With more health-conscious consumers driving household decision-making about which foods to buy, dairy-free alternatives to yogurt and other fermented milk products are gaining traction worldwide. With these options, consumers have access to products they perceive as healthier, lower in cholesterol, allergen-free, and those with a reduced carbon footprint.
The challenge for manufacturers is to meet the rising demand for plant-based alternatives by creating products that can satisfy consumer preferences for taste, texture, and shelf life that are able to match more traditional dairy counterparts. Research of market trends suggests that while consumers are open to replacing traditional dairy foods with plant-based alternatives, a significant percentage do not enjoy the taste of plant-based foods as much as they do traditional dairy foods. Indeed, more than two-thirds of Americans state they would be willing to incorporate more plant-based options into their diets if they were tastier than the products currently available on the market. Together, these trends suggest that a segment of dedicated consumers will continue to seek out plant-based options regardless of whether they can compete on taste and culinary experience, but a significant percentage of mainstream consumers will only consider making the switch if they believe the plant-based alternative is as delicious as the dairy-based counterparts available.
Increasingly sophisticated consumers want plant-based options to be delicious, and they are willing to pay more for better products
Companies looking to succeed within plant-based segments have noticed these shifts in preferences. Competition is growing, and producers are investing heavily in bringing artisanal craft and cleaner labels to plant-based alternatives for results that offer more authenticity and improved taste. Producers are increasingly aware that offering a boost to wellbeing and a lighter carbon footprint heightens the appeal of their products. Some of the leading premium brands for great-tasting, plant-based options have witnessed fivefold growth between 2017 and 2021, underscoring the significant demand for truly excellent alternatives, even when costlier than their counterparts in the traditional dairy category., 
Innovative plant-based cultures address challenges faced by manufacturers
Global bioscience leader Chr. Hansen has spent 145 years building an unrivaled expertise in using the power of good bacteria to make naturally tasty, safe foods that stay fresh for longer. Now, with the launch of its new VEGA Culture Kit, the company has applied this experience and expertise toward embarking on a new chapter of collaboration with the plant-based category.
“It can be daunting for producers to select inputs from among the wide array of plant bases—such as coconut, almond, oat, pea, soy, and even blends that combine these bases in various ratios,” says Dr. Ross Crittenden, Senior Director of Commercial Development at Chr. Hansen. “From there, fermenting them into plant-based products—or ‘vegurts,’ as we refer to them at Chr. Hansen—can be a whole new challenge. Dairy milk is a straightforward and consistent ingredient when used as a base, but in contrast, plant bases are highly diverse and variable in composition, creating additional challenges for manufacturers committed to offering products with superior taste and texture.”
“The philosophy behind the VEGA Culture Kit is a response to this dynamic landscape that offers solutions that combine simplicity with flexibility. It is the culmination of years of testing and screening for strains of cultures that deliver robust performance across the gamut of plant bases. The result is a portfolio consisting of resilient, flexible vegurt options that take the worry out of fermentation performance, allowing plant-based manufacturers to focus on selecting the best cultures that meet their needs for taste, texture, health benefits, and sustainable production.”
Superior taste and texture, probiotic support and enhanced freshness—all available from cultures designed specifically for plant bases
“One of the most exciting new innovations in the VEGA Culture Kit is cultures that can significantly improve mouth feel and creamy texture in vegurt products,” notes Dr. Patrizia Buldo, Senior Scientist at Chr. Hansen. “This breakthrough can be a game-changer, because producers using these optimized cultures may find that their need for additives and stabilizers is reduced or eliminated entirely as a result, enabling them to offer the cleaner-label vegurt products their customers are after.”
Chr. Hansen’s new VEGA Culture Kit helps producers craft superior, fermented plant-based alternatives by offering culture solutions in three key areas. The first category are cultures that create superior taste and texture, enabling producers to choose between mild and freshly acidic flavors, as well as regular or thick, creamy textures—all from cultures specifically designed for superior performance in plant-based applications. The second category in the VEGA Culture Kit are probiotic cultures that may enable enhanced health positioning. These VEGA nu-trish cultures include the world’s most-researched probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG and Bifidobacterium, BB-12 that may support immune and digestive health. The final category includes a culture with bioprotective properties, which, when used in fermentation, has been demonstrated to help maintain fresh quality by outcompeting yeast and mold contaminants that may otherwise cause spoilage in plant-based foods. The VEGA FreshQ culture ensures superior freshness and minimizes quality issues, all while helping to reduce food waste.
Innovating toward a more sustainable future
As plant-based options continue to capture market share, the category will be ultimately be led by those producers who are able to offer healthy options that feature the best taste and texture available. Consumer focus on health, wellbeing, and sustainable consumption will continue to grow, increasing demand for compelling alternatives within this category.
“Our research of market trends has found that there is still room to differentiate products and brands within this category, and great cultures offer producers the means to do so in a straightforward manner,” says Crittenden. “We are proud of the simplicity and flexibility that VEGA can offer the marketplace. We look forward to building upon Chr. Hansen’s proud heritage of forging close partnerships with our customers and supplying them with world-class cultures so that together, we can raise the bar for quality and redefine what is possible within the exciting, dynamic, vegurt category.”
VEGA, nu-trish, FreshQ, LGG and BB-12 are trademarks of Chr. Hansen A/S
 Yale University, 2020. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/climate-change-and-the-american-diet/2/
 Euromonitor International. “Packaged Food: The Rise of Vegan and Vegetarian Food.” 2020, p. 10.