Ingredient companies have spent the past few years working diligently to improve plant-based dairy systems, while at the same time precision fermentation of animal-free dairy has become more widely available.

The innovations entering the marketplace are more sophisticated in terms of flavors, formats and nutrient density. Some even come with a compelling story.

Early this year, for example, CHKP Foods, Brooklyn, NY, entered the sector with the first chickpea-based yogurt. The founders are Middle East natives who grew up with chickpeas as a staple food. They always admired the taste, versatility and nutritiousness of these plant-based powerhouses, so they set out to use chickpeas to craft dairy-free products that are not “alternatives” to dairy, rather they are just another delicious, nutritious choice to be made without sacrifice or compromise.

Each flavor – blueberry, plain, strawberry and vanilla – provides 5 to 6 grams of protein per 5.3-oz cup, which is one of its marketing features. This sets it apart from other plant-based yogurt-style products made from coconut or oats. The product is 100% vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO.

Now that ingredient companies have made progress in overcoming many of the off-flavors associated with plant-based ingredients, innovators are getting creative with adding functional ingredients. Pop & Bottle, San Francisco, which has the tagline of “a new way to latte,” now offers organic shelf-stable coffee and tea lattes made with either oats or almonds.  The beverages include antioxidants, adaptogens and even marine-based collagen. (The latter is why the drinks are labeled dairy free and not vegan.)   

“Real” dairy processor Lifeway Foods, Morton Grove, Ill., has been tinkering in the dairy-free cultured oat space for some time. The company’s most recent introduction is Lifeway MSHRM Oat. The new line of adaptogenic functional mushroom beverages contains 10 live and active probiotic cultures plus heart-healthy beta-glucans.

Within the alternative category is the growing range of animal-free dairy. Also known as synbio dairy, animal-free milk is produced in the lab through a process called precision fermentation. It uses genetically engineered microbes like yeast to excrete milk proteins. Because no animal is involved in the production, the “milk” and products made from it may be labeled vegan, providing no other animal-derived ingredient is part of the formulation. Because the fermentation precisely replicates the genetic design of dairy protein, it remains an allergen.

Perfect Day Inc., Berkely, Calif., is a forerunner in the animal-free dairy space. Perfect Day’s food processing business – The Urgent Company –uses the ingredient to manufacture a range of animal-free dairy foods, including Coolhaus and Brave Robot ice creams, Modern Kitchen cream cheeses and California Performance Co. protein powders. The first beverage to use Perfect Day’s proteins debuted in early 2022 by betterland foods, Napa, Calif.

Strive Nutrition Corp., Wichita, Kan., will soon be introducing a line of value-added animal-free milk products enriched with Perfect Day’s ingredient. The lead product will be Strive FREEMILK Whole. It offers 25% more protein, 75% less sugar and less saturated fat than regular whole cow’s milk. There will also be a FREEMILK Chocolate with less sugar and more protein than regular chocolate dairy milk. The company has plans to introduce Strive Oat+Protein and Strive Almond+Protein, both enriched with 10 grams of Perfect Day animal-free whey protein per serving. That’s more than three times the level of protein found in the leading oat milk brand and 10 times more than the leading almond milk. Unlike oat and almond proteins, Perfect Day animal-free whey protein is a “complete” protein with all nine essential amino acids. Later in 2022, Strive will introduce protein shakes and sports hydration protein beverages.

Category innovations

• Forager Project has entered the kids’ segment with cashewmilk-based yogurt in 3.2-oz pouches. It contains probiotics and is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.

• Plant-based frozen desserts in pints and novelty formats are plentiful. To create new-use occasions, Revolution Gelato now offers plant-based gelato pies in turtle and pumpkin flavors.

• Saputo Dairy has brought its range of Vitalite branded vegan-certified, dairy-free cheese alternatives to the US marketplace. The products have been well received in the UK since 2003.

• To liven up the animal-free milk space, Tomorrow Farms is launching Bored Cow in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors in single-serve, shelf-stable cartons. A fourth “original” flavor will be available later this year.

Top alternative milk brands

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- All data included in this alternative milk category report was provided by IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, and is current as of June 27, 2022.