The rising popularity of plant-based dairy alternatives has driven ingredient manufacturers to revamp their product ranges, introducing cultures, flavours, flavour maskers and probiotics suitable for vegan foods and drinks.
According to Innova Market Insights, the global market for dairy alternative drinks alone has more than doubled in value since 2010, and is expected to reach $16.3 billion in 2018. New dairy alternative product launches grew 20% a year from 2012 to 2016, it says, and the category has been given a major boost in recent years from dairy alternatives beyond beverages, such as yoghurt, cheese, frozen desserts and ice cream.
Consumer interest stems from a desire for plant-based products, lactose-free products and/or dairy-free products, but demand has also grown for soy-free dairy alternatives, such as those from rice, oats, coconut, peas, almonds, hazelnuts, hemp and flaxseed. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, ingredient manufacturers have fast-tracked innovation for the dairy alternatives space.
Jungbunzlauer, for example, has introduced a range of minerals specifically for fortifying plant-based dairy alternatives. It claims the minerals not only bring such products’ nutritional profile into line with cow’s milk (or beyond), but also help to mask some of the undesirable flavours associated with protein ingredients, such as the astringency or bitterness of some pea or soy products. In addition, at low dosage, it says its minerals can improve the flavour profile of plant-based drinks by making them taste sweeter and creamier.
Many of the ingredient companies innovating for dairy alternative products are specialists in ingredients for dairy. After all, their dairy customers increasingly are moving in the same direction. French dairy giant Danone acquired dairy alternatives specialist WhiteWave Foods in 2017, for example, and the major US-based dairy company Dean Foods acquired a minority stake in Good Karma Foods that same year, allowing it to add a flaxseed-based line to its existing soy products. Meanwhile, Valio, Finland’s largest dairy cooperative, has said it will launch an oat-based beverage and yoghurt in Finland and Sweden later in 2018.
Chr. Hansen is among those using its years of experience in ingredients for the dairy sector to provide solutions for plant-based products. Late in 2017, it introduced two new yoghurt cultures and two probiotic cultures to make healthy plant-based yoghurt alternatives with qualities traditionally associated with dairy-based yoghurt. More recently, DuPont Nutrition & Health, under its Danisco brand, has also introduced a range of cultures to help manufacturers tap into growing demand for plant-based fermented foods.
In addition, Butter Buds Food Ingredients has introduced vegan-friendly ingredients to mask proteins, minerals and sweeteners in plant-based products. It has previously focused on dairy concentrates to boost the flavour and cut the cost of expensive dairy commodities in dairy-based foods, but it says its vegan range draws on that experience to add flavour, richness and mouthfeel to dairy alternatives.
Although the plant-based dairy alternatives market is starting from a low base, its rapid growth looks set to continue – especially as established ingredient companies throw their weight behind the sector, making tastier, creamier plant-based products more widely available.