marketing success of new age products like oat, almond and chia "milk".
Consumers were clearly attracted by the belief they were a healthy, popular beverage offering said senior economist with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences, Andrew Cameron.
He believed informative marketing and educational messages about the many health attributes of real dairy beverages would keep cows' milk relevant and front of mind in a marketplace now bulging with new and diverse beverage options.
Mr Cameron was addressing this month's Outlook 2021, where Victorian dairy farmer turned on-farm processor Steve Ronalds admitted there was little point being critical or getting upset about the way plant protein makers had hijacked the name "milk" or promoted these man-made products as naturally healthy.
- Australia's competitive advantage shouldn't include cheap
- Little white milk brand's story blazes new trails
"Clearly their products are not milk," Mr Ronalds said.
"However, at the end of the day the customer is always right, so if they are buying those products we have to ride that wave.
"It's up to us to educate customers about why our milk is important to your health, and what's special about the difference.
He said milk marketers should also be clear about differences between the many different milk products available, which now included lines with added probiotics and the successful A2 variation on traditional white milk.
"These consumer trends go in cycles. You have to accept them," he said.
"Not so long ago full fat milk was considered a bad thing, now it's talked about as being good for a healthy diet, including for weight control - which makes me glad to be milking Jerseys.
"The plant `milk' space used to be all about soy, now oat milk is what everybody talks about."
ABARES' Mr Cameron said Australian consumer culture clearly still had a strong appetite for real drinking milk.
Per capita consumption had not really moved up or down in the past few decades.
He said while the dairy industry should be aware of what current consumer sentiments were being tapped by the emerging plant protein sector, dairy had basically pioneered the health and nutrition marketing message years ago which was now being adapted by others for a new generation marketplace.
Start the day with all the big news in agriculture! Sign up below to receive our daily Farmonline newsletter.