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Tips for Plant-based Dairy

Albion Minerals®
Plant-based Dairy

The surging interest in dairy alternatives provides new choices for consumers looking for plant-based dairy to meet their nutritional and lifestyle needs. Although generally seen as a healthy choice, plant-based dairy may not have the same health halo as that associated with traditional dairy. Here we address some of what may be missing, as well as considerations for adding functional ingredients, such as probiotics, to provide additional benefits.

The Growth of Plant-based Dairy

Over the last several years, consumers have been steadily replacing animal-derived foods and beverages with plant-based alternatives, and the pandemic seems to have accelerated this trend. Manufacturers have responded by increasing their offerings of foods and beverages, from meatless burgers to vegan meals, to alternatives in traditional categories like dairy.

As consumers continue to embrace new options, the demand for dairy products from plant sources like soy, almond, coconut, oat and rice is surging as well. Over the last five years, the CAGR for alt-dairy plant-based drinks, spoonable yogurt, ice cream and frozen yogurt, with a probiotic or cultures claim was nearly 50 percent, globally, with the Asia-Pacific region reporting as much as 80 percent.

What’s Driving Demand?

At the top of the list is the growing incidence of lactose intolerance. Experts estimate that currently about 68 percent of the world’s population suffers from lactose malabsorption, due largely to genetic and environmental factors . Recent evidence suggests lactose intolerance is on the rise in many countries as well.

Consumers who want to avoid the discomfort brought about by the inability to digest lactose are turning to plant-based versions of their favorite products. In addition to digestive benefits, many consumers cite the impact of traditional dairy on the earth as a reason to choose what they consider more sustainable options.

Demand for Healthier Dairy Alternatives Creates Formulation Opportunities

Because traditional dairy products are nutrient-dense and provide a good source of vitamins, minerals and proteins, they have an inherent health halo. But many consumers perceive plant-based options as better than animal-based dairy, because of considerations like fats and other negative correlations with traditional dairy products. However, plant-derived dairy may not provide these same nutrients in the same quantities as traditional dairy. In addition, the nutritional content of plant-based milks and other categories like yogurt can vary considerably, depending on the raw materials and manufacturing operations used to prepare them.

With more consumers seeking the health benefits offered by traditional dairy from plant-based products, it’s increasingly important that manufacturers provide the nutrients traditionally associated with the dairy category. But it can be incumbent upon these same manufacturers to take that initiative a step further and provide benefits that go beyond the traditional nutritional profile of dairy sourced from cows. While some types of plant-based products, like soy milk, provide high levels of protein, not all dairy-free products have the same levels of protein or other nutrients.

Meeting the Need for Additional Benefits

As manufacturers strive to create a nutritional profile that meets or exceeds that of traditional dairy, there is opportunity to fortify plant-based dairy products with functional ingredients to replace what is lost during manufacturing, and to help amplify the health halo of non-dairy products.

Plant-based dairy offers an opportunity to enhance the benefits of digestibility over traditional dairy by adding probiotics that further support digestive health. In just one example, yogurt, a dairy category traditionally associated with aiding digestion, offers opportunities for innovation with its plant-based counterpart as well. In non-dairy yogurts, the addition of probiotics can replace the cultures associated with the fermentation of traditional dairy.

Considerations for Formulating With Probiotics in Plant-based Dairy Applications

Consumers expect alt-dairy products to be healthy but are aware that plant-based status on its own isn’t enough. Although this creates a seeming paradox, this challenge presents an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, for manufacturers to enhance alt-dairy’s nutritional value by adding better-for-you ingredients back into alt-dairy products.

Challenge: Survivability

While it’s important that consumers read labels and compare products, manufacturers must ensure that ingredients they’re adding back in can maintain their benefits. For example, when adding probiotics for additional digestive support into plant-based dairy, it’s to ensure the survivability of the probiotic. This means that the finished product contains a defined inclusion of a specific probiotic strain, and that the probiotic has these characteristics:

• Survives manufacturing processing conditions like high heat and pasteurization
• Is stable over the shelf-life of the product
• Survives transit through the stomach to deliver the probiotic benefit

Challenge: Ease of Formulation

Although manufacturers are pivoting to learn new ways to respond to growing consumer demand, ease of formulation is still a key consideration. No amount of innovation will engage consumers if the finished product does not meet their needs for taste, texture or health benefits. In addition to ensuring the viability of the functional ingredient, it’s just as important to ensure the ingredient can be formulated into a taste profile and mouth feel consumers will enjoy.

Critical to achieving this is choosing ingredients like probiotics that provide the health benefits consumers seek without altering tastes, textures or any other characteristics of the finished product. When considering a probiotic for inclusion into an alternative dairy product, consider whether the probiotic ingredient is easy to formulate into a or variety of options. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

• Ensure that the probiotic is a spore-former, not a vegetative cell. The outer spore-coat helps ensure the probiotic’s survivability from manufacture to digestion and makes it suitable for a wide variety of formulation applications.

• Ensure that the probiotic has no flavor or texture characteristics of its own, to avoid compromising taste or texture characteristics of the finished product.

Overcoming Challenges

Given some of the skepticism about the nutritional benefits of plant-based dairy, it is particularly important that manufacturers use probiotics, like GanedenBC30, a natural, hardy probiotic ingredient, that is supported by high-quality research that validates their safety and efficacy. Unlike vegetative strains, GanedenBC30 can survive harsh manufacturing conditions, and the digestive transit to deliver benefits in the products consumers want most, without altering taste or texture. NIE

Laura Collins, BSc (Hons), PhD is the senior business development manager for Wellmune and GanedenBC30 at Kerry. Collins completed a PhD in Immunology at Dublin City University investigating possible therapeutics for inflammatory diseases. She took the learnings from her PhD into her postdoctoral research for Food for Health Ireland (FHI) to identify foods with beneficial immune-modulating capabilities. Collins joined Kerry in 2016 as part of the Nutrition Science team, helping to drive the nutrition strategy before moving to her current role.