Thursday, November 17, 2022

Five very different approaches to playing in the plant-based space. Is one of them right for you?


Photo source: Noodle bowl featuring UPSIDE Chicken

This week something big went down in the U.S. food system. In case you missed the announcement, as it is not directly dairy related, UPSIDE Foods became the first company in the world to receive a “No Questions” letter from FDA for cultivated meat, poultry or seafood. 

The FDA released a MEMO detailing the agency’s review of the data and information provided by UPSIDE Foods to establish the safety of its cultivated chicken filet. If you are a food science geek like me, it’s an interesting read. You can access it HERE.

This letter indicates that FDA accepts UPSIDE’s conclusion that its cultivated chicken is safe to eat. This historic step paves the way for the company’s path to market in the U.S. and brings cultivated chicken one step closer to consumers’ plates. 

“This is a watershed moment in the history of food,” said Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of UPSIDE Foods. This milestone marks a major step towards a new era in meat production, and I’m thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that’s grown directly from animal cells.”

In the U.S., cultivated meat is regulated by both FDA and USDA. Having received a “No Questions” letter from FDA, UPSIDE Foods will now work with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to secure the remaining approvals that are required before the company’s cultivated chicken can be sold to consumers. 

Here’s what you need to know. UPSIDE Foods grows meat, poultry and seafood directly from animal cells. These products are not vegan or vegetarian, but they are said to be planet friendly. It is projected that cultivated meat production, at scale, will use less water and land than conventionally produced meat. And, because it’s made in a controlled environment subject to high standards of testing for safety and quality control, it has the potential to help reduce the risk of harmful bacterial contamination, according to the company. 

Cultivated meat is a close relative to precision fermentation of dairy. While both have a place in the U.S. food system to feed the burgeoning population, remember, these products are not vegan. They start from animal cells…and frankly, if I think about it too much, it creeps me out. But without a doubt, there is a need for these alternative forms of high-quality protein. 

There is also a need for plant proteins. Here are five very different recent entries into the plant-based dairy sector that are worth your time to explore. Let me tell you why. 

1. While Kraft Heinz Co., sold off most of its cheese brands, it still owns Philadelphia. And now that Philadelphia brand can be found in the U.S. on what it calls “Plant-Based Original.” The top-three ingredients in the non-dairy spread are coconut oil, modified potato starch and fava bean protein.

Back in the day—let’s say around 1992—when I worked at Kraft and was directed to make fat-free natural cheese, I remember when marketing finally believed the prototypes were “good enough” to commercialize. The brand had to get out there because the competition—namely ConAgra with its Healthy Choice fat-free cheeses—was in nationwide distribution.

While the Kraft brand still offers fat-free cheeses made with refined, improved processes that originated in the 1990s, Healthy Choice got out of cheese within a few years. Why does this matter? I do not believe Kraft Heinz would jeopardize the Philadelphia brand if it did not feel that the product was at parity or better than the competition. While it may be a work in progress, the brand knows it needs to be out there. What does that mean for other brands, they better make sure their product can stand up to Philadelphia or else…

2. Then there’s the new Baby Bel plant-based snacks. Water is the first ingredient, followed by modified food starch and coconut oil. One snack contains 50 calories, 4 grams of fat and no protein. This product’s primary competition is its like-branded dairy counterpart. While relatively tasteless, someone can do better by getting some protein into the product. There’s room for improvement and I’m sure it is being worked on. Looking forward to trying it out.   

3. There’s one more cheese to discuss. GOOD PLANeT Foods is embracing the limited-edition, seasonal flavor trend with its cheese alternatives. Very smart! It’s a great entry point for consumers to the brand. The holiday flavor is White Cheddar and Cranberry and comes in Snackable Wedges and Smoked Wheels. However, there’s not much nutrition to speak of here either. Filtered water is the first ingredient, followed by coconut oil, sunflower oil and modified food starch. Chickpea protein is part of the formulation, but not enough to even register a gram per serving. 
What make this product different than the Baby Bel product is that it’s a seasonal flavor. Most consumers are not thinking about protein content when grazing on a cheese board. 

“Consumers are looking for new ways to enjoy plant-based foods, and these festive, seasonal flavors provide this,” said Bart Adlam, co-CEO at GOOD PLANeT Foods. “We will continue to create unique offerings that bring the joy of cheese to all.”

To play in the plant-based cheese space, my suggestion is to not try to mimic what’s already established, unless it’s darn good. The smarter option, in my opinion, is to offer it in a new format or a limited-edition flavor. 

4. I am the biggest fan of limited-edition and seasonal products. They create an urgency to purchase. It is an important space to play in and a great entry point into plant-based products. 
Califia Farms added Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista to its fall fluid lineup, joining returning seasonal favorites Pumpkin Spice Latte and Pumpkin Spice Almondmilk Creamer.

“We’re thrilled to introduce our new Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista, which gives oat milk fans an easy way to froth up their favorite seasonal oat lattes at home,” said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer at Califia Farms. “With the launch of Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista, Califia brings yet another reason to celebrate the season with a full variety of yummy plant-based options to make all types of seasonal coffee-house drinks at home.”

5. Let’s end with my thoughts on frozen desserts. Accolades go out to the 100% plant-based, flavor-forward global food brand Wicked Kitchen. The company recently launched a plant-based collection of ice creams and novelties made with the lupini bean, a first-to-market product in the U.S. Founded by chefs and brothers Derek Sarno and Chad Sarno, Wicked Kitchen helped ignite the plant-based movement in the U.K., the number-one vegan market globally.

The pint-size ice creams come in four flavors: Chocolate, Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla. The novelties include Berry White Sticks, which is sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with a berry sauce swirl and white-chocolate flavored coating with red berry pieces. The Chocolate Almond Sticks are sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with toasted almond pieces and a chocolate-flavored coating. Chocolate Red Berry Cones feature sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with red berry sauce and chocolate chips in a gluten-free maize cone. The frozen treats join the brand’s more than 200 products across 15 categories.

Why accolades to Wicked Kitchen? Because it established itself as a brand and sat back and waited to develop a consumer base in the U.S., at the same time it perfected its frozen dessert formula. 

Five very different approaches to playing in the plant-based space. Is one of them right for you?


Friday, November 11, 2022

HELP WANTED: It’s time to revisit DIAAS in protein quality measurement.

 Can we please prioritize switching to the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) to measure protein quality and then communicate that info to consumers when we share with them the vital role of ruminant animals to soil health? 

Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it needed to be said. Climate change, soil health, feeding the growing population…it seems that so many are working on these issues, but not bringing them full circle. Hold onto to your seats while you read how switching to DIAAS to measure protein quality will be a win-win for the dairy industry. 

Here we go. The fact is we need ruminant animals, such as cows, for healthy soil and to convert plants that humans cannot eat into highly nutritious foods that we can. Think milk and steak. 

The fact is that two-thirds of global agriculture land is not suitable for growing crops that humans can digest for energy and nutrition. But these lands are suitable for growing grasses and similar plants that ruminant animals consume. These plants are basically sources of cellulose. In fact, half of all organic carbon on earth is tied up in cellulose. Humans are not able to use this carbon for energy. Ruminants can, and they do so very efficiently. 

Ruminants digest cellulose and convert it into foods that humans can eat. They make all of that organic carbon that cannot be digested by humans available to humans in the form of high-quality protein, essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, and an array of other nutrients. Milk, for example, provides calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, B2, B3 and B12. 

Think about a stalk of corn, which provides two to three cobs. Humans can only digest the kernels, and for that matter, not even all of the kernel. The fibrous outer shells of corn kernels pass through the gastrointestinal system undigested due to lack of the necessary digestive enzyme. The rest of that corn plant is useless to humans for energy; however, it’s a meal for ruminant animals such as cows. Cows effectively convert the nutrients in that stalk, husk and cob to meat and milk for human consumption. 

This is why we need ruminant animals to feed the projected 9.7 billion humans who will inhabit earth in 2050.

Ruminant animals also provide manure to fertilize crops and help build healthy soil for crops to grow. While ruminants are a source of greenhouse gas (GHG), the industry is doing so much in this space that many are confident that with appropriate regenerative crop and grazing management, ruminants will not only reduce overall GHG emissions, but also facilitate provision of essential ecosystem services, increase soil carbon sequestration and reduce environmental damage. That’s another mouthful. 

And then, after all that, ruminant animals feed us the highest-quality protein available. Yet, current U.S. regulations prevent marketers from communicating this information.   

It’s been almost 10 years since a report from the Expert Consultation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) recommended a new, advanced method for assessing the quality of dietary proteins. It’s the DIAAS. This analysis enables the differentiation of protein sources by their ability to supply amino acids for use by the human body. The new method demonstrates the higher bioavailability of dairy proteins when compared to plant-based protein sources.  

Data in the FAO report showed whole milk powder to have a DIAAS score of 1.22, far superior to the DIAAS score of 0.64 for peas and 0.40 for wheat. When compared to the highest refined soy isolate, dairy protein DIAAS scores were 10% to 30% higher. 

Dairy proteins have an exceptionally high DIAAS score because of the presence of branched-chain amino acids, which help stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Each dairy protein has more branched-chain amino acids than egg, meat, soy and wheat proteins. Whey protein, specifically, is seen as higher quality because of the presence of leucine, a branched-chain amino acid accountable for muscle synthesis. 

Currently the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score is used to assess of protein quality. This does not demonstrate dairy protein’s superiority. This information is very important for feeding that growing population. The answer is not plants, or at least not plants alone. 

“As headlines proliferate around the need to supply protein to an ever-growing global population, the common argument has emerged that people around the world are already consuming more than they need,” according to Paul Moughan, distinguished professor at Massey University and Riddet Institute Fellow Laureate. “While this may indeed be true in terms of total protein, it is unfortunately not the case when it comes to their intake of available protein. For example, a child in India consuming a diet that is heavily based on cereals and root crops, may be getting plenty of protein containing foods, but they could still be heavily deficient in available protein and key amino acids. This deficiency can lead to stunted growth during childhood and result in them never fulfilling their true potential.” 

Riddet Institute led a research program known as Proteos that is addressing the supply of protein for human diets. Proteos is funded by a consortium of commercial food organizations through the Global Dairy Platform. 

The first stage of Proteos has been completed. This was a collaboration between the Riddet Institute in New Zealand, Wageningen University in The Netherlands, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and AgroParisTech in France. The researchers developed, standardized and validated methods based on the growing population to determine the digestibility of amino acids for human foods. The methods were applied in different laboratories in different parts of the world and achieved consistent results, according to Dr. Moughan.

They are now working with Wageningen University and the University of Illinois to examine the digestibility of numerous protein sources in a form as consumed by humans using DIAAS. An openly available global database of protein quality will be constructed, including 100 different protein sources. These protein sources will be from a large range of different protein types, including protein sources commonly consumed in developing countries.

Dairy proteins are expected to lead the list. 

Now, let’s back track just a minute to address the GHG emissions issue with ruminant animals. There’s a lot going on in this space, and imagine if everything came together at the same time…and sooner than later.

In 2008, U.S. dairy was the first in the food agricultural sector to conduct a full-life cycle assessment at a national level. The Fluid Milk Carbon Footprint Study was published in 2010 and showed that U.S. dairy contributes 2% of all U.S. GHG emissions. As of 2007, producing a gallon of milk uses 90% less land and 65% less water, with a 63% smaller carbon footprint than in 1944. Thanks to increasingly modern and innovative dairy farming practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly, requiring 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007. That’s the same as the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by half a million acres of U.S. forest.

At Transform Food USA 2022/Transform Supply Chains USA 2022, a conference organized by Reuters Events and held Nov. 1-2 in Chicago, I met with Dr. Greg Thoma, associate professor with Colorado State University’s AgNext program. He is the author of the Fluid Milk Carbon Footprint Study. (At the time of the study, Dr. Thoma, a chemical engineer, was with University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center.) 

Highlights from the Transform meeting can be found in an article titled “Prioritizing production key to creating sustainable solutions,” which I wrote for Food Business News. Link HERE.

There was a great deal of conversation at the Transform meeting regarding soil health and the need to put the farmer first. There’s was discussion on improving the breeding of food crops, e.g., soybeans with higher protein content, as well as indoor farming and regenerative agriculture practices. 

Dr. Thoma explained that the carbon footprint study was a significant first step in the dairy industry’s effort to measure and improve its environmental performance. More efforts are underway. 

AgNext, for example, recently installed what it calls “climate smart research feeding pens,” which allows for evaluation of dietary and management strategies that impact cattle GHG emissions. The portable feeding stations measure emissions while the animal eats. In the case of AgNext’s cattle, these machines dispense a feed treat (alfalfa pellets) to draw the cattle’s attention. Once drawn to the treat, the animal will eat and stand still for emissions to be measured for three to five minutes. Gasses, including carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen and oxygen, are measured in real time. 

“These feedlot pens allow for data replication to determine scalability of solutions,” said Dr. Thoma. 
That scalability will enable farmers to implement regenerative agriculture initiatives and quantify the benefits. This may lead to the production of climate-conscious foods and ingredients. Marketers can share this data with consumers, who then can feel that their purchase is making a difference. 

Now, it’s been a little more than a year from when “Pathways to Dairy Net Zero” was launched. This climate initiative demonstrates the global dairy sector’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions while continuing to produce nutritious foods for six billion people and provide for the livelihoods of one billion people.

Initial research found that the dairy sector already has the means to reduce a significant proportion of emissions--up to 40% in some systems--by improving productivity and resource use efficiency. Researchers are identifying plausible GHG mitigation pathways for different dairy systems globally, in particular methane reduction. 

In the U.S., the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has its Net Zero Initiative, an industry-wide effort that commenced in 2020 and is helping U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices. The initiative is a critical component of U.S. dairy’s environmental stewardship goals, endorsed by dairy industry leaders and farmers, to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050.

“The U.S. dairy community has been working together to provide the world with responsibly produced, nutritious dairy foods,” said Mike Haddad, chairman, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “With the entire dairy community at the table--from farmers and cooperatives to processors, household brands and retailers--we’re leveraging U.S. dairy’s innovation, diversity and scale to drive continued environmental progress and create a more sustainable planet for future generations.”

It takes a united team. That’s us! 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Driving Consumption of Dairy Includes Innovating for New Occasions


Driving consumption of dairy foods—nutrition powerhouses—is why most of you read this blog. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through innovation, but not just a new flavor or new package size. It’s about creating new use occasions and solving a consumer need. Why not ice cream for breakfast? (For ideas, scroll to the end or link banner and request more information.)

This past Wednesday I judged the in-person 4th Annual Real California Milk Excelerator. The “Open Innovation” Final Pitch Event included eight innovators who presented their already in-market products to eight judges. All eight were winners to make it this far. Congrats! But there were four that stood out as businesses that will help drive growth of dairy, specifically California dairy. All products in the competition must contain at least 50% of a cow’s milk-based product/ingredient.

The eight companies participated in a 10-week program where they had access to resources, customized mentorship and a stipend to cover costs associated with producing, developing, and fine-tuning their products and business plans. The four winners from Wednesday night each received $50,000. These funds are to help develop and/or expand their business, including sourcing dairy from and producing their products in California. They also have access to an exclusive Retailer and Investor event (held virtually) to generate business leads and investment opportunities. A grand prize of $100,000 will be offered to a single product with the most sales and potential one year from the live pitch event. This grand prize will be delivered in the form of marketing support to help accelerate the winner’s product and business in California. 

The four companies moving into this final phase of the Excelerator are Dosa by Dosa, Pariva, Tres Lecheria and Wheyward Spirit. (Winners pictured above.)

Dosa by Dosa is a line of spice-forward lassi drinks. The four varieties contain up to 13 grams of protein and less than 8 grams of added sugar per 8-ounce bottle. With billions of probiotics per serving, this 100% natural, lactose-free, gluten-free snack, rich in calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin A helps maintain good gut health. Varieties are Cardamom Mango, Cayenne Tamarind, Turmeric Banana and Peppercorn Berry. 

Pariva Marinated Yogurt Bites are similar to labneh, a popular Mediterranean and Middle Eastern yogurt spread that is often topped with olive oil. Pariva is crafted by straining whole cow’s milk yogurt before being formed into bite-sized balls. These balls are immersed in heart-healthy oils with herbs and spices where they subtly absorb the mélange of flavors in the jar while allowing the tanginess of the yogurt to shine through. There are three varieties: Garlic & Rosemary, Tandoori and Za’atar.

Tres Lecheria is a bakery business specializing in Tres Leches cakes by the slice. Available in more than 10 flavors daily at its Seattle flagship store, the tres leches cake slices offer a unique alternative to ice cream and other cold desserts. Tres Lecheria is building its retail program that currently services 40-plus accounts between Washington and Oregon and has recently expanded in Southern California. The cakes are about 80% dairy, as they are made with three milks and whipped cream.

Wheyward Spirit is a specialty alcohol uniquely distilled to retain its distinctive dairy flavor. The company is repurposing excess whey to make this new spirit, which can be consumed in the same manner as vodka. During the fermentation process, yeast converts the sugar (lactose) from whey into alcohol. This product is then distilled. No lactose remains in the final product so it is completely lactose free. The spirit highlights whey’s naturally delicate and creamy characteristics and has a signature flavor of oaky vanilla cream and warm spice notes, rounded by a subtle pear aroma. Every bottle of Wheyward Spirit diverts food waste, adds value to local food chains and generates a lower carbon and water footprint than traditional grain-based spirits. (Wheyward Spirit was also the Audience Choice.)

“Real dairy provides a package of functional and practical benefits that’s hard to replicate. We’re seeing an increase in unique products that leverage these benefits emerging in the market,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “With the Excelerator platforms we’ve established over the past four years, we will be able to support companies as they innovate and establish these products in the market.” 

For more information on the event, including access to the recording, link HERE.

And again, why not ice cream for breakfast? Scroll down for an infographic with ideas. Link on the banner and request more information from Balchem on expanding the meal occasion for ice cream. Think Lemon Poppy Seed with a Citrus Swirl, Buttermilk Biscuit with Berries and Cream, and even Avocado Toast.