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Business Unusual

Got milk? Non dairy milk?

18 November 2020 7:33 PM

500 million metric tons are produced a year, but environmental considerations are making alternatives look more attractive

We have been drinking milk for thousands of years and using cattle for meat and dairy is the origin of the term cottage industry. Using milk for milk, butter and cheese meant one animal could supply the materials to create a bunch of products both for the farmers consumption and to sell on at a profit.

The option to eradicate smallpox comes from the discovery that farmers on dairy farms that contracted cowpox became immune to smallpox, making a vaccine from cowpox allowed smallpox to become the first disease that was a major threat to humans to be eradicated.

Considering how much we owe the dairy farmer and how much we enjoy the products why would we consider an alternative.

Statistic: Annual consumption of fluid cow milk worldwide in 2019, by country (in 1,000 metric tons) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

The best kind of disruption

Butter and cheese is a value added product that is far more stable and easy to store and transport than milk. While milk alternatives are currently a threat to the 500 billions litres of milk produced each year, it may prove to be a very welcome disruptor.

Dairy farmers may prefer to keep milk for butter and cheese production as the efforts to ensure the highly perishable product is delivered safely and fresh is an incredible logistical undertaking. It is testament to just how good the supply chain is that in almost any country you can find milk at a local shop that by necessity would be locally sourced.

By using something other than cow's milk, that supply chain could become a lot simpler and depending on which alternative you prefer may allow you to make your own at home.

In this respect the reduction in cost and complexity to produce dairy products may be a welcome alternative assuming the new products cost the same or less, taste the same or better and actually are better for the environment.

The options

While some of these options could be used to make butter and cheeses and be used in baking, it is likely that commercial production of butter, cheese and baking would remain from dairy. It is the use of milk in particular that may have the most options for alternatives.

Soy milk is perhaps the best known and was more a solution for those that were lactose intolerant than a better alternative. It is made from soybeans which are a sustainable crop and the product is less likely to spoil than regular milk. It does not score very highly on taste though

Almond milk, there are a variety of nut based milks that depending on the nut used and area grown may be more environmentally friendly. Almonds do not appear to be the ideal candidate for the environment and for those with nut allergies are not suitable. There is also cashew, coconut, hazelnut and macadamia options.

Rice milk is also a well known option and given the extensive production may be a good alternative, but given its reliance as a food crop diverting a major portion for milk may not be ideal. Rice also needs large quantities of water and so is not something that can easily be grown everywhere.

Pea milk may need some clever marketing to avoid the unfortunate name in English but like Soy Milk is a good alternative even if it does not tick the boxes for everyone for taste.

Then there are the newer types.

Hemp seems to be a magical plant, its uses appear endless including making milk from it, it may not be everybody's cup of tea though but then again it just might be the thing you prefer for your brew.

Coffee fans may be harder to satisfy with a milk alternative, but then real coffee fans don’t even use milk

Oat milk is the rising star with companies like Oatly making waves and looking to list with a long list of big names willing to boost sales and profile. It can be made at home and like many other milk alternatives may benefit from a blend of other milk alternatives to get the best taste and nutritional profile. It is pretty easy to grow and would work well in most farming operations that could use it for grazing animals for part of the year, allowing fields to recover and to produce a crop that may have an attractive return.

It has been used in drinks and ice cream and can be used in baking. One issue you may find if you make it at home is a sliminess which with the right method can be avoided.

The last in this growing list is barley milk which may have the best environmental footprint if the efforts of TakeTwo foods are successful. Barley is used in many recipes but the bulk of it goes to the brewing industry to make beer and whisky. Once used the barley is used for animal feed or simply dumped. TakeTwo have found a way to use the barley to make milk. The kind that tastes similar to milk can be used for baking and should work in your coffee.

The brand that is looking to make the most of the blended options is NotCo and may be the ultimate best option for developing alternatives.

Why this is potentially good disruption

Usually disruption marks the shift from one type of product or service to a new one. The disrupted industry tends to shrink and become less important that the new industry with new brands and companies dominating.

In this case the disruption could be embraced by dairies who already have well known brands and can make the new products without major disruption to their current operations and may even benefit from being able to divert milk for dairy products while using the milk alternatives as milk. It could become cheaper, easier to store and distribute and can be even more nutritional with a milk containing all the added nutrients to ensure a good balance for the young and the old.

The real challenge will be how likely we are to try something new. This small poll suggests getting us to change what we are used to may be the biggest challenge.

18 November 2020 7:33 PM

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