Sonia Huppert, global marketing leader for plant-based health at
DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences (dupontnutritionandbiosciences.com),
emphasizes the need for a deep understanding of plant raw materials.
“Each plant base behaves in a different way when scaled up to
industrial production. Manufacturers have to identify the base that
will give their dairy alternative an indulgent and nutritious profile. It
may be that a combination of plant bases will give the best result.”
Forecast for global growth
Over the past few years, she has followed the developing dairy alternatives
market closely. Growth remains high across regions, notably in Europe
and the North and South American markets. In 2020 alone, Euromonitor
forecasts global sales growth above 20% in the plant-based alternatives
to yogurt and ice cream categories. While the growth forecast for milk
alternatives is a more modest 6.4%, the sales volumes are large.
“We are also seeing more demand for a plant-based alternative to
cream cheese, which is a particularly versatile option as it can replace
cheese, spread and butter and is widely used in cooking,” Huppert says.
In the snacking space, a lot of plant-based innovation is focused on
desserts with fruit and other inclusions or fermented beverages fortified
with protein and vitamins.
A well-managed process
So how can product developers make a success of it? For DuPont
principal application specialist Kirsten Lauridsen, food safety is one of
the first considerations. Because plant bases are generally a source of
more spore-forming bacteria than milk, processing may need to start
with a short, sharp heat treatment to eliminate potential pathogens.
“If you are producing a fermented oat drink, for example, then
you need to create the right conditions for adding a live starter culture,
which could also contain probiotic strains. UHT treatment removes
pathogens before you do that,” she says.
The next sticking point could be the fermentation process itself.
While the lactose in milk acts as substrate for dairy fermentation,
the carbohydrate composition of plant bases is more complex.
“Carbohydrates vary from plant to plant and can depend on when
the plant was harvested. With cereal bases, an enzyme can be used to release
glucose for fermentation. Nuts such as almonds are more of a challenge.
There may be a need to add sugar to get fermentation started.”
Stable to the end
Unlike milk, a plant base tends not to thicken during fermentation, mainly
due to a lower protein content. One solution is to add plant protein isolate
derived from pea or soy. Lauridsen explains that this can both provide
the desired viscosity and improve the nutritional profile. Use of a stabilizer
ingredient – such as pectin or a combination of starch and locust bean
Ingredients ¦ IDM
gum – is another possibility for turning a thin and watery product into a
Once products leave the production line, the big test is their stability
in storage. While a stabilizer can prevent separation so dairy alternatives
keep their homogeneous quality all the way to the consumer, spoilage
may still be a problem. Today, manufacturers can turn to specially developed
“For manufacturers that do not yet sell high volumes, an extra five
to ten days of shelf life is important for extending the sales window and
reducing waste,” Lauridsen says.
Brands that succeed
Once a dairy alternative is ready for market, a big question for dairy companies
is how to choose the right positioning. While some major brands have
successfully expanded their range with new plant-based options, others
are likely to benefit from establishing a separate brand label. A strong focus
on health and nutrition is a promising strategy moving forward.
Huppert sums up the opportunities: “More consumers are looking for
free-from products, such as lactose-free, probiotics that support digestive
health, and proteins rich in essential amino acids – all in a plant-based format
with an indulgent taste and texture.”
Manufacturers who crack that code are those who set out by selecting
and combining the right plant raw materials. Their products are the dairy
alternatives that have the best chance of keeping their place on supermarket
shelves for some time to come.
Unlike milk, a plant base tends not to thicken during fermentation
(photo: DuPont, Adobe-Stock)
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November/December 2020 ¦ international-dairy.com · 19