The push for dairy alternatives comes off the back of the push for plant-based meat alternatives, as a natural offshoot. Alternative dairy options, however, are still in their infancy stage. As the drive to combat climate change becomes more crucial than ever, this industry is seeing exponential growth. Here we are taking a look at some of the pioneers of the alternative dairy movement and some hiring trends and implications for the future.
What’s the dairy challenge?
There are more challenges when attempting to mimic the properties and characteristics of dairy than there are when attempting to mimic meat. Meat alternatives are easy now, we’ve mastered that and companies like Impossible Foods, Moving Mountains, and Beyond Meat are all pioneering this change. The challenge now is dairy, which is much harder to mimic in terms of flavour, texture, and composition.
Cheese presents the most significant problems for plant-based manufacturers. Different cheeses obviously have different flavours, textures, etc., making it a challenge to reproduce this on a large scale. Milk alternatives are often cited as too watery or tasting ‘off’ compared to regular milk. Then we have yoghurt, whose sour tang can be difficult to recreate since it comes from bacteria in cow’s milk.
Movers and Shakers
- Startup Perfect Day is on the brink of a huge breakthrough in the alternative dairy area. The company has produced something ‘molecularly identical’ to the protein in cow’s milk, but it contains no lactose, hormones, or cholesterol. The protein in question is grown from fungus rather than from cows, which results in far less greenhouse gas emissions being produced. The one downside here is that Perfect Day’s products are still expensive relative to its traditional dairy alternatives – one tub of ice cream is about $8.
- New Culture’s focus is on producing casein, which is a protein that gives products like cheese their distinctly stretchy texture, through fermentation. Casein is arguably the most important component of cheese, and New Culture has found a way to produce the protein without involving any animals. The company is mainly focusing on mozzarella, arguably the world’s most popular cheese, as its primary product. While it hasn’t hit the shelves yet, New Culture is already on everyone’s radar in this space.
- This startup uses cell-based technology to create milk of various kinds. The process involves making milk – including human milk – from cultured cells. They recently secured an investment of $6 million to fund their research.
The plant-based dairy market is skyrocketing, with investments growing year upon year. Incredible amounts of resources are being poured into this arena so that the end product can appropriately mimic the taste of traditional dairy. Between 2017 and 2019, sales of plant-based cheese in the US increased by nearly 70%, from $95 million up to $160 million. In 2020, plant-based milk accounted for about 15% of all US milk sales – a fairly significant percentage. The same year, nearly $600 million was invested into fermented alternative proteins – half of which went solely to Perfect Day.
Food giants such as Nestlé and Danone are investing in this arena as well. Danone is currently engaged in a multi-year partnership with the biotech company Brightseeds as they expand further into the plant-based market. Nestlé is in the process of upgrading its facilities and expanding its R&D capabilities as they look to build on their plant-based portfolio. So far, they have received a positive response from customers to their plant-based alternatives to Milo and Nescafé products.
The continued expansion of the dairy alternatives market means the creation of numerous jobs in this sector. The link between science, agriculture, and the food and beverage industry is becoming all the more apparent, resulting in many crossing over into fields previously foreign to them. Expanding R&D capacities at many brands means they are looking for numerous people to help them develop in this arena.
In conclusion, there’s much growth to be expected from this sector, especially in regards to job creation. We look forward to keeping an eye on this dynamic arena and seeing how it progresses alongside worldwide sustainability initiatives.
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