Remember when milk came from cows and the almond’s crowning glory was the Almond Joy bar? Yeah, that was 2010. Between 2011 and 2012, sales of almond milk grew by a whopping 70 percent. That’s — dare we say it — nuts! Fast forward to 2017 and we’re faced with a wall of nut-based milks at any major grocery store. Which do you choose? The cheapest of the bunch, because surely they’re all the same? Or do you pick the one with the higher price tag, because higher price = better quality, right?
Thirsty for answers, our team hit the stores on a mission: is premium almond milk worth the extra cost?
We purchased six brands of almond milk, all unsweetened vanilla, and blindly sampled each. We then rated the brands in regards to taste, appearance and creaminess. Once each brand was revealed, we reviewed packaging and compared prices.
The contenders (priced: low to high)
Price: $2.79/64 fl oz = $0.04/fl oz
Taste and appearance: Cloudy, gray color; nutty aftertaste; neutral flavor.
Packaging: The first word that comes to mind when looking at Essential Everyday’s package is “generic.” Falling short on appetite appeal, the almonds are almost completely hidden in the imagery. Also, we couldn’t help but note how unnatural the milk pour looks.
Price: $2.99/64 fl oz = $0.05/fl oz
Taste and appearance: slightly nutty flavor; smooth texture; natural, off-white coloring.
Packaging: Silk’s recent brand refresh makes its package stand out among other cartons on the shelves. The logo is very prominent on the package, prioritizing brand recognition over product category. Featuring just two oversized almonds simplifies the design while clearly calling it out as a non-dairy milk. With all the nut and flavor options out there, we also appreciate the clear callout for “unsweetened”.
Price: $2.99/64 fl oz = $0.05/fl oz
Taste and appearance: thin-looking; hint of vanilla flavor; creamy texture.
Packaging: Like Silk, Simply Balanced relies heavily on its branding to be noticed on shelves. The brand has a very modern, minimalist approach and features imagery that feels natural. With very subtle callouts for flavor and variety, the design depends on this imagery for product category and flavor recognition.
Whole Foods 365
Price: $3.99/64 fl oz = $0.06/fl oz
Taste and appearance: Indulgent vanilla flavor; creamy texture; slightly gray color.
Packaging: Much like Essential Everyday, Whole Foods 365’s packaging also has a generic feel. The branding feels secondary, as the product category takes prominence on the carton. Though the imagery clearly reads “almond”, we’re missing the color callout for unsweetened and a visual flavor indicator for vanilla.
Price: $3.99/48 fl oz = $0.08/fl oz
Taste and appearance: Gray color; strong vanilla smell; smooth, creamy texture; noticeable aftertaste.
Packaging: Califia Farms’ unique bottle design is a refreshing break from the other cartons in the category. Its simplicity and fresh typography give it a modern, premium feel. The minimalist approach makes it seem natural and fresh.
Price: $3.49/32 fl oz = $0.11/fl oz
Taste and appearance: pale yellow color with noticeable chunks; paper-like taste; chalky texture. NOTE: shelf-stable.
Packaging: Pacific’s package design fell flat for us. The carton’s imagery lacks appetite appeal and feels dated. We’d also like to see more clear color variation or callouts for their flavor varieties.
So, does price actually matter?
We didn’t find a clear relationship between price and taste, as our favorite brands were low-to-mid-range in cost. Among the brands tested, the three most expensive had premium packaging or were organic. One we loved (Whole Foods 365), the other two didn’t quite measure up in taste (Pacific & Califia Farms). The three least expensive brands tested almost equally in terms of flavor, all tasting good but fairly standard.
Whole Foods 365. We loved its rich, nutty taste and creamy texture. And, at $3.99 per 64 fluid ounces, it falls into the middle price-range of the brands we tested, with the added bonus of being organic.
Best Overall Value
Silk. At $2.99 for 64 fluid ounces, Silk just edged out the other budget-friendly contenders with its subtle nutty flavor and creamy texture.
Califia Farms is a great example of how, in a crowded category, a brand can set itself apart with beautiful packaging. This unique bottle is a clear standout among the competition and has a significant impact on perceived valued. Regardless of actual product quality, consumers see the premium packaging and think: premium product.
Shelf-stable vs. refrigerated. We were surprised to taste a very clear difference between these categories. As the only shelf-stable brand we tested, Pacific missed the mark in flavor and appearance. Though the brand has historically performed well in our brand tests, it couldn’t compete in this almond milk head-to-head. Perhaps it would perform better among other shelf-stable varieties.