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New Year, New Me, New Default

DefaultVeg Plant Based Trends

January 9, 2023


Year after year, millions of Americans resolve to do better in the New Year, and year after year, the most popular resolutions pertain to diet. These promises come in different shapes and sizes — “cleaner” eating, “healthier” eating, less sugar, more heart-healthy foods — but all stem from a similar wish: to fuel our bodies with nutritious food that leaves us feeling strong and proud. Luckily, our veg-friendly food market makes this goal easier with each passing year, offering more plant-based options than ever before. This year you’ll have additional help from somewhere you might not have expected: your local coffeeshop.

A consistent 25–33% of the country makes New Year’s resolutions in any given year, young folks partaking more than older generations; in 2022, a full 40% of adults under 30 made resolutions. Unfortunately, even the bright-eyed among us don’t always manage to follow through. Three-quarters of people who make resolutions abandon them by the beginning of February, as you probably know firsthand if you’ve ever made a resolution yourself. Maybe a gym membership no longer fits in your budget. Maybe you waited too long to book a pilates class, and the class filled up. Maybe cooking from scratch interferes with afterschool pick-up. Countless obstacles can appear out of nowhere and push us off course, but in 2023, your morning cup of coffee won’t be one of them.

We know from research that those who resolve to eat more heart-healthy, high-fiber, low-sugar foods in the new year will probably try to eat fewer animal products; nutrition-conscious consumers overlap heavily with the plant-based and plant-curious. We also know that milk consumption in the U.S. has been trending downward for more than 70 years, with the exception of one specific use: inside of hot beverages. Fewer Americans are drinking cow’s milk on its own, and fewer Americans are adding milk to their cereal — but the milk that people add to their coffees and teas has undergone no statistically significant changes in at least two decades. The splash of milk that people add to their coffee today is the same splash of milk people were adding when Kosovo belonged to Serbia, when YouTube was still in beta mode, and when Shrek premiered at Cannes. Coffees and teas are the final bastion of dairy’s reign in daily life… until now.

Coffeeshops are adapting to consumer interests and are moving beyond merely offering plant-based milks as an option: they’re starting to serve plantmilks by default. This phenomenon is emerging worldwide, from indie coffeehouse Birch Coffee in New York to LinkedIn’s office cafe in San Francisco to the world’s largest Starbucks roastery in Shanghai. Portland’s Stumptown Roasters announced their cafes’ new oatmilk default just last week! What does this mean for you? If your New Year’s Resolution is to cut back on cholesterol, eat low-carbon foods, or divest from factory farms — to ditch dairy — these forward-thinking coffeeshops will help “nudge” you toward the 2023 you envisioned.

Traditionally, coffeeshops have nudged customers toward dairy via mechanisms such as upcharges and menu placement, making it harder for the “new you” to stick to your guns and choose a plant-based milk. Behavioral science has found that your success in sticking to a new habit may have less to do with your resolve and more to do with the way you are presented with choices. Changing businesses’ choice architecture (i.e., flipping the default) hugely eases the transition to a plant-powered future by shaping institutional operations to favor the sustainable choice, regardless of each individual’s willpower or mindfulness. At an oatmilk-default coffeeshop, you’ll encounter fewer barriers, inconveniences, and temptations. No annoying upcharge, and no need to explain anything to the barista — just smooth sailing all the way to your dairy-free latté.

Sounds pretty nice, right? We think so, too, which is why we’ve launched a new campaign around it. Over the past two years the Better Food Foundation has partnered with institutions from coffeeshops and corporations to universities and hospitals — plantmilk defaults work anywhere that coffee is served — and now we’ve built our consulting experience into an entire campaign to help spread the message and amplify the trend. You can play an important role! Join our mailing list to gain access to resources that will help you advocate for oatmilk defaults wherever you drink coffee.

With coffeeshops on your side, it’ll be easier than ever to make your coffee default veg. Cheers to the new year. Drink up.

P.S. Is your local coffeeshop doing away with upcharges, or even serving plantmilk by default? Tell us about it so we can feature them in a future publication.

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