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For inspiration about what’s possible in the plant-based space, meat substitute companies don’t have to look much further than the dairy case.
Soy milk and subsequent plant-based alternatives such as almond, coconut, and cashew beverages now constitute 16% of the overall U.S. dairy market, a share that has about doubled in the past five years, and analysts believe the share is expected to approach 25% in the next few years.
Meanwhile, plant-based yogurts have become huge even for dairy yogurt giants. Kite Hill and Forager are among the startups that have blazed trails, but the involvement of Danone and others has brought plant-based yogurts into the mainstream.
Danone entered the category by purchasing WhiteWave and its Silk brand of plant-based products for $12.6 million in 2017. Now, Danone has expanded Silk so that it includes 12 almond milk SKUs alone, seven soy SKUs, and four of oat, as well as 16 plant yogurt products. They’ve come to comprise the company’s presence in supermarket dairy cases almost to the extent of dairy-based products.
Another big dairy category has been moving into plant-based as well: cream cheese. Plant-based cream cheese was already a $32 million market that grew by more than 44% over the previous year when Kraft Heinz announced in 2022 that its iconic Philadelphia brand would be entering the segment.
“Less than half of current plant-based cream cheese consumers are repeat customers, proving the current options on the market aren’t meeting expectations, and there is no true category leader,” says Keenan White, senior brand manager for Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In general, White continues, “taste and convenience are paramount for the flexitarian as they search for plant-based options.”
Cheese is a dairy category that has been targeted by nondairy product makers as long as a half-century ago, but plant-based cheese never made much progress until very recently. Now, says Simon Cutts of SPINS market research, startups such as Nuts for Cheese—which offers cashew-based varieties resembling Brie and Gouda—have concocted products good enough to carve out niches in the dairy case.
“Cheese is a new opportunity for plant-based to delight and surprise the plant-based shopper,” he says. “I don’t know that the flexitarian will latch onto that right away, but for the dedicated plant-based shopper, specialty cheese would be an exciting category.”
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