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Why do coffee shops charge extra for nondairy milk?

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ERICA CARDOZO | STAFF

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OCTOBER 26, 2022

If you love coffee, you may have noticed that many coffee shops charge extra for nondairy milk alternatives such as oat milk, almond milk and soy milk. For college students, this extra $1 that is oftentimes added to a roughly $6 latte in Berkeley can seem puzzling. It might make people question that if we are trying to be more sustainable in how we approach food production, why charge extra for an alternative to dairy milk? 

If people opt for healthier and more environmentally friendly alternatives, it seems logical to not charge extra for that decision. Whether it be at Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee or more local shops to Berkeley such as 1951, Sodoi, Romeo’s or Cafe Milano you will find an extra charge for nondairy milk. This poses a question to the consumer about whether they are willing to spend an extra $1 on nondairy milk, even though it is the more environmentally conscious option. 

This issue is not only recognized by college students but people around the country who chose to order a coffee with nondairy milk. Longtime vegetarian Paul McCartney took a stand by approaching the CEO of Starbucks to equate the price of nondairy milk to regular milk explaining, “I sincerely hope that for the future of the planet and animal welfare you are able to implement this policy.”

Not only is this upcharge unfortunate for those concerned about animal welfare and environmental issues, but for those who have a lactose intolerance. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 68% of the world’s population struggle with lactose intolerance. By charging more for nondairy milk, the large population of those with dairy malabsorption have to pay more, showing that companies may not be recognizing the potential side effects their product has on the health of their consumers.

When you order a latte from a coffee store, depending on the size, there will be about 8-15 ounces of milk. The average person orders a cup of coffee a day, which is about 12 ounces of milk if you just factor in coffee alone. A study from the University of Oxford researching the environmental impacts of milk found that consuming a glass of dairy milk a day (volume in an average coffee) for a year requires 7,000 square feet of land, about 10 times the amount of oat milk.

Dr. Adrian Camilleri from the University of Technology-Sydney notes that, “most consumers underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions saved by switching from dairy milk to plant-based milk.” Research shows that nondairy alternatives use less water, require no animal usage and emit less greenhouse gases overall reducing environmental stress on the planet. Even though the actual price of production of dairy versus nondairy milk is still being researched, it is safe to assume that in terms of carbon pricing nondairy milk is lower because of fewer environmental effects. 

Although many people go through the process of paying extra day in and day out, the problem behind this is much more complex than may be thought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes the dairy industry, offering federal reimbursements for cow’s milk that is served in more than 50 million school lunches nationwide. This is in the wake of a growing intolerance to dairy among children and a movement to make school lunches healthier. Even though the dairy industry is very harmful to the environment, the prices remain low for school lunches to lattes alike because the cost of production is paid for by the government.

Interestingly enough, a research study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Examining the Decline in U.S. Per Capita Consumption of Fluid Cow’s Milk, 2003-18,” found that dairy milk is declining in popularity, while nondairy milk is on the rise. As alternative milk options are becoming more and more popular, we as consumers may see a change in this policy in the future. Blue Bottle Coffee is already taking strides to be more sustainable, setting oat milk as its “default” milk as it foams perfectly like regular milk, and following various studies it found its consumers favored the taste over dairy.

The question of why nondairy milk has an extra cost has been a recent discussion among college students who prefer to choose an alternative to dairy. As we see people filling their fridges with oat milk and almond milk, this price discrepancy will become more and more pronounced. Next time you order a cup of coffee, you may think about the “tax” on alternative milks and wonder why no change has yet been made. 

Contact Ashley Carter at 

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OCTOBER 26, 2022