Non-dairy plant milk offerings continue to peak

It’s a bountiful time for plant-based milks, with new varieties of nut, seed, grain, legume and now vegetable milks appearing on store s...


It’s a bountiful time for plant-based milks, with new varieties of nut, seed, grain, legume and now vegetable milks appearing on store shelves every year. Now comes the potato milk.

The product, manufactured by the Swedish company Hollow drinks, is already sold in Great Britain and will arrive in the United States this year. And according to a new report published by UK supermarket chain Waitrose, potato milk is set to “dominate cafe menus in the coming months” – however unlikely that may seem.

Last August, 40-year-old Sara Bentley heard about Dug and her Potato Milk. Ms Bentley, who lives in London and runs a plant-based cooking school called Made in Hackneywas immediately interested.

“I was definitely excited, because it was new, but it just doesn’t sound naturally appetizing,” she said. “You imagine filthy potato water, which of course would be disgusting.” Ms Bentley and some of her cookery school colleagues have tried making their own potato milk, with disappointing results. “It wasn’t very delicious, but I really fancy a rematch, because I can see its potential. The more viable alternatives to mass-produced dairy, the better.”

Ms. Bentley is far from alone in this sentiment. Over the past decade, interest in the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet has helped spawn a proliferation of milk substitutes. Grocery store aisles and coffee shop counters are now stocked with milks made from oats, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, peas and coconut seeds. linen.

You might think we’ve hit the peak of plant-based milk, but you’d be wrong.

“I don’t think there’s an end in sight for alternative dairy innovation – or at least not anytime soon,” said Sydney Olson, food and beverage analyst for mintelan international market research company.

Plant-based foods are “a very hot topic right now,” said David Julian McClements, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He worked as a food scientist for more than 20 years, but for the past five years his research has focused entirely on plant-based foods, he said, “because that’s one of the main trends in the food industry right now for sustainability”. , ethics and health.

The erratic buying habits that began during the pandemic, with panic buying and supply chain issues, have also driven more people to buy plant-based milk, said Denise Purcell, vice-president. president of content and education for the Specialty Food Associationand an in-house trend expert.

“The shelves were empty and people were stocking up because they knew they were going to be home, and it was an opportunity if they couldn’t get their regular dairy product,” Ms Purcell said. “It was a bit like a doorway. They would try it, and it would lead them to try other products.

The pandemic has also led more people to cook at home, using both dairy and plant milks. But Ms Olson, the food and drink analyst, said while dairy milk sales are expected to resume their pre-pandemic declining trajectory, non-dairy milk will continue to benefit from soaring interest in diets to herbal basis.

U.S. Plant Milk Sales Totaled $2.5 billion by the end of 2020, representing 15% of all retail milk sales and 35% of the broader plant-based food market. By the end of 2026, Ms Olson said, sales of dairy alternatives are expected to account for 30% of all milk sales. Much of that growth, Ms. Purcell said, will come from small producers.

Plant milks have been around for centuries in cultures around the world. Horchata, a creamy drink made from ground tiger nuts (a kind of tuber), originated in North Africa a millennium ago and became popular in Spain and Latin America. Coconut milk, made from the liquid of grated coconut flesh, has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

Native Americans, especially in the northeastern United States, used nuts to make nut butter and milk for infants. Almond milk has been a staple ingredient in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East for nearly 1,000 years. As almond milk became popular in Europe, the use of soy milk increased in China – and by the 1970s and 1980s, soy milk could be found in health food stores in Western countries.

Many milks today are made by steeping, grinding, pressing or blending the nut, seed or vegetable into a mush which is then strained and sometimes mixed with oils or other ingredients that help emulsify it to a creamier texture. Because the process produces liquid from a wide range of plant sources, the number of non-dairy milk blends and varieties is nearly limitless.

If vegetable milks can seem to guarantee a healthier alternative to cow’s milk, some may contain added sugars, be ultra-processed or do not have the same nutrients as cow’s milk. the dairy industry and some members of Congress pushed the United States Food and Drug Administration to ban the labeling of plant-based products as “milk.”

Some highly processed plant milks may also have a negative impact on the environment. Most of the ingredients used in plant milks are associated with a lower carbon footprint than dairy milks.

But many, especially walnuts and coconuts, pose their own environmental problems. Almonds are usually grown in areas with water scarcity, and the increased demand for them is depleting the water supply of these communities. Growing demand for coconuts leads to increased cultivation and potential for deforestation and biodiversity loss.

While almond and oat milks are perhaps the most popular plant milks on the market today, blends that combine an assortment of nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and more are an emerging innovation, a said Mrs. Olson. She said the mixes are aimed at consumers who aren’t necessarily vegan and who might avoid plant-based milk because of its taste or because they can’t cook with it.

Plant milks are less common. In 2015, Vegemo introduced in Canada a milk made from pea protein, cassava root and potato starch. Since 2016, the vegan food brand Ripple used pea protein as a base for its milk. At Association of Food Specialtiesof the show in February, new vegetable milks were presented, including oat milk made from mushrooms, banana milks and even cheese made from carrots.

But for many people, cow’s milk is still the standard when it comes to taste, and companies are still tweaking their products to more closely resemble the dairy products most Americans are used to, McClements said.

“It’s often difficult,” he added, “because plant ingredients are obviously very different from animal ingredients. I think we will definitely see improvements in the future. It’s still quite early.

As novelty fades and familiarity increases, consumers are more critically evaluating their plant-based choices, Ms. Olson said. “Expectations are rising and brands cannot afford to rely solely on plant-based claims.”

She said shoppers can expect to see more plant-based milk brands address overprocessing concerns on their labels – highlighting minimal and natural ingredients and focusing on benefits such as high in protein and vitamins and minerals.

Ms Bentley, who runs the London cookery school, said she chooses plant-based milk over cow’s milk for ethical, health and sustainability reasons. She prefers hemp milk for its low environmental impact, and oat milk enriched with vitamins B and D for her son.

“Living in a metropolitan center like London, I don’t need to drink milk from cows, goats or any other animal,” she said, adding: “For people who get food with the industrialized food system, plant-based milk is the way to go. . No question.”

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