It seems like just yesterday that soy milk was popping up in grocery store aisles and on coffee shop counters everywhere like some shiny new status symbol. At the local Starbucks, enlightened customers would make it known to the world with that they would like their latte with soy milk, thanks.
And yet now soy milk prophets can scarcely be found—since the soy heyday of 2008, soy milk sales have fallen by nearly 60 percent.
Back in 2008, soy milk was a $1.2 billion industry in the US, according to Euromonitor International. But since then a dark cloud has formed over soy milk, as Fortune reports. The fall is largely due to debunking some health claims about soy milk, but the rise of other milk alternatives like almond and coconut milk hasn't helped, either.
In 1999, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed soy milk producers to advertise a supposed link between soy protein and a reduced risk of heart disease, helping soy milk gain the status of a healthy alternative to dairy milk. But later research went against earlier findings, and the American Heart Association ultimately wrote a letter to the FDA advising them to quit it with the health claims. Some studies even suggested that soy milk could increase the risk of breast cancer, and the fact that nearly all soy produced in the US has been genetically modified hasn't sat well with the kind of consumers who sought out soy milk in the first place.
Almond milk has largely filled soy milk's shiny shoes, outselling it two-to-one these days, and non-dairy and non-soy milk alternatives are now a $1.4 billion dollar industry in the US. The popular soy, almond, and coconut milk brand Silk has seen its offerings fare quite differently in recent years. Its soy milk sales are half what they once were, while almond and coconut milk revenues are up by 300 and 150 percent, respectively.
Almond milk, the top dog of the faux milk game, is seen as an even healthier alternative to soy milk, with fewer calories and fat. But the almond milk craze has its own flaws. First, almond milk isn't great for the planet. It takes more than a gallon of water to grow a single almond—though almond growers say they have lowered and continue to lower their water use—and 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown in drought-stricken California. To make almond milk, almonds are then mixed with more water. So those choosing a supposedly more environmentally friendly dairy alternative may be in for a surprise.
That said, maybe it's not as big of a deal as it seems—some almond milk producers have gotten in trouble for selling products that contain almost no almonds. And if a consumer has a problem with dairy milk, soy milk, and almond milk in their coffee, there's always another option.
Namely, to order it black.