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Author: Anay Mridul

The Evolution of The Alt-Milk

Even with sales in some quarters of the plant-based industry taking a hit, dairy alternatives continue to take the world by storm – with sales growing by 19% between 2020-22. Oat milk is as popular as ever, while almond milk is still king in the US.

This growth has been helped by a wave of alt-milks that come in different formats and offer more uses for the consumer. These novel versions eschew the traditional for something unusual – whether it’s a harmony of multiple base ingredients or new ways to prepare and consume dairy-free milk.

Alt-Milk Powders

While they’ve been around for a while in the US, powdered plant-based milks are slowly making their way to the global mainstream. In the UK, for example, two new oat milk powders were launched in January.

One was from Mighty, the brand introducing the UK to pea milk before expanding into oat and precision fermentation. The other was from a start-up called Overherd.

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While alt-milks are hailed for their animal-free nature and eco credentials, they also come with their problems. This industry is associated with a lot of waste, whether raw material residue, use-by dates or product packaging.

Most mass-market vegan milks are presented in Tetra Paks, which preserve freshness and extend their shelf life. But this comes at an environmental cost: currently, only 26% of Tetra Pak cartons are recycled globally.

This spurred Sandy Eyre, the founder of Overherd, to create powdered oat milk. He also had another reason. “I was surprised to see an oat content of only 10%, the rest being mostly water,” he explains. “It seemed silly to ship around all this water when we have taps at home.”

Sustainability is the biggest advantage that alt-milk powders possess. Overheard uses 90% less packaging weight than standard oat milk cartons on a per-litre basis. It’s also 10 times lighter, saving on transport emissions throughout the supply chain and making it ideal for travel and camping.

Additionally, it is a dried product and boasts a much longer shelf life. And to further address food waste, you can customise how much oat milk you want to make in one go – a litre or two, a pint, or even just a glass. While you can mix some with water when and as needed, even if you make a large batch, they’ll be good for three days in the fridge.

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There’s another major plus, notes Eyre: “Less food waste also means financial savings for customers, which is important at the moment.”

He says the flavour isn’t too dissimilar from store-bought oat milks. He finds that the resultant milk has a natural sweetness and mild oat flavour, and you can adjust the concentrate-to-water ratio to reach the desired thickness.

And what about using it as an alternative to conventional milk powder? The most exciting aspect of alt-milk powders is their multifunctionality – they can replace cow’s milk powder in various applications, including cooking and baking. They can also double as a creamer, mixing them directly into your coffee or tea. This is the case with the Instant range by US brand Goodmylk, which includes vegan-flavoured lattes and creamers in powdered forms.

While these products aren’t specifically designed to be used as barista milks, Eyre says Overherd’s offering steams well and can be used in latte art. Mighty’s powder contains oats, coconut oil, and salt. At the same time, Overherd comprises oats, coconut MCT powder (for creaminess and its brain health benefits) and chicory root fibre (for texture and mouthfeel), and is fortified with calcium carbonate and vitamin B12.

As with good coffee, the one downside of the DIY nature of this product is the water quality – your milk will only be as good as the water you use. Eyre also feels that powdered milk doesn’t have the best reputation. “But we’re trying to change that,” he asserts, “at least for plant milk powders, anyway.”

Nut Milk Pastes

Another relatively new format of alt-milks are nut pastes. Think of them as a middle point between plant milk powders and liquid versions. In the US, JOI is a market leader in this sector. In the UK, it’s Nooj. “The alternative milks category is bloated with many replicas,” argues its founder Caroline Barton. “And consumers deserve more choice.”

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Nooj’s pastes are essentially nuts ground with water to form a base for plant milk – as a consumer, all you have to do is add water at home to turn it into milk. It differentiates from regular milk in flavour – which is intentionally very nut-forward – and nutrient retention (Nooj’s manufacturing techniques help preserve nutrients in a way regular nut milks can’t).

Currently, Nooj’s offerings include almond and cashew pastes. While other ingredients are in the pipeline, it started with nuts due to their nutrient density and creamy texture, which sets them apart from other base ingredients.

Nut pastes share quite a few similarities with vegan milk powders. To start with, they’re highly versatile. “They can be mixed with many ingredients [and] stand in for a variety of dairy products, not just milk,” notes Barton. Think a base for cheesecakes, ice creams or chocolate truffles, or a star ingredient for vegan mayo, butter and even sour cream.

Additionally, they’re lighter to transport (saving on greenhouse gas emissions), and are quick and easy to use. These pastes can also be frozen to prolong their freshness and shelf life (even without doing so, they last 45 days in the fridge).

A key difference with regular homemade milks is that there are no discards here: if you’re making almond or cashew milk from whole nuts, you’re left with nut pulp. With nut pastes, nothing is filtered out, which means the ingredients add to the flavour and texture of the final product.

Perhaps the major question is how these pastes differ from unroasted nut butter. Barton believes nut butters need reconstituting with a blender instead of being mixed with a spoon or protein shaker to make a milk (which is the case with Nooj’s pastes). Moreover, unroasted nut butters are much more expensive and harder to manufacture.

Since nuts are also allergens, these pastes have their own manufacturing issues. The same could be said of oat milk (though Overherd’s powers use gluten-free oats). And Barton adds that nut milks are currently under the shadow of oat milk in terms of sustainability, but again, oats have their own problems with land use.

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The clean-label ingredient list also appeals to many consumers. These pastes contain almonds or cashews, rapeseed glycerine, sunflower oil and salt. And while there are no acidity regulators, Barton says they do foam well and could be used for frothy milk.

Concentrated Milks and Blended Varieties

Alt-milk concentrates are also gaining ground. The aforementioned Goodmylk offers almond, hemp and ‘super oat’ milk in frozen formats. The almonds are sprouted for additional nutritional benefits, and comprise 60% of the final product (as opposed to the 2-4% found in conventional almond milks). The oat milk combines gluten-free oats with tiger nuts to balance the flavour profile and lend the milk a velvety texture.

Another major trend in this space is the emergence of blended milks. While they’ve been around for a while, interest in these products has exploded thanks to a demand for premium barista milks that mimic the taste of dairy. While many companies are using and exploring precision fermentation or artificial intelligence (like NotMilk), these milks see multiple ingredients used as a base.

So instead of calling it oat milk, these are blended “not milks”. And these are different from the hybrid varieties we’re seeing emerge, which combine diary with a plant-based ingredient.

In 2021, Mighty introduced its M!lkology range of biomass-fermented oat and pea milks. A year later, industry giant Alpro followed with its version called This is Not Milk, a blend of oat, corn fibre and pea protein. Nestlé has also entered this space, launching its Natural Bliss alt-milk range that combines oats with fava beans.

Innovation in this category is rife, and according to Barton, these new-format milks will gradually occupy their own space in the alt-dairy sector – not just for milk, but also yoghurts, desserts, mayonnaises, dips, spreads, cream cheese, and ice cream. Meanwhile, Eyre hopes to see alt-milk powders become more widespread in refillable formats in zero-waste wholesale stores.

The future looks complex – in the best way possible.

Vegan Pet Food: The Financial Opportunity

It’s not just humans driving veganism forward – plant-based food is an ever-growing presence in pet diets. Globally, the vegan pet food sector is set to more than double in the next decade, swelling from $26bn in 2022 to $57.4bn in 2032. This growth is faster than that of conventional pet food.

Investment in this sector is at an all-time high, with start-ups across the globe raising sums to further product development and spur innovation in the sector. Here are some of the most notable recent funding stories in the plant-based pet food market:

Omni

Launched in 2020, UK vet-founded startup has been making waves in this space with its plant-based dog food. The brand’s name is a pushback to the perception that canines are carnivores.

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In January, Omni launched a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs, smashing its £400,000 target within 15 minutes of going live on the platform. This came a year after it raised £1.1 million in funding, with investors including ProVeg International, Trellis Road, Kale United, Purple Orange Ventures and Shiocap. The brand has seen a 30% monthly revenue growth since May 2021 and sold half a billion meals in 2022.

The Pack

Another UK dog food brand, The Pack closed its seed funding round in January with £835,000 ($1.01 million), held through global investment platform Vevolution. The startup plans to use the funds to launch a nutritionally complete, oven-baked dog food offering.

This investment round received participation from the likes of Scelta Products, Veg Capital, Kale United, Leap Ventures and the Mars Petcare Companion Fund (among others), as well as angel investors like Simon Day, Alicia Robb, Victoria Betoeski and Simon Newstead. The Pack was also one of the two pet nutrition startups to be selected for Leap Venture Studio’s 2021 accelerator programme.

Good Dog Food

A joint venture by the UK’s Roslin Technologies and cellular agriculture firm Agronomics, Good Dog Food is a cultivated pet food company launched in 2022. Earlier this month, it raised £3.6 million in a seed funding round, with Agronomics participating with a £1 million investment.

Jim Mellon, executive director of Agronomics, also financed £300,000, along with pet food investor Siddhi Capital and other private individuals.

Vegdog

Munich-based dog food startup Vegdog secured €3.5 million in Series A funding last November. Founded in 2016, the brand reported revenue of €2.4 million in 2021 and expected its turnover to cross €4 million last year.

Green Generation Fund led the financing round, while Startup Family Office and previous seed investor Katjes Greenfood also participated. The brand plans to use the funds to develop new products, expand into European markets, optimise sales channels and hire more staff.

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Scrumbles

While not an exclusively vegan company, UK startup Scrumbles offers a line of plant-based dog food. In March, it received £6 million ($7.3 million) in funding from UK private equity firm BGF (backed by banks like Barclays and HSBC).

Founded in 2016 by a husband-and-wife duo, the brand received B Corp recertification last year (after initially having it in 2018), and its revenues have tripled since its launch.

Heads Up for Tails

Heads Up for Tails is an Indian pet product retailer (with both brick-and-mortar and online presence). It’s expecting to raise $25 million from investment firm KKR, with an additional $10-15 million from existing investors, including Sequoia Capital and Verlinvest SA.

The retailer, which has 65 stores and 35 pet spas across 12 Indian cities, previously raised $37 million through Series A funding in 2021 and reported operating revenue of $15.1 million in 2022 (an 86% year-on-year growth).

While Heads Up for Tails isn’t an all-vegan platform, it’s a key player in the pet food market and is looking to diversify the segment by exclusively launching Canadian plant-based pet food brand Nature’s Hug in India – signalling a truly cross-continent trajectory for this sector.

The Future of Vegan Pet Food

The market opportunity is ripe with so much investment activity happening in this space. Manufacturers are urged to invest in ethical feeding trials and peer-reviewed studies to validate this sector further. Even among consumers, interest is rising: in 2022, a third of Brits said they’d be looking to invest in vegan pet food as long as it was healthy, according to a study by The Vegan Society.

It cited research by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, which found that 59% of UK households shared their home with a companion animal in 2021, with 33% living with cats and 27% with dogs.

In The Vegan Society’s survey, 20% of respondents with cats said they had purchased vegan cat food in the past, with 49% saying they’d be interested in buying it again. Likewise, 24% of those with dogs had bought plant-based canine food in the past, and 45% were looking to do so again.

With consumers more attuned to the environmental cost of the products they consume and the growing trend of humanising pets, the financial opportunity for vegan pet products is massive.

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The industry has been around for a while, and trailblazers like V-Dog, Benevo and Wild Earth have been leading this movement. But newcomers are furthering this trend and increased investment is pushing the vegan pet food market to new, unprecedented heights.

Brand Collaborations, Conferences, EU School Schemes, Funding and Expansions, and more

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Welcome to our round-up of plant-based news. We have been keeping across what has been happening in the sector and scouring newspapers, magazines, and digital platforms to bring you the most interesting and important plant-based news. If you have news for us, why not get in touch? Please email us at [email protected] with your stories! 

New products

Boldly

Launched in January, Australian alt-seafood brand is formally launching its product portfolio at Chicago’s National Restaurant Association Show (May 20-23). The brand, which claims its vegan seafood range is the largest of the kind on the market, makes vegan whitefish, salmon, tuna, crabsticks, calamari steaks and rings, jumbo prawns and shrimp bites from konjac and/or soy protein. These are designed for the US foodservice industry.

Cracked x This and Applewood

The UK vegan market has seen a significant brand collaboration. Plant-based egg brand Crackd has partnered with alt-meat startup This and cheese producer Applewood to offer plant-based quiches, which will launch exclusively at Tesco stores at the end of May.

The product range consists of Quiche Lorraine (which uses This Isn’t Bacon), Cheeze & Broccoli, and Caramelised Red Onion (all using Applewood’s smoky vegan cheese). This comes a month after the quiches won silver and bronze awards at the 2023 Farm and Deli Awards at the Food & Drink Expo. Crackd also won Product of the Year 2023 in January.

Funding and expansions

Prime Roots

US mushroom-based vegan deli meat manufacturer Prime Roots has raised $30 million in its latest financing package, taking its total funding to $50 million with a Series B round. The consortium of investors includes Quorn parent company Monde Nissin. Prime Roots makes charcuterie products like turkey, ham, salami, pepperoni, bacon, pâté and foie gras from mycelium.

The Vurger Co

UK vegan burger chain The Vurger Co has been acquired out of administration in a pre-pack sale by a new company formed by its founders alongside new and existing investors. The development will see the brand’s Canary Wharf location close, but it saves three sites in Shoreditch, Brighton and Manchester.

Founded in 2016, the company says it was heavily impacted by Covid-19, Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis. It had allegedly found a buyer at the end of last year, who pulled out at the last moment, but it has now raised the additional funds it needed to stay afloat.

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Odd Burger

Canadian fast-food chain Odd Burger has announced its international expansion plans. It aims to open 150 locations in Asia – 145 in India and five in Singapore – and will open a flagship store in Mumbai by the end of the year. With 90 locations already in operation or under development in Canada, the brand also plans to expand into 25 US states and some countries in Europe.

ProVeg International

Global non-profit ProVeg International has opened its first office in Nigeria to promote the benefits of climate-friendly diets and plant-based food and help transform the food system of the world’s third fastest-growing population. The charity will serve vegan regional dishes in markets streets, schools and hospitals across the country. This follows the launch of its African accelerator programme in 2021.

Legislations and conferences

European Parliament

While the EU parliament has voted to adopt a report implementing a school scheme focusing on unprocessed, locally produced and organic food, it has rejected amendments calling for plant-based beverages to be included in the scheme. Member of European Parliament Carmen Avram (from Romania) created the report and called for a vote in favour of a motion to “end the exclusion of children with intolerances, allergies and food restrictions”, but this was rejected.

However, ProVeg International, which campaigned to include alt-milks in European schools, said the EU Commission is now working on a new proposal to make lawmakers reconsider.

Bridge2Food

Dutch event management company Bridge2Food is hosting the Plant-Based Foods & Proteins Summit Europe The Hague, Netherlands on June 7 and 8. The conference will feature over 75 speakers and panellists – including representatives from Nestlé, Unilever and Danone – as well as more than 40 exhibitors.

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The summit will cover three main topics – Consumer & Industry Challenges, Delicious Foods, and Sustainable Processing Innovations – all keeping the UN’s sustainable development goals in mind.

Vegan Women Summit

The Vegan Women Summit 2023 ran from May 18-20 in New York City, featuring over 100 speakers and panellists. It was hosted by founder Jennifer Stojkovic and Miyoko’s Creamery founder Miyoko Schinner.

Topics of discussion included The State of Women in Business, Why Politics Belongs at the Dinner Table, Is the Media Fair to the Plant-Based Industry?, and How Science Will Make a More Compassionate Food System.

Discontinuations and bankruptcy

Heck

UK sausage maker is cutting down its vegan range due to a lack of consumer appetite. While it originally had 10 plant-based products in its portfolio, it is discontinuing all but two, with chipolatas and burgers being the only items it’ll keep making. This follows the withdrawal of several high-profile products in the British vegan market, including Oatly’s ice creams, Nestlé’s Garden Gourmet and Wunda lines, and Innocent’s dairy-free smoothies.

Raw Indulgence

Raw Indulgence, the US brand behind the Raw Rev protein bars, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York. The court filing states that the company has estimated assets between $500,000 and $1 million, and liabilities between $1 million and $10 million. It also cites that funds will be available to unsecured creditors.