Where to Shop for Dairy-Free Products - dummies

Where to Shop for Dairy-Free Products

By Suzanne Havala Hobbs

Where you shop for nondairy products depends on your food preferences and the variety of stores in your area. Many people have favorite stores where they go to buy specific items. Sometimes, specific brands of nondairy products can’t be found in supermarkets and have to be purchased at health food stores or neighborhood co-ops.

Your access to natural foods stores and co-ops that carry a wide variety of nondairy products may depend, in part, on where you live. People who live in larger cities, affluent communities, or college towns typically have the most options. People who live in small, rural communities usually have fewer choices, though they do have access to online stores.

The most obvious location you can shop for your food (nondairy included) is at your local supermarket. The good news about your neighborhood supermarket is that it has probably undergone a makeover in the past few years because of the transformation in the way people eat.

As a result of this makeover, you likely can find more and more healthy foods up and down the aisles. In fact, if you live in a big city, it’s possible that your neighborhood supermarket carries a wide enough variety of nondairy products that you can do all or most of your shopping in one stop.

The natural foods industry — including organic foods — has seen a tremendous growth in popularity since the mid-1990s. The growth of that industry is what first brought more nondairy specialty products into mainstream supermarkets.

The soymilk, nondairy cheese, and other specialty foods that once were sold only in health food stores have moved into ordinary supermarkets. What’s more, large multinational food companies have bought many of the small companies that once produced those foods. Those products now sit side by side with mainstream brands on the shelves in your local supermarket. All of this is good news for anyone interested in rice milk, almond milk, dairy-free coffee creamer, and soy yogurt.

If you’ve never before set foot in a natural foods store, it’s time to do so. For anyone eating a dairy-free diet, natural foods stores are the guaranteed, one-stop shopping destination for all the nondairy foods and beverages you need. Natural foods also are a great place to go to sample a variety of different kinds of products and to compare brands.

If your supermarket doesn’t supply you with everything you need and you don’t have a natural foods store close by, you also can find nondairy foods in a variety of other places. Here’s a rundown of some of the choices you may have:

  • Warehouse stores: Costco and Sam’s Club are in the dairy-free game now. They carry at least a few nondairy specialty foods.

  • Food cooperatives: A co-op is an organization that buys foods in volume for its members. Because the group buys in volume, it often can pass along cost savings to co-op members. They usually stock products similar to those you find at natural foods stores.

  • Online sources: For people who live in rural communities and other places where shopping options are limited, Web sites that sell specialty foods, including many nondairy products, can be a lifesaver.

  • Specialty stores: Gourmet stores and other upscale, specialty stores may surprise you from time to time with interesting nondairy products and products often found in natural foods stores.

  • Ethnic markets: Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic markets often carry foods such as condiments, frozen entrees, and packaged foods not commonly found in ordinary supermarkets.