Ingredient suppliers have been scrambling to keep up with soaring growth in the plant-based milk alternatives market, with new solutions emerging for better texture, taste and nutrition.
Sales growth in plant-based foods is outpacing the grocery market as a whole, and plant milk alternatives are no exception. According to market research organisation Mintel, UK sales of plant-based ‘milks’ are up by 30% since 2015, compared to 5% growth in traditional cow’s milk. On the other side of the Atlantic, nearly half of US consumers say they buy plant milk at least occasionally. Globally, the market is estimated at $16 billion.
Critics may argue that such products are nothing more than glorified juices from nuts, seeds and grains with a long list of added ingredients, but – for now at least – their proponents are winning the argument with the suggestion that they are part of a broader shift toward more sustainable, ethically conscious living. It seems this idea is capable of capturing a wide market, far beyond the vegan and lactose intolerant consumers who drove demand until just a few years ago, but manufacturers increasingly are grappling with clean label demands.
Partly because of its poor environmental image, beverages based on soy have lost their top spot in the dairy alternatives market, and almond-based products now dominate. In the UK and US, almond milk accounts for two-thirds of the market, according to Mintel. In the United States, soy trails at 13%, while coconut has 12%. However, other plant ingredients are rising, including cashew, oat and rice-based products, as well as those from more niche sources like lupin, hemp and flaxseed.
One company that has taken note of growing demand for oat milk specifically is Novozymes, which unveiled a toolbox of enzymatic solutions for oat beverage manufacturers at Fi Europe in December, to allow producers to adjust the sweetness, mouthfeel and nutrition of their products. Enzymes have a major benefit over many other solutions in that they are classified as processing aids rather than ingredients, meaning they do not need to be listed on product packaging.
DuPont also revealed a range of new ingredients for the broader plant milk alternatives category at the show, including cultures, probiotics, enzymes and stabilising solutions to deliver on both nutrition and functionality. Also playing up its clean label, allergen-free credentials, Fiberstar highlighted its ingredients from citrus fibre to replace emulsifiers and improve texture and mouthfeel in dairy-free drinks, while Israeli start-up ChickP showcased a chickpea-based protein powder that it says can deliver the nutritional benefit of high protein without added flavours or sugars.