Those who shun dairy are about to get some novelty treats that go beyond plain old vanilla soy ice cream into cool seasonal goodies. Meanwhile, big companies like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts are jumping on board the non-dairy train.
Alternative milks — made from things like almonds, rice and coconut — are hot; sales in the past two years have risen by 33 percent. At the same time, regular milk has been on a serious decline, with consumption dropping 25 percent from 1975 to 2012.
Here are some big non-dairy doings:
So Delicious coconut milk frozen dessert holiday novelty bars
So Delicious has introduced a quartet of creamy frozen bars available in four shapes and flavors: Candy Corn and Pumpkin Spice, which are available at Whole Foods Markets through October, and Snowman and Peppermint Star, available from September through January.
The Candy Corn is an especially complex treat with three layers: orange at the base, vanilla in the middle and a chocolate-coated vanilla tip.
So Delicious frozen desserts have been around for decades, even at conventional groceries where you can find your basic chocolate and vanilla in pints or quarts. But these seasonal novelties, available for a limited time, represent a new frontier, says So Delicious spokeswoman Hilary Martin.
"What led up to making these new frozen novelties is that our holiday beverages have been incredibly popular," she says. "Three years ago, we introduced a pumpkin spice coconut milk that sold exceptionally well. But our heritage is in frozen desserts, so it made perfect sense to introduce these."
The ice cream treats will initially be at Whole Foods exclusively, then eventually at other grocers such as Sprouts.
Other So Delicious seasonal drink flavors include mint chocolate and nog, which the company has also introduced in shelf-stable versions. "So you can stock up on them, which you can't do with traditional dairy products," Martin says. "You can have eggless nog-flavored French toast in April if you want."
The products have about half the calories and sugar as regular milk: Regular chocolate milk has 23 grams of sugar per cup, versus 12 in So Delicious' mint chocolate, and 208 calories versus So Delicious' 100 calories.
Almond milk at Dunkin' Donuts
After years of petitioning from customers, doughnut chain Dunkin' Donuts has introduced a dairy alternative: Blue Diamond vanilla almond milk.
"Over the past couple of years, based on an increasing number of customer requests, we began to explore options for expanding our menu with a non-dairy alternative to milk and cream," said Dunkin' president John Costello in a release. Almond milk is the company's only sanctioned non-dairy offering; it still does not offer soy, although it permits individual stores to offer it if they're so inclined.
Almond milk has overtaken soy as the most popular non-dairy alternative; according to Nielsen, almond milk sales have grown in the past years from less than .5 percent to 4.1 percent of total milk sales today.
Some have questioned the timing of Dunkin's decision. The demand for almond milk is wreaking havoc in California, which is suffering a record drought. It takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a gallon of almond milk.
Coconut milk at Starbucks
Starbucks is dabbling in coconut milk, with a limited introduction in stores in Los Angeles, Cleveland and Oregon, although no plans to introduce it elsewhere yet. The coffee chain was way ahead of the pack when it began offering soy milk in 1997.
Unlike Dunkin' Donuts, it is not testing almond milk, due to the risk to customers who have nut allergies.