Debuting at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim earlier this month, plant-based dairy company CHKP Foods’ new line of chickpea yogurts available in plain, vanilla, blueberry and strawberry offer a thick, creamy base that doesn’t require stirring and rivals that of a traditional strained dairy yogurt, thanks in part to its namesake ingredient.
“We fell in love with the chickpea,” for the same reason many food scientists have, which is because it is highly functional with emulsification and foaming properties that can recreate the mouthfeel of dairy yogurt but without off-flavors that can be turnoffs like some of the other bases used in non-dairy yogurt, company co-founder Noam Sharon told FoodNavigator-USA.
Packing a protein punch
He added that the company was drawn to chickpeas because they are high in protein, which is an attribute many consumers look for in yogurt – both dairy and non-dairy. He explained one cup of the legume offers about 14.5g of protein, which is complete with all nine essential amino acids.
This allows the brand to tout 5g of protein per yogurt cup – notably more than many non-dairy competitors, including Harmless Harvest’s coconut yogurt alternative, which offers 1g of protein per serving, Forager’s cashewmilk yogurt alternative, which offers 3 grams of protein per serving and oat-based Oatly’s plain non-dairy yogurt, which offers 4 grams of protein per serving.
While CHKP Foods protein content sets it apart from other non-dairy competitors, it still falls short of dairy options, including Chobani’s low-fat plain dairy yogurt that has 17g of protein per serving and Siggi’s non-fat plain Skyr Icelandic-style strained yogurt that has 19g of protein per serving.
High saturated fat adds decadence, but also detracts from nutrition profile
While chickpeas pack a protein punch compared to some other non-dairy yogurt bases, the addition of coconut oil to reinforce the legume’s functional properties could be a detractor for some consumers who are looking for a low-fat or heart-healthy option.
CHKP Foods’ yogurts have almost as much saturated fat as protein with between 4g and 5g per serving depending on the flavor. This is higher than many non-dairy competitors. Harmless Harvest’s plain coconut yogurt alternative have 2.5g of saturated fat, forager’s cashew-based option has 1.5g and Oatly’ oatgurt has 1g per serving.
It is also higher than some dairy products, including Fage’s 2%, which has 2g of saturated fat per serving, but is on par with Fage’s decadent 5% offering, which has 5g of saturated fat per serving.
That said, fat is less of a concern for most consumers currently than sugar, which CHKP Foods keeps in check partly by relying on a blend of sugar, monk fruit juice and fruit for sweetness, depending on the flavor. The Strawberry and Blueberry options have 8g of sugar, the vanilla 7g and the plain zero.
For comparison, Chobani’s strawberry dairy yogurt has 14g of sugar, Strawberry Yoplait Original has 19g per serving, and Stoneyfield’s Strawberry dairy yogurt has 16g per serving.
Carving out space in a crowded segment
While the non-dairy yogurt category has become increasingly crowded in recent years, the wide range of bases and nutritional profiles shows illustrates it is also highly fragmented and many players have not fully cracked the code on what consumers want.
“Over 30% of US households have tried alternative yogurt in the last 12 months, but didn’t come back, which means that people are looking for something and they can’t find it,” Sharon said.
He was quick to note that even though he loves many of the non-dairy brands currently available, the category’s failure to engage repeat trial among so many consumers suggests “more options are certainly grateful in this market, and that is what drove us to put most of our focus on plant-based yogurt.”
He added that CHKP’s legume base is a much-needed option in the space because it is not an allergen, giving it an edge over some non-dairy competitors that use almonds and other nuts.
A strong sustainability story
But the chickpea also offers more than health benefits for people – it also has a strong sustainability story, which is increasingly important to consumers, especially those who are looking for dairy alternatives.
“Chickpeas belong to the legume family and are a very sustainable crop that takes up nitrogen from the atmosphere and converts it to nutrition for the next generation of crops,” Sharon explained. He added they also need very little water and have a low carbon footprint.
While Sharon is bullish on CHKP’s potential in non-dairy yogurt, he notes this is just the beginning for the company, which already is making non-dairy cream cheese, puddings and eventually hopes to make a non-dairy milk.
*Learn more about the global vegan yogurt market in a recent report from Research & Markets.