As beverage makers fill the milk duct with plant-based offerings, Danone North America hopes the small business will help find the next big thing in the category: an alternative milk that tastes like the real thing.
Danone, the France-based maker of the herbal brands Silk and So Delicious, has taken milk and broken down everything in it – its taste, its nutritional components, its molecular makeup, and even the nostalgic feeling it created in consumers – to create its two new ones Formulate dairy-like alternatives, Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Wondermilk.
Danone North America executives are optimistic that the products, which took two years to develop, will provide the taste and texture necessary to attract milk drinkers who wanted to switch to plants but haven’t found those properties.
About half of shoppers say the texture and taste of plant-based milk doesn’t meet their dairy expectations, Danone said, citing IRI data. This could explain why conventional milk consumption is twice that of plants: an estimated 94% of US households currently buy milk, IRI found, while the figure for plant-based milk is closer to 40%.
“We cracked this code for this group of consumers who are reluctant to come along with innovations that finally deliver what they’re looking for,” said John Starkey, president, plant-based foods and beverages, Danone North America. “We are able to really break this barrier that has held them back for so long.”
The plant-based milk category is full of offerings consisting mostly of oats, soy, cashews, and almonds. Almost four in ten US households purchased plant-based milk in 2020, with total sales of $ 2.5 billion, about 20% of the total milk category.
Food manufacturers have aggressively tried to bring plant-based products, including meat and dairy products, as close as possible to their animal counterparts in order to attract consumers. NotCo produces Not Milk, which is made from water, pea protein, sunflower oil, cabbage juice concentrate, and pineapple juice concentrate, while Oatly, as the name suggests, is successful with oats.
Impossible Foods, which unveiled a prototype plant-based milk in 2020, and Beyond Meat, which has registered a trademark for the Beyond Milk name, are no doubt hoping to restore their success in making artificial beef, chicken and sausages.
Danone’s research and innovation team tried thousands of different ingredients before choosing Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Wondermilk, among others, on oat milk, soy protein and coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut cream. It was a tedious process because the company had to recreate the inherently complicated profile of milk, said Takoua Debeche, chief research and innovation officer, Danone North America.
“We broke down every element of milk and then worked to rebuild it with some plant-based ingredients,” she said. “The challenge is that all of these blocks interact with each other.”
One of the biggest obstacles is the milk’s unique taste profile, which combines sour, bitter and salty with sweet and creamy. In addition, Danone had to mimic the special blend of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in milk that gives it a silky feel and allows it to coat the tongue. The company was able to use its dairy experience where it makes brands like Horizon Organic Milk and Two Good and Activia yogurts to copy the experience.
The dairy giant also wanted the new products to match or exceed the nutritional content of traditional milk. including vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and calcium while containing fewer calories. In doing so, Danone also had to hide the aromas of the plants from which the milk was made.
The new Danone milk, which is whole or 2% fat, has many of the same ingredients, but Debeche said they are aimed at consumers depending on the drinking occasion.
Silk Nextmilk is intended to be consumed on its own, while So Delicious Wondermilk, which can also be used this way, is intended for cooking and baking. Danone also plans to use Wondermilk in a new line of So Delicious Cones and Pints of Ice Cream. These products will hit shelves in January, with Silk Nextmilk being sold in national grocery stores and So Delicious Wondermik appearing in natural channels.
Danone said Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Wondermilk will not replace the company’s other herbal offerings. Instead, they will fill an existing void in their herbal portfolio with buyers.
“There are consumers who have different tastes in every household, and there are consumers who love to try existing plant-based beverages and are very loyal to these products,” said Starkey. “This is the next wave of growth we can bring to the category and our business.”