The global demand for dairy-free milk alternatives, or milk substitutes, has skyrocketed in recent years and the movement has also made its way to South Africa.

Milk alternatives are nothing new to the lactose intolerant among us, and most of us are at least familiar with some of the common varieties: almond and soy milk. But these aren’t your only options if you decide to give up dairy milk.

An increase in plant-based diets and environmentally-conscious consumerism has resulted in more varieties of milk alternatives being made readily available to the wider public. Coconut, oat, rice, cashew, macadamia, hemp and quinoa are all being used to create dairy-free milk.

In fact, one report revealed that over 4,300 dairy-alternative beverages were launched globally between 2016 and 2017 – up from around 700 in 2012.

Reasons to make the moo-ve to milk alternatives

Did you know that only about 15% of people who buy milk alternatives are actually lactose intolerant? The other 85% of buyers do so for a variety of added environmental, health and ethical reasons. For instance, there is growing opposition to the cruel and exploitative nature of the dairy industry.

Here’s a shocking environmental statistic for you: Over 1,000 litres of water are used in the production and transportation of just 1 litre of cow’s milk. Many plant-based substitutes, such as soy and oats, require far less water to produce.

Healthwise, milk alternatives are easily digestible, making them a lot friendlier to your gut than regular dairy milk. There are also some claims that eliminating dairy from your diet can reduce headaches and clear up eczema.

Wait, so what’s the catch?

Your digestive system may prefer milk alternatives, but your wallet probably won’t. Almost all types are more expensive than regular cow’s milk.

One litre of Breeze, SA’s most popular brand of almond milk, sells for R39.99 at Pick n Pay, while their unsweetened variety is priced at R45.99. To put that into perspective, you can purchase twice the amount (2ℓ) of fresh full cream milk from Pick n Pay for under R25.
Clover’s soy milk range retails for roughly R10 less than Breeze’s almond equivalents.

A couple of rand can sometimes be saved here and there if you purchase your milk alternative products at certain speciality vegan and health stores, which will also have a greater selection to choose from.

Price comparison between regular milk and milk alternatives at Woolworths:

Product    Price
Fresh Full Cream Ayrshire Milk (2ℓ)    R29.99
Unsweetened Soya Milk (1ℓ)    R37.99
Unsweetened Rice Milk with Sunflower Seed Oil (1ℓ)    R39.99
Unsweetened Almond Milk (1ℓ)     R46.99
Coconut Milk (750mℓ)    R49.99


Another downside is that these milk alternatives are naturally less nutritional than cow’s milk, which is extremely rich in high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals.

Because of this, you’ll want to buy brands that have been fortified with extra calcium and vitamin B12. Also, try to buy unsweetened varieties, although they can sometimes be more expensive.

Having to choose between all the different options can seem daunting and will ultimately come down to personal taste and texture preferences – a bit of trial and error is required here.

Coffee lovers, we see you

Oat milk – a relatively late arrival on the South African alt-milk scene – is favoured among baristas due to its thickness and ability to froth.

An increasing number of popular coffee shops have also clocked onto the trend and now offer milk alternatives in their beverages.

Vida e Caffè, for example, charges R4 for soy milk and R8 for almond milk.

A typical Bootlegger Coffee shop menu offers soy, almond or coconut milk all for an extra R5 – down from R10 charged in 2018.

At Seattle Coffee Company, there is no extra charge to substitute your regular milk for soy milk, while the choice of almond milk costs an extra R5 – or R3 if you bring along your reusable KeepCup! So now you can help save the planet when you enjoy your next morning brew.


Roland Kesler

Written by .

Roland has joined the 22seven team as a content creator. A financial analysis graduate from the University of Cape Town, Roland is a keen writer who enjoys using data to tell interesting stories. In his spare time, he can usually be found watching football (or writing about it), listening to music and discovering new podcasts.
Email |