I am happy to report on what I see as the changing face of the dairy aisle. In supermarkets where I live in New York City, dairy free milk alternatives compete for space with the traditional milk products that used to dominate shelves in supermarkets. And the split between dairy free and dairy is, to my eyes, getting pretty close to being an even one.
When I talk about “competing for space,” I am referring to the economic reality of the situation. Every shelf that is filled with, for example, Silk Soy Milk is one less shelf for the dairy industry, and therefore, less money for them (and more for dairy free product makers). And in New York City supermarkets, even the dairy milks often tend to be specialty items, like Lactaid (milk that is supposedly safe for consuming by lactose-intolerant consumers) and organic milk. To find just regular old milk products can sometimes be a challenge!
I know this because, while I buy almond milk and coconut milk for myself, my wife drinks dairy milk (mostly in her coffee), so when I do the grocery shopping, I look for her milk. Her preference is for Skim Plus Fat Free Half & Half, and it can be quite a challenge to find it – sometimes I have to go to three or four markets before I find one that has it in stock. There are other brands that make a fat free half & half, but they tend to add lots of extra ingredients that Therese eschews. Skim Plus’s only has skim milk and cream, so that is her favorite. I usually stockpile, buying 2 or 3, when I find it, because I never know how long it will be before I find it again.
Meanwhile, as I said, to my eyes, the dairy free products are making in-roads. To give you an idea, let me just give you photos of the three supermarkets I shop from most frequently: Zeytuna, Jubilee and 55 Fulton.
By my reckoning, Jubilee has the closest to even balanced between dairy and dairy free, Zeytuna’s refrigerator is still mostly dairy, and 55 Fulton is somewhere in between. 55 Fulton’s aisle is so long that, as you can see, I couldn’t fit it all in one photo; and while one end was pretty well dominated by dairy, the other end featured products like Silk Soy, Almond and Coconut Milk and Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze fairly prominently.
Part of what has made it possible for dairy free products to compete successfully with dairy in the dairy aisle is that there are several brands that have gained popularity. It’s not just Silk, but also, again, Almond Breeze, as well as So Delicious and even Califia Farms with its unusual containers shaped like bowling pins (more on them later). A person looking for dairy free milks has many options, which is quite a wonderful thing.
In other areas where dairy products are kept, the split is less advantageous for us dairy free folks. When it comes to butter versus margarine, the dairy industry has been very successful in making people feel doubtful about margarine being a safe alternative to butter. So much so, that even most products calling themselves “margarine” on the market these days contain butter in them! The one brand bucking this trend is Earth Balance, and in my area, you can find a variety of Earth Balance products, both tubs of whipped varieties and sticks of the old fashioned style (great for making things like pastry dough).
In the cream cheese/sour cream area, it is similarly one dairy free brand (mostly) against all the other dairy brands. Tofutti cream cheeses and sour creams, for me, are the one alternative, and a great one at that.
I have omitted one crucial section: the shelves of dairy free milks that all my supermarkets feature. So not only are there many dairy free milks in the refrigerated dairy aisle, but also a series of shelves dedicated exclusively to dairy free milks (boy, if the dairy industry knows about those shelves, that must really make them grind their teeth in consternation!). For example, in Jubilee, directly across from the refrigerated dairy section, and next to the cereals, is their dairy free milk section.
Seeing all this gives me a great feeling for the present, and the future, of competing with the dairy industry for a place in supermarkets and shelves at other food stores. And sure, while I am trying to present an accurate picture of what the current status of our dairy aisles is, my hope is that dairy free products will continue to make in-roads as more and more people choose to partake of almond and coconut and soy milks rather than the old artery-clogging, mucus-producing dairy products. We will just have to see how this goes. In the meantime, I will raise my holiday pumpkin latte (made with almond milk, of course) in a toast to the wonderful dairy free brands we enjoy!