What’s the future for plant-based milk? According to a report market researcher Spoonshot, the next growth spurt for plant-based milk is going to come from grains, which may boost better taste, texture and sustainability credentials.
With innovation using the likes of soy, almond and oat as alt milk-based ingredients peaking, it reckons there’s a case to explore and expand other grains, barley in particular. “Barley is a hardy grain and can be grown in extreme climates It is the fourth most cultivated crop in the world and is quite nutritious, but not widely used except in the alcohol industry to make beer,” Spoonshot said in a report. “It is also soluble, and this makes it easy to create a creamy liquid.”
UK-based Bright Barley launched the first barley-based milk last year. Bright Barley is said to be low fat, a source of fibre, and had added calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
“In the coming years, there is going to be significant focus on other grains for plant-based milk innovation -- ranging from established staples like barley and quinoa to relatively familiar grains like millets, which also have a creaminess similar to oat milk,” added Spoonshot.
But start-up Nooj is eyeing a different route. It debuts in October in 150 Sainsbury’s stores as the UK’s first-to-market nut milk concentrate.
The product, available in almond and cashew, will be positioned alongside other chilled plant milks and dairy products. It is a smooth nut paste, containing over 60% nuts, water, salt and a natural preservative. When mixed with water, it can create cream through to ‘skinny’ milk. It also combines with many other liquids, can be used straight from the pack and can be used widely in the kitchen.
An alternative to ‘pale and washed out’ plant milks
Nooj founder Caroline Barton said the product aims to bring to the table a ‘real alternative’ to the ‘pale, washed out’ plant milks made with ‘only the lightest trace of nuts’. She said it was also developed in response to the high-water content in other plant milks and the cost involved in transporting unnecessary water.
“For all the plant-based milk choices that exist today, I remain convinced that more consumers need access to a credible, more planet-responsible alternatives to the large samey swathe of heat-treated plant milks which contain only a meagre amount of plant,” she said.
Barton, an artist, was advised to give up dairy and gluten by her doctor despite spending her childhood growing up on a dairy farm. She was inspired to start making her own nut milk concentrate at home as she found the current plant milks on the market ‘too watery’. "I started a few years ago buying plant milk and thought ‘this is mainly water and it smells funny: why are people buying it?’. I found it more convenient to have my own almond paste to make into a milk or use it as a paste in cooking. I thought the product might exist to buy but it didn't."
She said her product boasts a more satisfying water/nut ratio (users decide the breakdown. One 150g pack makes over a litre and a half of milk with over 6% nut content, we were told) and more enticing texture, that uses the whole nut (unfiltered) and isn’t heat pasteurised, which can severely suppress a traditional plant milk’s taste cues and nutritional gravitas.
Target consumers are those already buying higher end plant milks from the likes of Plenish and Rude Health. The product is also hoping to attract adventurous home cooks.
“It’s a versatile product,” said Barton. “If you buy plant-based yoghurts, cream cheese, or cream – you no longer need to. You can buy one product and use if for lots of different things.” She added: “By creating an almond and a cashew variant of Nooj, I maximised the brand’s usage appeal as their very distinct textures fat/starch contents means they can provide an array of different usage occasions such binding baking, cooking and quaffing. I also wanted a brand with a very deliberate planet-friendly mindset, which is why my team focuses solely on a quality nut concentrate and not wasting finite planetary resources needlessly shipping water halfway around the planet.”
“It's not just a new product; it's a new concept,” added Barton, “and with Sainsbury's stocking it, it's a great endorsement."
"Sainsbury's priority for driving sales growth is chilled plant-based products and their core customer that they get 60% of their revenue from are slightly older health-conscious customers, so you could this is a product that fits with their key growth drivers.”