An increasing variety of non-soy plant-based alternatives are entering the market made with cereals, nuts, hemp or flaxseed.

ARNHEM, THE NETHERLANDS —  The rise of dairy alternative drinks is a global phenomenon and the market category may reach $16.3 billion in annual sales by 2018. Investments into the category by Danone S.A. in Europe and North America and Want Want in China will continue to fuel future growth, according to the market research company Innova Market Insights.

Dairy alternative drinks accounted for 7% of global dairy launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2016, up from 6% in 2015. Actual global launch numbers more than doubled over a five-year period. Just over half of these launches were positioned as lactose-free, nearly 40% as vegan and just under a quarter as G.M.O.-free.

“The dairy alternatives market has seen rising levels of interest in recent years, spurred mainly by consumers increasingly looking for lactose-free, dairy-free and plant-based/vegan options as healthy lifestyle choices, rather than regarding them as simply for those with allergies or intolerances,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “The category has been further boosted by the growing availability and promotion of plant-based options to traditional dairy lines, particularly beverages, but also cultured products such as yogurt, frozen desserts and ice cream, creamers and cheese.”

China is enjoying strong growth for dairy alternative drinks, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7% forecast between 2010 and 2018, reaching a market value of $6.7 billion, compared with a CAGR of 10% in the United States, according to Innova.

Additional information from the market researcher shows dairy alternative launches grew at a CAGR of 20% over the 2012-16 period. Meat substitutes had a CAGR of 14% over the period, while the use of a vegan positioning in global food and beverage launches tripled from 2012 to 2016.

“In the move to offer something new, we are starting to see an increasing variety of non-soy plant-based alternatives, including cereals such as rice, oats and barley, and nuts — such as almonds, hazelnuts and macadamias — as well as more unusual options such as hemp and flaxseed,” Ms. Williams said.

While the category growth rates are undeniable, another market research company, The NPD Group, Chicago, reported earlier this year that the market for dairy- and meat-based alternatives in the United States remains a niche. Consumption of dairy alternatives has grown to 21 annual eatings per capita in 2016, up from 19 in 2013, according to The NPD Group. But consumption of plant-based meat alternatives has declined to 3 annual eatings per capita in 2016 from 5 in 2013. Comparatively, the average person eats center-of-plate meat 73 times a year and consumes milk 117 times annually.