Cow’s Milk is Still the Favorite of Social Users
Recently, the dairy industry has had some trouble keeping up with milk alternatives gaining popularity and luring in former customers. Milk is a product that has remained unchanged for centuries. Thus dairy producers now face the challenge of marketing a static product to a population either losing interest or getting distracted by flashier choices. But are these other choices really fundamentally and sustainably better, or are they passing fads? This information is key to an entire industry, because it is the difference between altering one’s product line and simply launching a different marketing campaign.
To find out what consumers really think of milk and milk alternatives, we compared the consumer experiences and brand affinities of milk and its biggest competitors. We analyzed rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, greek yogurt, store brand milk, and cow milk. Based on volume of conversation from April 1, 2014 to August 7, 2014, almond milk is giving cow milk the biggest run for its money of the drinkable dairy-alternative options. Milk was discussed in 6,636,625 posts, compared to almond milk’s 134, 359 posts; rice milk’s 10,318 posts; soy milk’s 138,359 posts; and store brand milk’s 1,564 posts; although greek yogurt conversation was strong at 306,936 posts during that time period. The conversation about alternatives represents only a percentage of cow milk’s conversation, however, indicating milk is still holding its ground in the minds of consumers.
In addition to larger volume, milk also claims the most balanced gender representation in its conversation. 48% of posts about milk are authored by men, contrasted by underrepresented male demographics around 30% in the alternatives’ populations: rice milk, 34% male; soy milk, 36% male; greek yogurt, 31% male; and almond milk, 33% male.
Soy milk seems to be the substitute of choice for those who have dairy restrictions; in other words, those who were not in the cow milk market to begin with due to health restrictions. In this conversation, the leading keywords and topics discuss “dairy free” and soy milk in conjunction with real milk. It is also a popular coffee ingredient, based on the recurrence of coffee-related keywords. Another substitute chosen for health reasons is greek yogurt. Most popular in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, the non-drinkable option garners comments about being both “yummy” and “healthy,” a highly-sought combination in the current health craze. Rice milk, though not highly discussed, is approved by its audience, with all the topic waves mentioning liking it, and sentiments 38% positive (higher than soy milk, greek yogurt, and store brand cow milk).
These alternatives have their own niche markets, but as for the substitute with attention in the larger milk consumer population, almond milk is the threat to analyze. This product has drawn the former cow milk consumers, mainly for reasons of taste or perceived higher nutritional content. Drinkers of almond milk predictably locate in urban areas that historically keep up with trends, especially health-augmenting fads. Essentially, those who did not live in areas known for dairy production appeared to be more eager to make the switch to almond milk. New England strongly vouched for “real” or “regular” milk, as social refers to cow milk, while almond milk has its following in New York and the western states surrounding California. Surprisingly, there is a noticeable lack of social presence in Wisconsin, a state famous for its dairy production. With the knowledge of who engages in the milk conversation, the next step is to determine how or why these consumers are seeking the divergent experiences offered by real milk versus almond milk. An small number of posts announce that alternatives are preferable to real milk. The 4% who dislike milk are overshadowed by the 47% who share negative sentiments about almond milk. Twice as many people in the real milk conversation share lifecasting updates, meaning more people talk about drinking milk than drinking almond milk.
Milk is also talked about as a necessity for eating certain foods, like cereal and cookies. In these cases, almond milk was mentioned as an unacceptable replacement.
Poured a nice bowl of cereal to find we only have almond milk, so I tried it….. This sucks — sam willems (@samwillems94) April 13, 2014
As it turns out, almond milk is actually not very well liked in the social consumer base. While 6% claim to love it, a much larger share – 47% – say they do not like almond milk. Diets and weight loss seem to be the motivating factor in replacing milk, judging from the social conversation. Milk lovers, on the other hand, care more about general health. Consumption motivated by weight loss is less sustainable than incorporation into a healthy lifestyle.
The affinities of consumers talking about milk builds upon this contrast. While people talking about drinking milk on Twitter have 7X stronger affinity for nutrition than Twitter authors in general, almond milk fans have 10X affinity for weight loss. Put in direct comparison with milk drinkers, the strength of affinity for authors talking about almond milk and weight loss increases to 26X. Milk consumers have 2X affinity for health compared to almond milk consumers, but authors talking about almond milk have 16X affinity for health food.
What’s the distinction between consumer interest in health and health food? Further analysis of the segment insights for consumers interested in health food and health sheds more light on the nuances between these two interests. Health has shared interests that are mainstream, lifestyle-focused, such as news and media and world news. On the other hand, health food shared segments include dieting, health, nutrition, among interests that are all related to health. This difference is not apparent in the surface terms “health” and “health food,” but examining the followers behind these topics differentiates people focused mainly on losing weight/conscious health advocates versus people who consider health as a daily aspect of their lives. Focusing on milk affinities compared to the general Twitter audience, health interests skew toward the milk conversation, including the Affordable Care Act. Agriculture is a prominent interest, demonstrating strong brand affinity among milk consumers. Affinities for cooking (7X), recipes (15X), parenting (10X), and being a mom (8X), correlate with a meal prepared for a family, as well as pointing to the incorporation of milk with other foods. Other food-based affinities that skew toward milk are usually aligned with vacations, restaurants, or more luxury scenarios, including dining (5X), wine (5X), food and drink (4X).
Knowing the audience’s interests smoothly translates to their interests surrounding milk specifically. A leading topic for real milk conversation was “chocolate milk,” often discussed in the context of post workout refueling, dovetailing with milk consumers’ disproportionate interest in health. Chocolate almond milk also comes up a lot, but only due to its good flavor.
Another key insight provided by ForSight’s automated topic clustering feature, Topic Waves, is that most of the milk conversation is active–discussing drinking milk, refueling after a workout, not having milk when one needs it, etc.–as well as discussing the accompanying part of the snack or meal. Lifecasting is a large component of both conversations, and a valuable reflection of consumer experience. Eliminating speculatory conversation, such as which is healthier or tastes better, we filtered each conversation based solely on how method or context of consumption.
Milk had more go-to combinations (cookies, cereal, coffee, tea, post workout drinks and smoothies) than almond milk, which was only combined with cereal or coffee in conversation. Milk may be a more versatile product in consumers’ eyes because almond milk is perceived primarily as a drink to aid weight loss. On the other hand, milk is a necessity to eat many common food items. Interestingly, “coffee and milk” leads the milk conversation, with coffee drinkers typically refusing to switch to almond or soy in their morning cup of joe.
Weight loss is again represented in the almond milk conversation, overlapping into the other lifecasting situations; many who discuss using almond milk on their cereal or in their smoothies choose to do so in an attempt to cut calories. The average length of a diet is five weeks, meaning that if this is the biggest proponent for almond milk, the threat is temporary. Additionally, drinking amounts for a majority of the conversation, meaning almond milk is used far less often to mix with other foods. Here are some key insights that stem from this compilation of consumer information:
- When drinking or using milk with something else, people prefer dairy milk.
- Chocolate dairy milk is a post-workout drink of choice.
- Almond milk consumers talk about the act of drinking more than dairy milk consumers, showing its lower versatility.
- Almond milk is discussed as a weight loss tool. Is almond milk more of a idealistic mentality than a fundamentally good product?
Our analysis suggests that the dairy industry should stay true to its product line and wait for the non-dairy milk phase to pass. The product has not been replaced, just sidelined–potentially temporarily–by a specific demographic seeking immediate results instead of consistent lifestyle choices. In the meantime, the dairy industry would do well to target their marketing campaigns to their known strengths. Possible campaigns would emphasize the refueling ability of chocolate milk to the workout population, depict milk and cereal, cookies, coffee, or similarly a milk combination that shows milk as a necessity for a better meal, advertise skim milk as a more nutritional lower-calorie alternative, and demonstrate that milk is good for maintenance of a healthy lifestyle as opposed to a short-term diet. ForSight dives deeply into social conversations to understand the reputation to products in a market. By understanding consumers’ changing perception about dairy, an industry with a focused and fairly unchanging product, strategies to regain consumers’ attentions can be effectively targeted. This information can be used by companies in the dairy industry to make decisions about redesigning product and altering marketing campaigns.