Supermarket fridges and cafe menus now offer a plethora of mylk choices far removed from any bovine origin.Their selections often include classic soy, barista-approved oat, tried-and-tested nuts like almond, cashew, and hazelnut, as well as avant-garde blends such as quinoa, flax and pea protein.
To quote the co-founder of Good Hemp which makes mylk from hemp seeds, “People are just looking at every nut that exists and seeing if they can squash it into a milk.”
The big mylk shake up
In its 2022 mid-year report, nonprofit Good Food Institute (GFI) found that plant-based milks were rapidly gaining market share over dairy, holding a 16% share of the total milk market — up from 12% in 2018.
The global plant-based milk market was valued at a frothing US$12.45 billion in 2022 and the total revenue is expected to grow at 11% through 2023 to 2029, with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for the largest share of that revenue.
The dairy industry faces stiff competition as mylk pours into the mainstream. No longer reserved for the lactose intolerant or vegan crowd, dairy alternatives are now cropping up everywhere from Subway to Starbucks. But what’s driving this mylk-mania?
From greenhouse gas emissions to pollution and land degradation, people are waking up to the fact that their food choices impact the world around us. Animal welfare concerns are also driving the surge in plant-based alternatives.
But it’s not just about health and ethics. The allure of mylk is also in its savvy marketing and killer aesthetics. Think visual delights of bold typography, modern graphics, and witty copy.
Using AI to read between the images
To substantiate this observation made while strolling down the supermarket milk aisle, we had to bring in the market research tools.
Sphere’s Subculture and Aesthetics Detection analytic was the perfect solution for identifying underlying brand aesthetics in the milk industry.
This zero-shot multimodal image analysis model was trained on 400 million pairs of images and text, and fine-tuned to discern the unique imagery and composition of specific subculture and aesthetic labels.
After running the AI model on the social media pages of popular mylk and dairy brands, we discovered the distinct design choices that set them apart from each other.
Mylk: Toasty tranquility and counterculture cool
This aesthetic celebrates the idea of living in a secluded cabin, idealizing a simpler way of life that rejects the hustle and bustle of urban living in favor of a calm, remote setting.
This design style is associated with the cozy, inviting atmosphere found in coffee shops and cafes — warm lighting, comfortable seating, and rustic decor. It evokes a relaxed and intimate setting to enjoy coffee and conversation.
Normcore is a fashion trend and aesthetic that emphasizes individuality and the rejection of trends. It is characterized by everyday, “normal” clothing that is deliberately unfashionable, such as plain t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. It is unpretentious, anti-fashion, and anti-style, conveying a laid-back lifestyle that rejects the pressures of commercial trends.
This fashion subculture originated in Japan and offers subtle resistance against societal norms through an escape into fantasy. Characterized by a focus on femininity, modesty, and cuteness, it was a response to the rapid commercialization of society which created a rigid social system. Its followers sought comfort in an over-the-top imaginary world of lace, frills and bows, donning Victorian skirts, petticoats, and bonnets to promote femininity without sexualization.
Dairy: Old world rugged ranch life (Think cows, cows and more cows)
The top-selling dairy milk brands such as Meadow Fresh, Organic Valley, Stonyfield and Pauls shared traditional pastoral aesthetics — lots of cows grazing in pasture or barns accompanied by smiling farm owners and their families. This imagery taps into consumers’ idealized notions of rural life and traditional farming practices, which are often associated with purity, freshness, and quality.
By showing the animals that the milk comes from, the brands also create a connection between their product and the natural environment. This markets dairy milk as wholesome, nourishing, natural goodness, and appeals to consumers with conventional notions of a healthy diet.
This aesthetic is a modern take on rural farm life, with the root word “agro” referring to agriculture. An agro-person has a deep connection to nature and engages in outdoor activities like hiking, gardening, and farming. They often wear denim clothing, work boots, plaid shirts, and straw hats, and are surrounded by vintage farm equipment, wooden fences, and fields of crops or grazing livestock.
This trend takes inspiration from the traditional clothing and lifestyle of early settlers on the North American prairie and evokes a rustic, countryside aesthetic with natural outdoor settings, cozy atmospheres, and natural materials. It celebrates simplicity, sustainability, and a connection to nature.
This style draws inspiration from the American rodeo and cowboy culture, particularly the clothing and accessories worn by rodeo performers and attendees. Wooden barns, livestock rearing and fashion elements like cowboy hats, boots and denim jackets feature heavily. A rustic, homely vibe is also created with natural materials like wood, leather, and cowhide.
Mylk is having more than a moment
Sphere’s image analysis suggests that plant-based milk brands have created a unique aesthetic that truly connects with their consumers and created a distinct brand identity.
By tapping into the alternative mindset of their target audience with cool, contemporary visuals, these brands have carved out a niche in the highly competitive dairy industry.
Of course, there will always be die-hard dairy fans who scoff at the idea of drinking milk made from almonds or oats. But for those who are open to new possibilities (and like their milk with a side of style), mylk is a trend that’s here to stay.