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  • Natalie Rouse

Is the Future Green for Dairy?

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

Future Foods were delighted to join the ‘Is the Future Green for Dairy Products?’ event hosted by Nutri-Wales at M-SParc, Anglesey in July. With over 60 attendees from across Wales, insightful presentations were delivered by a panel of experts, including Future Foods’ very own Natalie Rouse about this new and exciting market.

What is ‘Greener Protein’?

Greener protein is used to describe key vegan and plant-based diet components, but also encompasses the free-from trend. Research has identified that 25% of the market is displaying meat avoidance behavior with 3.5% of consumers identifying as vegan. A large section of the population is either avoiding animal-based protein or do not always realise that the meals they are choosing are plant-based. However, meat is not alone, people are making the change when it comes to dairy too, as the dairy-alternative market is growing at approximately 15% year on year.

There is value in the market…

Making the switch to dairy alternatives is going to cost a few more pennies. Non-dairy alternatives are more expensive than cow’s milk. On average, non-dairy alternatives are £1.37 per litre in comparison to 61p per litre for cow’s milk. The rise in popularity of dairy-alternatives has seemed to put a dent in milk sales despite their higher price.

Why the sudden shift?

For many years, animal welfare has been the main driver for people making the switch to greener protein, but other factors are now driving the change. Environmental concerns, including packaging, has become of great concern for the consumer, and they believe that making small changes will help climate change.

However, consumers have expressed their concerns regarding the possibility of moving to less nutritionally rich products. People want to make the change but are conscious of missing out on the high nutritional value that meat and dairy products provide. The big question is, can a plant-based diet provide all the nutrients our bodies require and are they available in an easily digestible format?

It seems that the ideal situation could be to combine the proven nutrition of a dairy base with the plant-based products. This could meet the needs of the consumer from both a nutritional and environmental perspective and would see a reduction in overall use of animal protein.

What is the process for plant-based cheese?

So how do we make plant-based cheese from fermented products? Breeda Cotter, an experienced food technologist highlighted a few challenges during the event. Milk from cows, sheep, goats, buffalo and camel all make great bases for cheese production. Some plant-based milk such as coconut, hemp, rice and soya can be used, although the nutritional content would be quite different, especially with regard to the sugars and fats profiles. In addition, the production process can be more complicated and lengthier, with higher pressure levels required when compared to diary milk processing.

Allergens can also be a challenge.

The declaration of allergens and the possibility of cross-contamination throughout the manufacturing process can also become an issue. Serious consideration must take place to ensure that all aspects of the supply chain are tested rigorously for the presence of allergens, as recent reports show fatalities in cases of labels not being clear enough and testing not being as extensive as needed. Managing these controls can have an impact on costs - dedicated equipment may be necessary for processing different products and deep cleaning needs to be extensive to prevent any cross-contamination.

To conclude

Throughout the event and supported by some enlightening panel discussions with the audience, it looks like oats or pulses could be the way forward for domestic milk alternatives. The Institute of Biology, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University: a world-class, teaching and research institute, as well as food technologists champion such crops for the nutritional and processing qualities they offer; the potential environmental benefits they could provide and believe they are an excellent base for plant milks and other products.

There are various R&D options that can be considered and progressed within this rapidly growing sector of plant-based. Maybe the combination of dairy with oats or pulses to make a targeted, functional and nutritious hybrid product, that also offers a low environmental impact whilst giving a superior source of healthy balanced nutrition could be the best solution?

The Future Foods programme in collaboration with Aberystwyth University and BIC Innovation are working on some exciting innovation projects with businesses and organisations to learn more about this growing sector and to help bring product solutions to the food and drink market.

If you are keen to discuss your ideas, gain some support with your R&D projects, need input from some industry experts or want to find out more about Nutri-Wales or Future Foods please do get in touch at

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