Photo: General Mills grows its Oui by Yoplait brand with a seasonal Dairy Free Pumpkin Caramel offering.
It’s been a week since Expo East and as I review my notes, photos and materials—as well as catch up on the couple hundred press releases I received this past week on new product rollouts (across all food and beverage)—a few things have become very apparent. Real dairy, real eggs and real meat are not going away. Alternative dairy, alternative eggs and alternative meat are not going away. What is going away, slowly but surely, are nutrient-void, overly processed, unsustainable and “yucky-tasting” products in both the real and alternative sector.
When I say yucky, I am being kind. There were many yucky alternatives sampled at Expo East. I’m showing my age with this Valley Girl phrase, “gag me with a spoon,” but yes, I gagged and spit. But, there were also some very yummy alternatives. And here’s the interesting angle, they were from dairy companies.
Sales across the natural and organic products industry increased this past year and there’s room for growth and innovation, for both the real deal and plant-based alternatives. To read more about innovations showcased at Expo East, link HERE to read “Expo East: The real deal vs. plant alternatives,” a column I wrote for Food Business News.
If you missed last week’s blog titled “Natural Products Expo East: Dairy is doubling down in the natural and organic segment. Read about the opportunities,” link HERE. One of those opportunities is plant-based products.
Congrats to my friends at Lifeway Foods Inc., with the rollout of Lifeway Oat. This certified vegan perishable beverage offers consumers probiotic benefits to help support a healthy gut and immunity. Each Lifeway Oat product is organic, gluten-free, made with 100% whole grain oats and contains heart-healthy beta-glucans plus 10 live and active probiotic cultures to help promote a balanced and diverse microbiome. The Lifeway Oat line comes in Apple Cinnamon, Berries and Cream, Blueberry Maple, Peaches and Cream, Plain, Strawberry Vanilla and Vanilla flavors.
“Lifeway has always shown category leadership, so I’m excited to bring our probiotic cultured oat drinkables to the market and reach new consumers who are thirsty for plant-based nutrition,” says Lifeway Foods’ CEO Julie Smolyansky. “By introducing a probiotic drink with an oat base, we’ve created a great-tasting wellness drink that combines some of the hottest industry trends that are anticipated to have strong growth over the coming years. We expect to see our new Lifeway Oat line become a staple on retailers’ shelves and in consumers’ refrigerators across the country.”
Sales of oat milk in the U.S. are up almost 1,200% in the past two years, according to Nielsen. Furthermore, market research from Reports and Data projects that the global probiotic drinks market will reach $23.9 billion by 2028.
Another dairy at Expo East showcasing vegan options was Valio USA. New Oddlygood Oat Yogurt comes in 5.3-ounce cups in Blueberry, Plain, Raspberry and Vanilla flavors. Each yogurt has 3 grams of protein per serving and contains live and active cultures. Calories range from 110 to 120 per container. The yogurt is made from an oat blend of water, gluten-free oat flour, cane sugar and pea protein. It’s enriched with vitamins B12 and D and calcium.
The yogurts garnered top scores for flavor, texture and aroma versus leading U.S. oat milk yogurt brands in a March 2021 consumer taste test conducted in Northern California by Curion, a consumer products testing firm, according to Valio. The Finish dairy also markets Oddlygood Original Oat Drink, Barista Edition for coffee, cooking ingredients and sliced and shredded mozzarella, cheddar, gouda and smoked gouda plant-based cheeses.
Erring on the side of caution during the pandemic, Pillars Yogurt opted not to exhibit at Expo East, but still used this time to join the burgeoning plant-based yogurt category with the launch of Pillars Plant Organic Coconut Probiotic Yogurt. Pillars founder, Eric Bonin, spent three years developing the product, which started rolling out a month ago.
“The majority of plant-based yogurts that have come to market over the last few years have tasted awful and lack the nutritional value and functionality of dairy yogurt. This is partly why the category hasn’t taken off quite like other plant-based segments, such as plant milks,” says Bonin. “Pillars Plant solves all this. It tastes like dessert and delivers the nutritional value people want, need and now expect from their food.
“Much like how our original product line of Drinkable Greek Yogurts disrupted the drinkable segment as the first full drinkable yogurt line on the market without added sugar, we saw a similar opportunity in plant-based yogurt to create a product that better meets the needs of a wellness lifestyle: lower sugar, higher protein, functional fats and our unique blend of pre- and probiotics, which help support gut health. We’re expanding our product mission of being the category leader in removing unnecessary sugar, this time, in the plant-based yogurt game. Pillars Plant has dramatically less sugar than what’s on the market now but tastes incredible and has this super thick creamy texture that’s out of this world. We nailed this innovation.”
Pillars Plant comes in 16-ounce multi-serve containers in Mixed Berry, Strawberry Banana and Vanilla flavors. A 5.3-ounce serving contains 180 calories, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of plant-based protein, 3 grams of prebiotic fiber, 1 gram of total sugar and 30 to 60 billion live and active probiotic cultures including the scientifically validated BB12 strain. The base is an organic cultured coconut blend fortified with organic pea protein. Cassava root and fructan fiber function as prebiotics and contribute to a smooth, creamy texture. Organic stevia adds sweetness without calories. Pillars Plant is USDA certified organic, vegan, keto, non-GMO, OU Kosher, gluten-free and features a fully recyclable, BPA-free and phthalate-free cup.
“We really leaned into sourcing and sustainability. The ingredients in Pillars Plant are sourced from suppliers who follow regenerative agriculture practices and the cups and lids are 100% recyclable,” says Bonin. “Our tagline, ‘Naturally simple, Naturally good’ has been our core ethos since day one and applies more than ever with this new product line.”
Danone North America did not exhibit at Expo East either. The company, however, just announced that it will be rolling out two new concepts--Silk nextmilk (beverage) and So Delicious Wondermilk (frozen)--in January 2022. The products are designed to help close the gap between traditional dairy and plant-based consumers.
Danone’s formulators deconstructed dairy attributes and sensory experience, including mouthfeel, and then recreated them by blending a mix of familiar, high-quality plant-based ingredients. The result is a what the company says will be a new plant-based “dairy-like” segment.
Speaking of dairy like, animal-free dairy continues to grow. Modern Kitchen, a new brand from The Urgent Company, is rolling out animal-free cream cheese in three chef-inspired flavors: Harissa Pepper, Spring Onion + Chive, and Strawberry. (Look for more details next week when this product line is featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy.) The launch of Modern Kitchen marks the first cream cheese made with Perfect Day animal-free milk protein. The company’s first Perfect Day product, Brave Robot ice cream, debuted in 2020.
“By applying science and technology, we’re able to make better versions of the same dairy products consumers love,” says Paul Kollesoff, co-founder and general manager at The Urgent Company.
And, yes, consumers love dairy. Direct from the nation’s capital: U.S. Dairy Consumption Beats Expectations in 2020 and Continues to Surge Upward Despite Disruption Caused by Pandemic
The USDA just released its annual per-capita dairy consumption and the story, despite major shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, remains America’s growing love for dairy products of all shapes and sizes. The information from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) adds 2020 data to an accounting of per-capita dairy consumption dating back to 1975 when the average American consumed just 539 pounds of dairy foods per year. Last year, the average American consumed 655 pounds of dairy in milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and other wholesome and nutritious dairy foods, demonstrating a resilient and growing love for all things dairy. The 2020 figure represents an increase of 3 pounds per person over the previous year.
“What 2020 shows us is that Americans are choosing to include dairy in all parts of their day because it’s delicious, nutritious and fits almost any occasion,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “Despite challenges posed by the pandemic to all parts of the supply chain in 2020—including the near-overnight loss of the foodservice sector—per-capita dairy consumption continued to surge upward thanks to growth in ice cream, butter and yogurt. Last year’s consumption figures are nearly 70 percentage points above the annual average, showing America’s growing appreciation for their favorite dairy products.”
Ice cream continued to rebound and grew by 6% year-over-year in 2020. Meanwhile, yogurt consumption jumped 3% and butter notched a 2% increase. Milk and cheese remained resilient throughout 2020 despite the closure of restaurants, cafes, schools and other institutions that drive demand. Overall, ERS data show American dairy consumption continuing its growth trajectory. Since USDA began tracking dairy consumption in 1975, per capita consumption has grown 22%.
“How we consume our dairy is different than a generation ago,” says Dykes. “Americans eat more dairy than we drink and we include dairy in all meals and occasions as well as for fitness and recovery, to live a healthy life and to celebrate those special moments. With a greater focus on producing sustainable foods, dairy will continue to grow as a category well into the future.”
Remember, real dairy, real eggs and real meat are not going away. Alternative dairy, alternative eggs and alternative meat are not going away. Winners will deliver on nutrient density, minimal processing, sustainability and deliciousness.