Private Label Driving Alt-Dairy Innovation

The alt-dairy category experienced significant economic pressure in 2023, but private label performance was strong. Per Circana, total sales for store-branded alt-milk products reached $361 million in 52 weeks ending December 3. Dollar sales were up 8.8% year-over-year, with unit sales also marking growth (2.3%).

According to Q2 2023 retail data from SPINS, oat milk (+17.7%) and coconut milk (+36.5%) are the number two and three leading segments in plant-based milk after almond milk (+1.6%), reported AgFunderNews.

Many of the plant-based dairy innovations seen at the November Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) show in Rosemont, Illinois, featured these ingredients. Here are a few noteworthy products across the category.

Oat milk producer Pacific Ridge Corporation showcased its use of Swedish Ecolean packaging technology for its Oat Milk and Oat Creamers. The Ecolean Air Aseptic containers use 70% less plastic than plastic bottles and weigh 50% less than conventional liquid food carton packages or bottles according to the company.

Ken Grenier, CEO of Pacific Ridge, told The Food Institute that the company seeks to create a fully integrated seed-to-shelf regenerative food supply by collaborating with farmers through its True Crops platform and the use of Sonic Milling technology to produce plant-based beverages including oat milk with zero waste and less energy that have higher amounts of protein and fiber.

Plant-based cheese producers are turning to oat milk. After launching in the U.S. with Almond Milk Cheese Cubes in 2022, followed by Almond Milk American Slices in January 2023, South Korean company Armored Fresh recently introduced an Oat Milk version of its American Slices for the foodservice market.

Caleb Lee, Business Development Associate for Armored Fresh, told FI that the company decided to develop an oat milk-based vegan cheese to eliminate foodservice operators’ concerns about nut allergies. The Oat Milk American Slices are made with fermented oat milk and does not contain soy, gluten, dairy, preservatives, or artificial flavors.

Parmela Creamery offered a line of cheeses traditionally crafted with cashew milk. To make its cheeses, the company selects premium whole cashews, blends the cashews into whole cashew milk, and then the cheese undergoes an aging and culturing process. Its Plant-Based Sharp Cheddar is aged for 60 days.

Ry Salomone, CEO & co-founder of Parmela Creamery, told FI, “In plant-based cheeses cashew & oat milk cheeses are leading the way because they’re made from wholesome real food ingredients, and they simply taste better. Foodservice has been slow to adopt plant-based cheese. It was exciting sampling our new Batch 42 cheeses, seeing the chefs’ reactions as they realize, there’s truly no sacrifice anymore.”

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market researcher who advises consumer packaged goods companies on innovation and market entry opportunities. She has a global, cross-cultural perspective from working at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Instagram, TikTok, and X at @VirginiaALee.