Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor



Non-Dairy Alternatives On A Roll, But It’s Not All Rosy

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter

July 31, 2020

You know your industry is on a roll when it starts to attract interest, and more importantly money, from celebrities. Such is the case with dairy alternative company Oatly, which offers a range of oat-based products, such as Oatmilk, Oatly frozen dessert, and Oatgurt.

Earlier this month, the Swedish company announced that it has further bolstered its plant-based movement through an agreement to invest $200 million in equity led by Blackstone Growth. Additional investors in the funding round include Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, and Howard Schultz, the former chairman and CEO of Starbucks.

The injection of capital will fund the company’s overall growth plans, which include expansion in current markets and new production plants in the US, Europe and Asia. Oatly states that its patented original oatmilk created the fast-growing oatmilk category and that the company is a leader in the plant-based food space, with its products available in more than 50,000 locations in 20 countries.

Oatly’s press release announcing the $200 million investment noted that, as part of the company’s mission to reduce the “CO2e” footprint of the food industry by shifting consumers’ consumption choices, the company last year added a carbon footprint label to its products in Europe, so now consumers can consider the carbon footprint of their food choices, just as they do with nutritional content.

Ah, yes, the nutritional content. Every time we read or hear about some new dairy alternative, we have to check the nutritional content, to see how it compares with its real dairy counterpart.

To keep this brief, we’ll just note that Oatly’s Low-Fat Oatmilk contains three grams of protein per one-cup (eight-ounce) serving. Meanwhile, regular lowfat milk contains eight grams of protein per serving, and a product like fairlife’s lowfat milk contains 13 grams of protein per serving.

Notably, the first ingredient in Oatly’s product is “Oatmilk (water, oats),” which doesn’t tell you how much water and oats are used to produce “Oatmilk.” With just three grams of protein per eight-ounce serving, it seems like “Oatmilk” is quite a bit of water and maybe not all that many oats.

Then there’s the cost of Oatly’s products. You can order a six-pack of 32-ounce cartons of the company’s Low-Fat Oatmilk for $32.00, which includes shipping. That will get you 24 servings of a product that contains three grams of protein per serving.

Or, you could buy a gallon of milk, for an average of around $3.25 these days, and get 16 servings of a product that contains eight grams of protein per serving.

Elsewhere on the plant-based food front, we note with interest that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recently published a report outlining food-based dietary guideline recommendations for children aged one to five. Water and milk are the only drinks recommended for this age group.

Parents and guardians are warned in the FSAI’s guidance against using some beverages, such as almond “milk,” coconut “milk” and rice “milk” as milk substitutes as these are nutritionally inadequate.

Speaking of coconut milk, there was an interesting perspective published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) earlier this year that started off as follows: “Clinical trials don’t support the public’s positive perception of coconut oil, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis suggests.”

The study referenced in the JAMA perspective, published in Circulation (an American Heart Association journal), found that, compared with other vegetable oils, coconut oil increases LDL (bad) cholesterol, while offering no improvements to weight, blood glucose, or inflammation markers.

And, as that JAMA perspective added, here’s what the authors of the study published in Circulation stated: “Despite the rising popularity of coconut oil because of its purported health benefits, our results raise concerns about high coconut oil consumption. Coconut oil should not be viewed as healthy oil for cardiovascular disease risk reduction and limiting coconut oil consumption because of its high saturated fat content is warranted.”

Why should the dairy industry care about this? Because there are several companies producing plant-based alternatives that use coconut oil or other derivatives in their products. Among these are Follow Your Heart’s vegan “cheese” products, Good Karma Foods’ sour “cream”, Kite Hill’s Blissful Coconut Milk Yogurts, Kube Ice Cream, Coconut Bliss frozen dessert, and Nutpods creamers.

One other interesting note about coconut oil (or water, or cream, or milk; it’s listed on ingredient statements under several different terms): PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recently announced that Cost Plus World Market has banned Chaokoh coconut milk after the brand’s supplier was implicated in PETA Asia’s first-ever undercover investigation into the use of monkeys in Thailand’s coconut industry. In a press release, PETA said its investigation “reveals that monkeys are chained, confined to cramped cages, and forced to climb trees and pick coconuts in Thailand to be used in products like coconut milk.” Interesting.

The dairy industry continues to face competition from plant-based alternatives, and it’s hard to argue that these products are enjoying a “moment” right now. But as they continue to grow in popularity, they will also undergo more scrutiny, and it’s safe to say that the results of that additional scrutiny won’t be all positive..


Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 40 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

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