Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show, Steltenpohl said: “Almond [milk] was a huge performance difference [to soymilk] relative to taste, flavor, and the ability to have unsweetened [products], which is now the driver of volume in the category, especially for Califia, where over 73% of our portfolio is unsweetened.
“And oat is another product that delivers with no added sugar in terms of mouthfeel and drinkability, so we’re really excited about the category, I think it has a lot of legs [although] consumer adoption [of oatmilk] outside the coffee market is still to be determined.”
From a formulation perspective, he said, “[Califia Farms' oatmilk] has several distinct formulation differences from prior [plant-based] milks we’ve done, which is partially because of the quality of the oat itself. We’re using a whole gluten-free oat… and our formula uses no gums, and there’s no added sugar.
“It’s an unsweetened product and it has a completely clean label from a gum or additive standpoint, there are just some salts and minerals, and we use a sunflower oil instead of a generic canola oil, which creates a unique finish to the product that’s very clean and doesn’t leave an oily aftertaste.”
Barista blend developed in dialog with the specialty coffee industry
The barista blend, launching in February, was “formulated for performance with baristas and the specialty coffee industry,” he said.
“How well does it work in a cappuccino or a latte, first from the point of view of the experience for the consumer, and secondly for an operator of an espresso machine and steaming milks, how does it perform for them? The ability to hold bubble structure, micro-foam, and of course the ability to create a detailed or beautiful rosette and latte art is all part of the pleasure for professional baristas showcasing their skills.”
Plant ‘milk’ labeling: ‘Certainly we don’t think consumers are confused’
Asked whether he is anxious about the prospect of a crackdown on the use of dairy-derived terms such as ‘milk’ on plant-based products in the US, given the FDA commissioner’s recent statements and new probe into labeling conventions in the category, he said:
“So far they [the FDA] have proven to take a very considered approach and are listening to all the submittals [from stakeholders during this period of public comment]. Of course in Europe and Canada, we don’t use any of those terminologies related to milk so, we’re not certainly afraid of it [switching to ‘oat beverage etc] if that is what the government decides, then we’ll work with that, but certainly we don’t think consumers are confused.”
As to whether plant-based milks should seek to mirror dairy counterparts from a nutritional perspective, Steltenpohl noted that Califia Farms adds calcium to all of its plant-milks [apart from its organic 'homestyle' almondmilk] and has fortified selected products with added pea protein isolate and brown rice protein.
“Companies like Califia are, and should be, working on denser nutrition products for those consumers that are looking for that kind of solution," said Steltenpohl.
But he added: “We’re a consumer driven company, so we spend a lot of time listening to what people want… and the first thing people wanted was a clean and clear label… People [also] didn’t want the sugars, which actually dairy milks have in the form of natural sugars [lactose]… so they want very low calories, and then of course no gums and all of these other things.”
Califia Farms says oatmilk retail sales were up 168% year-on-year in the 12 weeks ended September 9, 2018 (citing SPINS data), while coffee shop specific sales are up 425% since June 2017 (citing data from Square).
Nielsen recorded significant growth in sales of non-dairy milks in the 52 weeks to August 25, 2018 (all outlets combined), with plant-based blends the top performing products (+45.4%), followed by oat milk (+35.5%), almondmilk (+11.5%), coconutmilk (+1%). However, dollar sales of ricemilk were down -2.3% and soymilk sales slumped -7.9%.