Should Cafe Still Charge "Extra" for Non-Dairy Milk?

Heard an interesting debate between 2 people today while waiting for my coffee.

Person1's view is that café shouldn't be charging extra for non-dairy milk (eg soy, almond etc) because it's a replacement for the cow's milk. Person2 said it's because non-dairy milk cost more so café are making up for the "extras". Person1 said that might be the case 10 years ago but now prices of non-diary milk has come down a lot of there is no reason to still charge customers, in fact the charge has gone up as well, ranging from $0.70 to $1 for some places(from $0.50).

Keen to hear thoughts of coffee drinkers what they think? Should cafés continue to charge customers for non-dairy milk in 2021?


  • +17 votes

    Woolworths brand soy is $1.15/L, and cows milk is $1.20/L. So by that metric, no, they shouldn't charge more.

    But is there more wastage for soy than for cows milk?

    • Well that's true but every other soy except Woolworths brand is significantly more expensive than cows milk, so I guess it depends what brand they use. Same for almond and lactose free - generally more expensive.

      • if i were the owner of the cafe, i'd buy the woolworths brand soy milk, but still charge extra for the non-dairy option. Until my competition doesn't charge for it, i won't either.

        Hence, every cafe charges for this option!

        • Any good coffee cafe will use Barista quality milk's. This goes for oat, soy and almond. They will most definitely not use Woolworths brand as it will not produce the optimal texture or flavour for coffee and that would be a poor outcome for maintaining a quality cafe.

          • @sAmiZZle: "Barista quality milk's" I love this.

            Basically Colesworth in another package lol

            • @BrokenTissue: Hahaha, it is a thing. It might sound ridiculous, but this is not a case of all milk's being equal, I'll assure you of that. The profile of the milk, fat content, etc, does indeed make a difference. Anyone who has a good taste for milk based coffee could tell a basic store-bought milk apart from barista milk. I for one can.

            • @BrokenTissue: I suggest that you check the ingredients.
              Dont just assume and apply the all milk are equal thinking that you see in cow milk to soy milk because the nature of the industries are wildly different.
              One one side you have soy protein, veg oil and various types of fillers added to imitate milk from water and protein powder.
              One the other side you have actual soy beans blended in water.

              Imo, it's misleading for Woolies to advertise soy protein drink as soy milk, but then so many people are happy with the product, or don't mind/know/care about the difference.

          • @sAmiZZle: This is actually not true. The scale of good soy milks goes like this:

            1. Bonsoy 2. Happy Happy 3. Coles 4. Everything else

            Everything else is actually crap I can't believe there is a market for them.

        • And you would lose all your customers. I've only had soy milk a few times in coffee but I can spot cheap stuff a mile away. After taste is the worst on cheap stuff.

    • Wastage? Because it isn't as common?

      I think that you could have argued for that a few years ago. But even in my rural town in NSW, it is noticeable to me how many more people are drinking or requesting non-dairy milk for their coffee.

      Disclaimer: I've been drinking soy milk since about 1998.

      • Right, but if you get one order a week for soy milk then you're opening, storing, and paying to chill a whole carton of soy milk just for one customer.

        • I don't think it's the issue of opening and storing the carton, I'd say the wastage is in the frothing step. Watch a busy barista and they'll fill up the jug half way, foam it, pour out a few coffees, put more milk in, etc. They'll only completely empty the milk frothing jug every now and then. If one person comes in and orders a non-dairy then they'll have to get a new jug, put some in (almost definitely more than they'll use for just one coffee) make one coffee and then discard the rest and wash the jug.

          It's more wastage, and it's more work, and it's a break in the workflow. I think a small extra charge is totally justified.

          • @macrocephalic: Though really even better would be to raise all prices for all things they sell a fraction to cover the cost of cleaning the thing because it’s used so infrequently. It’s more convenient to hide extra costs, for the customer anyway. It takes more forethought and math for the business itself.

          • @macrocephalic: Where are you getting your coffees from? Any good cafe will not reuse any milk that has already been stretched. They should know exactly how much milk is required to produce how ever many coffees required for an order. If they are reusing leftover milk and just adding more milk to that I'd recommended you find somewhere better.

            • @sAmiZZle: Yeah I second that. Milk will start to sour pretty quickly once it's heated, cooled and heated over and over again. Ideally the milk jug should be washed between every milk frothing.

          • @macrocephalic: Maybe in the Qantas lounge, I'd tip the coffee on the counter if they tried it anywhere that was charging $4.50+

        • No need to fridge soy. Actually pretty easy to store unlike milk. So one carton not so bad

    • You can't really use normal soy for barrista coffee as it doesn't foam the same.

      bonsoy is what, 3-4x times more in cost than homebrand soy?

      Same goes for lactose free milk made for coffees.

      • Having worked in a cafe I reckon this is probably the answer.

        It's not often you will see them using home brand milks.

      • This! Most cafes use Bonsoy, not home brand/supermarket stuff, and they cost a lot.

        Most cafe operators will tell you they actually make less profit on soy coffees due to this cost difference.

    • This is a ridiculous comment. No cafe would ever use a Woolworths brand soy milk in their coffee.
      The premium milk alternatives required cost far more than cows milk.

  • Almond milk that doesn't burn when heated for coffees doesn't come from the supermarket, and 2 years ago was about $2.50 a l

    • The barista version is $4/L

      • False economy.

        I found that Aldi Oat Milk at $2 has more oat and less additives than Vitasoy which is a lot more expensive.

        • Aldi oat milk tastes much worse though.

          • @Autonomic: Each to their own. In Italy Expresso is only 1 Euro. Can't see the price gougers doing that here.

            • @netjock: Cost of living and many factors account for price. You can't straight up compare pricing vs countries.

              • @Cletus vandamme: You think Rome or Milan is cheap to live in? Australian exceptionalism, some how we just put up with it.

                • @netjock: The cost of the ingredients is about the same however the quality is much higher.

                  Wages are much much lower, there isn't a minimum wage at all, people compete directly for jobs with the rest of the EU population. Italy in particular attracts many immigrants from Romania, which has poverty wages - less than 200 euro a week.

                  If people didn't pay these high prices in Australia, they would be reduced. Fact is $4 isn't a lot of money for an Australian.

                  • @Superannuation: When have you seen a Romanian make your coffee at your tourist destination.

                    Having got many expressions at Italian motor way service stations I haven't found a person serving coffee that isn't Italian.

                    I can say I've seen more Asian kids make my coffee in Australia than Romanians in Italy.

                    • @netjock: You will see them in back of house, not serving coffee, in the industrialised cities. That is assuming you could pick them, Italians aren't a homogeneous population, and romanians don't look that different.

                      That isn't really the point though. The average wage in southern italy is 1200 per month. In Milan the average is approximately double - about 2500 per month, brought up by all the professionals working there. The person making your coffee is making less than half the Australian minimum wage

                      You are correct, the cost of living is high there, if you earn local wages.

                      • @Superannuation:

                        You will see them in back of house, not serving coffee, in the industrialised cities

                        Like we don't have visa over stayers (or exploited back packers) at back of house doing work. Like Australia is so clean. Isn't it just pretending that everything is above board to justify higher prices?

                        • @netjock: I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing anymore.

                          You said that in Italy a coffee costs 1 Euro, and local prices are price gouging.

                          I have shown you, based on local wages, that 1 euro in for an Italian is similar to $4 Aud for an Australian. They are both charging a similar proportion of an average persons hourly wage.

                          Why is Australia's price a price gouge and not the italian price? They could also charge only 50 cents and still cover costs.

                          What is your definition of price gouging?

                          Your talk about Australia being clean or not is confusing the issue, but for the record, Australia is much 'cleaner' by any measure compared to italy. It isn't even called exploiting immigrant labour in Italy, as there is no law to protect them in the first place.

                          • @Superannuation:

                            Australia is much 'cleaner' by any measure compared to italy

                            Okay if all the back packer exploitation on farms is untrue.

                            I have shown you, based on local wages, that 1 euro in for an Italian is similar to $4 Aud for an Australian

                            Simply untrue. If you think about the labour cost input into a cup of coffee then you are just dreaming up on costs. It doesn't explain why high foot traffic area coffee is $4 when lower foot traffic area is also $4. Selling more coffee means it would be cheaper labour per cut if barista is constantly working.

                            Most of Australia just dreaming of high salaries that feeds back into high property prices which goes into cost of living. Our own vicious cycle.

                            Oatly is made in Sweden, and Bonsoy is made in Japan therefore Australian influence in cost is very low. It is just another price gouge.

                            • @netjock:

                              Okay if all the back packer exploitation on farms is untrue.

                              No, even if the backpacker exploitation is true. What is called backpacker exploitation here is the status quo in Italy.

                              You seem to have a very low opinion of Australia.

                              • @Superannuation: You seem to have a low opinion of Italy.

                                I just have a low opinion of the way that Australia justifies everything. There is an explanation for everything but nothing ever gets fixed.

                                • @netjock: Australian exceptionalism is real.

                                  I know quite a few expats working here from other countries - in very well paying roles - and they all marvel at the fact you can blow a hundred bucks so easily for a midweek shop.

                                  I have also come to understand that the nickname "Treasure Island" is sometimes thrown about for Australia by some foreign exporters - their margins here are the highest anywhere.

                                  Yeah, we have a lot going for us here and it comes at a cost, but the religious defense of our issues is a big problem.

            • @netjock: Those prices include:

              • rent
              • utilities
              • insurances (of which there are many)
              • taxes, taxes, taxes
              • salaries
              • 9.5% super

              Most hospitality places have slim margins due to many of these costs of running a business. Many of those that do it right, also suffer from those that don't. There are a small, but substantial number of places who aren't playing fairly by not paying their workcover premiums, superannuation or fully reporting their income to the ATO..

  • Cafe suitable dairy alternative milks defs cost more than cows milk

  • Generally speaking it should cost the same or maybe slightly more due to having to stock multiple types of milk maybe but it all comes to what type of non-diary milk they use. The ones I choose to go to use Milk Lab or similar so I’m happy to pay the $0.50 extra but no more than that.

  • I don't mind paying extra for expensive milks - Bonsoy, Oatly, Califa, etc. I do mind paying extra for the cheap brands. If it's an unknown place I always check for brand before buying - i'd usually rather have a black than a crappy white.

    Charging extra for So Good and similar? GTFO. It also tells me how good a coffee shop you are if you're willing to use cheap-arse milks.

    • I've seen McCafe use So Good before smh

    • So Good is fortified with not just calcium but also vitamins A, B1, B2, B12, D2 & phosphorous. 1 cup has half the RDI of calcium & vitamin D. Bonsoy doesn’t even have calcium.

      • This post is about coffee and plant milks.

        For me coffee is a treat (vice?), not part of consuming an adequate nutrition profile.

        I don't drink coffee for calcium or vitamins. If you do then I suppose that's an important consideration for you, but then I also suggest maybe you re-think the rest of your diet.

    • So good are ok with their oat milk barista edition but that's about it. It's a very decent alternative to oatly.
      Soy milk is solely bonsoy. Almond milk is solely milklab.

      • Agree on all counts. The barista versions are different. (True for Oatly too - the barista version rocks, the other version sucks.)

        I now use So Good Barista Oat all the time at home - I stock up when it's discounted to $3. But I don't really see it used in cafes. It's a pity they used the So Good name on the new barista stuff

        • My wife is obsessed with this Alternative Oat milk, so much so that she's stopped getting the free coffee from the cafe she works at (which uses Oatley, which she now won't drink as it's "too sweet") to pay full price at another place that does use it.

          Got boxes of the stuff at home as well, it's not bad - I eat it with my cereal, being lactose intolerant, and it's fine.

    • This.

      I tried to save money by switching to the Coles Oat Barista and it tasted very average. It's worth the extra $$$ for Oatly, Minor figures

  • Dairy

    Diary is something you write your schedule in.

    • +2 votes

      Does make it harder to buy milk for a shop if not diarised. It would cost more to buy milk on demand.

    • Was hoping OP would correct it x 5 times. I suppose I should correct it now.

  • Most non-dairy is more expensive (yes, you can find exceptions - but your average cafe is often not buying their milk from Woolworths). Plus usage of it is lower, so wastage of non-dairy is higher. Plus the purchaser is willing to pay more (generally speaking). All these add up to the logical outcome of a higher price.

    Is that fair? Well, that is debatable. But it is logical.

    • There might be other factors like having to buy a more expensive coffee machine, extra time training the baristas, harder to get stock ordered, etc etc.
      These hidden costs can be negated, if they aren't, they really do all up. As to how much, I wouldn't know, it might be as high as +$1 or as low as -$1 (yes, it's possible dairy adds up to higher costs).

      Me? I really don't like the taste, texture, and aftertaste of most non-dairy milks. And sometimes even certain dairy milks. For me, full-fat dairy milk is nutritous and tasty. If I had to pay a price premium for that, I would… and would be happy about it too.

      So I would rather promote a "taste-based" scale of costs for food, as that's most logical. The other side of the coin is sustainability. Maybe there should be "animal tax" which causes dairy-coffees to cost $1 higher, helping the incentive in the public's eye. An example, if all BEV cars get much lower Stamp Duty+Rego+ CTP compared to ICE cars. Or if selling Solar Power back to the grid gave you a higher cost than you purchase due to Clean vs Dirty Power.

  • In my small rural NSW town, there are 5 cafés that I go to for coffee, some on a regular basis, some only once in a while. There are others that I don't go to at all.

    The busiest of the cafés I go to regularly has a 50 cents surcharge for soy which I pay, but only because I meet friends there most weeks. The most tourist-frequented café doesn't advertise whether or not they charge for soy and I haven't been able to work it out, either, from their receipts. The other place in town I go to on a regular basis doesn't charge.

    I've noticed that Muffin Break and Jamaica Blue both don't charge for plant-based milks. Coffee Club, I think charges 70 cents. They're over-priced on almost everything that they sell, so I'm quite happy to give them a miss.

    About 7 years ago on a drive to Sydney one night, I stopped at the BP Roadhouse at Marulan. I was going to get a cup of coffee, but I noticed that they had a sign advertising a 70 cents surcharge. These days, I think that's a rip-off; back then it was highway robbery. When I asked the lady behind the counter if that 70 cents surcharge was the same for all sizes of drinks and she confirmed that it was, I changed my mind about the coffee. I'll have a jumbo-size chocolate milkshake, please. (They had regular, large and jumbo sizes.) She realised that she'd been 'had', even though it probably wasn't she who set the prices. She gave me the filthiest look!

    • That is brilliant, love your work!!!

      I always find it funny that the surcharge is ALWAYS the same no matter what size you order.

      • Thanks for the compliment.

        Yep, that really annoys me, too!

        (My mate who was with me had to go outside because he was laughing so much.)