ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Because of allergies and intolerances to dietary preferences and religious restrictions, a growing number of consumers sometimes or always follow a dairy-free diet. But because people possess innate cravings for satiating creamy goodness, dairy avoiders still find frozen desserts, cheesy pasta and pizza appealing.

Marketers try to satisfy these cravings with dairy alternatives, which are dairy-free versions of everything from coffee creamer to yogurt. Most of the products are formulated to be vegan, with many excluding such other commonly avoided food constituents as gluten, soy, refined sugars and anything bioengineered. Such products had a powerful presence at Natural Products Expo West held March 5-8 in Anaheim. 

Interestingly, some would argue that a number of the products are far from natural as many of the ingredients are not what you would find in grandma’s pantry. The products rely on ingredients and processing techniques made possible through advancements in food science. It is through these technologies that marketers have been able to better bridge the gap in terms of taste, texture and functionality between dairy alternatives and the real deal.

Pour it on

United Kingdom-based Rebel Kitchen used Expo West 2015 to launch its namesake beverage to the U.S. marketplace. The company describes the simplicity of the formulation as dairy-free “mylk.”

Rebel Kitchen drinks are made with four ingredients: filtered water, coconut milk and date nectar, with the coffee variant containing coffee and the chocolate version containing cacao. The shelf-stable drinks come in 11-oz single-serve packs and have a suggested retail price of $3.29.

Daily Greens Hemp Milk from the Austin, Texas-based namesake company comes in three formulations — Enlighten, Replenish and Symmetry — with the latter exclusive to Whole Foods Market, also of Austin. Sold in 16-oz bottles, the plant-based, milk alternatives are made with organic hemp seeds and other ingredients such as coconut nectar, wheatgrass, camu camu and blue-green algae.

Los Angeles-based Califia Farms now offers Almondmilk Coffee Creamers in four flavors: hazelnut, original, pecan caramel and vanilla. Made from almond cream, the non-dairy creamers feature 3 grams of sugar per serving and are free not only of dairy, but also soy, saturated fats, oils, bioengineered/genetically modified organisms and gluten.

Top it off

Earth Balance, Boulder, Colo., continues to grow its non-dairy spread business with Avocado Oil Spread, which joins Organic Coconut, Organic Sweet Cinnamon and Organic Garlic & Herbs. Made with a blend of oils from palm, avocado and canola, a 1-tablespoon serving contains 100 calories, all from fat, just like butter. The fatty acid profile is its differentiating factor, with the Avocado Oil Spread containing less than half of the saturated fatty acids found in butter (3 grams vs. 7 grams per serving).

Introduced with a soft launch earlier in the year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, Earth Island, Canoga Park, Calif., was in full force at Expo West with its Follow Your Heart dairy-free cheese alternative. Based on coconut oil and potato starch, the product comes in four flavors: American, Garden Herb, Mozzarella and Provolone. The cheese alternatives come in chunk, slice and 1-oz portion packs. 

Chao Slices from The Field Roast Grain Meat Co., Seattle, are described as a rich and creamy coconut cheese seasoned with traditionally fermented soybean curd that the Vietnamese call chao.

“Chao cheese is a continuation of our fascination with combining traditional Asian and European foods to create new culinary fusions that are real instead of fake,” said David Lee, president.

Instead of trying to mimic traditional dairy cheese flavors, like cheddar, mozzarella or Monterey jack, Field Roast developed new flavors to complement plant-based dietary lifestyles. The three options are creamy original with chao tofu, tomato cayenne with spicy peppers and coconut herb with black pepper.

All the way from Greece comes Violife, a line of vegan cheese alternatives that includes chunks and slices in seven flavors: cheddar, herbs, hot peppers, mozzarella, original, smoked, and tomato and basil. The formulation is approximately one-fourth coconut oil combined with modified starch, salt, sorbic acid and other ingredients. There’s a version designed for pizza that relies on emulsifiers for improved melt and stretch.

The company used Expo West to introduce a first for the cheese-alternative category, a Parmesan-type product. New Prosociano comes in a wedge and is intended to be freshly grated as a topping for salad and pasta.

Cultured creations

Healthy Brands Collective, Norwalk, Conn., debuted Living Harvest Tempt Hemp Yogurt. The Living Harvest brand was a food industry pioneer as the first to launch hemp tofu. The brand also is known for its line of flavored hemp milks and hemp protein powders.

“This is an exciting time for us,” said Healthy Brands Collective co-founder and chief marketing officer Donna Ratner. “Industrial hemp is a hot topic right now that is influencing farming, the foods we eat and the products we buy. We’re proud to bring awareness to the nutritional benefits and value of this wonderful plant. Hemp is high in magnesium, iron, potassium, fiber, phytonutrients and natural antioxidants including vitamin E.”

Ms. Ratner said hemp, a nutritious and sustainably grown plant, contains a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and also has all 10 essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The Greek-style hemp dairy-free yogurt comes in four varieties: blueberry, plain, raspberry and strawberry. Each 5.3-oz single-serve cup of the fruit varieties contains 130 calories, 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. The plain variety has 10 grams of protein.

While food products in the United States contain hemp, the government regulates how it may be grown.

Under the current U.S. drug policy, all cannabis varieties, including hemp, are considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which has an industrial hemp program. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) controls and regulates hemp production, and it is illegal to grow hemp without a D.E.A. permit. Cannabis varieties may be grown legitimately for research purposes only.

Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa and is of the same plant species as marijuana, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, but hemp is genetically different. Hemp plants are low in THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's primary psychoactive chemical).

Hain Celestial new products

The Hain Celestial Group Inc., Lake Success, N.Y., featured more than 100 new products at Expo West, including a new line of refrigerated and frozen dairy alternatives based on coconut milk. High in calcium, low in sodium and containing live and active cultures, the vegan product is also free of gluten, lactose and soy.

“Coconut Dream Non-Dairy Yogurt is expected to be very popular among non-dairy consumers as well as dairy consumers that love the fresh and exotic taste of coconut,” said Basel Nassar, chief operating officer of the Hain Refrigerated Foods division. “It has a delicious, creamy consistency with a tropical twist from the luscious flavor of coconut. It’s the perfect snack for fans with or without dietary restrictions.”

Frozen sweet treats

For the freezer, the Dream brand expanded its plant-based offerings with the first and only coconut-based, chocolate-coated bite-size frozen treats. Sold in 6.6-oz containers, Coconut Dream Frozen Dessert Bites come in chocolate and vanilla options. 

DF Mavens is an artisan line of dairy-free frozen desserts developed by Malcolm Stogo, an authority on ice cream. The namesake company based in New York City continues to grow its three product collections, the Almond Collection, Coconut Collection and Soy Collection. There are also some no-sugar-added options in the lines as well as novelty bars.

Bliss Limited L.L.C., Eugene, Ore., introduced two chocolate-coated Coconut Bliss bars at Expo West. The organic, vegan novelties use fair trade ingredients whenever possible. The frozen dessert is based on coconut ingredients and sweetened with agave syrup. The new options are coconut almond in chocolate and salted caramel in chocolate, which join café latte, dark chocolate, naked coconut and strawberry bars. The company also offers 13 varieties of its coconut-based non-dairy dessert in pints.

Another Eugene, Ore.-based company, So Delicious Dairy Free, which was acquired by WhiteWave Foods this past year, is expanding its offerings, which already include a line of non-dairy beverages, creamers, cultured products and frozen desserts based on almond, cashew, coconut or soy. New products include Coco Whip, which is a 9-oz tub of frozen whipped topping in light and original formulations.

The company provided Expo West attendees a sneak peak at its new seasonal frozen novelties for later this year. There will be candy corn and peppermint varieties. The company also now offers frozen dessert pints based on cashew milk.

What’s for dinner?

Likely the most noteworthy dairy alternative exhibitor at Expo West was Daiya Foods Inc. Just a few years ago, the Vancouver, B.C.-based company made its debut in the United States with a variety of dairy-free cheese options, including shreds, slices and spreads. This year, the company is rolling out dairy- and soy-free Greek-style yogurts based on coconut cream, pea protein, starch, chicory root fiber and other ingredients. There are four flavors: black cherry, blueberry, peach and strawberry.

But that’s not all. The company is putting its dairy-free cheeses on Daiya-branded frozen pizzas and frozen pasta dishes.

“Pizza is one of those products in which people find great comfort. Giving up pizza is a practice we think should be, well, given up. All eaters, no matter their dietary restrictions, should be able to enjoy pizza regularly,” said Michael Lynch, vice-president of marketing. “We believe Daiya pizzas bridge the gap for pizza-hungry folks with lactose-intolerant and/or gluten sensitivities, as well as those simply considering a change in their diet.”

The gluten-free Daiya Cheezy Mac entrées use brown rice-based macaroni. There are three varieties: Alfredo, cheddar and deluxe white cheddar veggie medley.

Not to forget dessert, there’s new Daiya Cheezecake, a line of dairy-free, ready-made cheesecakes with an artisan gluten-free crust. Varieties include chocolate, Key Lime, New York and strawberry.

Mark your calendar for next year’s expo to take place March 10-13, 2016, in Anaheim.