KANSAS CITY — The market for dairy alternatives is expanding as some of the largest manufacturers and marketers continue to introduce new applications. The surge in dairy alternative introductions during the past few years has driven sales higher, with fluid dairy alternatives generating $1.9 billion in retail sales during the 52 weeks ended April 2019, according to data from the market research company SPINS and published by the Plant Based Foods Association.

“The challenge today for producers is becoming more the availability of plant-based protein than driving consumer interest toward plant-based, and it’s making the plant-based products even more attractive to new consumers,” said Sonia Huppert, global marketing lead for plant health and meal solutions with DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, New Century, Kas. “This strong growth is set to continue, as the current overall plant-based market versus dairy or meat products is still low. This will allow a strong potential for growth.”

As the dairy alternative market continues to evolve, product developers will be under pressure to continue to create products that mimic the real things. Cultures and enzymes will be critical ingredients in the product development process.

A challenge facing formulators working on dairy alternatives is the variety of bases used to manufacture products, said Ross Crittenden, senior director of fresh dairy for Chr. Hansen, which has its U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee.

“They (cultures and enzymes) basically have to do the same type of thing as a conventional culture,” he said. “They have to acidify and produce really good texture and flavor. The difference is that while milk is milk pretty much everywhere in the world, you have a large diversity of different (plant/dairy alternative) bases, and the cultures have to be able to work in a very good way on everything from soy to oat to almond to coconut, etc.

“There’s also a great deal of variation even within a particular base. Pea and other pulse proteins, for example, can vary from producer to producer in terms of its composition. You need cultures that are very robust and able to handle the variation that you see in the ingredients over time and between different ingredients. That’s the added hurdle for the cultures.”

Chobani non-dairy yogurtMirjana Curic-Bawden, principal scientist with Chr. Hansen, added, “While animal milk is naturally rich in nutrients that support the growth of microbial cultures, plant extracts are not necessarily equivalent in this regard. The process of making tasty, cultured plant milk is much more complex, and formulae for cultured plant-based products have to be specially designed.

“Plant bases are formulated from various ingredients and contain different levels and types of protein, carbohydrate including dextrose, sucrose and/or alternative sweeteners, fat, minerals, stabilizers and other ingredients. There is (an) endless number of combinations of various ingredients. Each combination will have different starting composition and flavor. Fermentation will change it, but due to so many variables, it is not easy to predict how the fermentation will change the taste and flavor.”

During the development of plant-based products, the main concern for manufacturers and developers is ensuring a good product throughout its shelf life and to decrease the risk of spoilage while using ingredients perceived as clean.

“To reduce spoilage, we have recently introduced Holdbac YM Vege,” said Stephen van Sint Fiet, global marketing lead for cultures, food enzymes and protection at DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. “In combination with cultures, Holdbac YM Vege allows food and beverage producers to make delicious fresh fermented dairy alternatives, like soy, oat, coconut or almond fermented products while ensuring that the products stay fresh and tasty for longer.”

Market forecasters see continued growth in the dairy alternative category, particularly in such product applications as ice cream, yogurt, butter and cheese.

“The first driver for consumers remains taste and texture,” Ms. Huppert said. “Therefore, the more the segment will become mature, and open not only to vegan/vegetarians, but to flexitarians, the higher the requirements from consumers on taste and texture will become.”