VEGA News Item

Soya Drives Dairy-free Category - 05/11/2008
Dairy-free is becoming a well-recognized category in the grocery market; meat-free is another and VEGA is now aiming at the cruelty-free label
1. Dairy-free is becoming a well-recognized category in the grocery market; meat-free is another and VEGA is now aiming at the cruelty-free label for foods to stand comparison with the cruelty-free descriptions of toiletries, cosmetics, clothes and household goods. The category is significant in the Portfolio of eating plans VEGA presented to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for this year's celebration of World Food Day and to give effect to authoritative advice for several cogent reasons to reduce consumption of meat and dairy.

2. Alpro has just produced a promotional publicity supplement vaunting its place in the food market. "Soya products, and in particular soya yoghurts and soya desserts, are at the heart of continuing growth within the dairy-free category led by Alpro, which now commands almost 64% share, the dairy-free category is now worth about £103 million. With a year-on-year growth of 14.1% in soya desserts and 9.5% in soya yoghurts, the Alpro soya brand is leading the way in the drive to attract a wider audience to the dairy-free category."

3. Some impressive statistics follow in a strongly competitive market for products derived from animal sources. "Nearly 15% of the UK population now buys into soya, with penetration in some areas of the country reaching 1 in 5 households. And whilst the key challenge in this category will be to continue to attract new consumers, it's heartening to note that the average consumer now buys a soya product once every 12 days. Improved product quality and innovation in flavours and concepts mean that once users enter the category there's more likelihood that they still stay," states Alpro.

4. The encomium continues pertinently: "Health and ethics play a part too. According to an ongoing attitudinal study for Nielsen Homescan, both are strong motivators to purchase among all consumers. It's clear that these views are also shared by dairy-free users, as products which tick both boxes are helping to drive category growth. As such, there is growing focus on organic lines. The introduction of Alpro soya's blueberry and peach yoghurt is one example of this, whilst the resurgence of Alpro soya organic red cherry/peach and mango yoghurt has contributed almost 46% of the yoghurt category's growth. Organic lines are also helping to drive the growth in soya milk, with 43% of the category's growth attributed to Alpro soya organic fresh milk."

5. Merchandising and advertising are important factors. In Alpro's view "investment in the market is key to sustained growth. In a market in which brands have suffered from the economic showdown, Alpro has again invested in a multi-million pound advertising campaign during 2008. Despite adverse market conditions, the company witnessed year-in-year growth of 5%. By contrast, the rest of the dairy-free sector has invested a combined total of less than £1 million in the last year." This publicity is easy to see and appraise, and it adopts a commendable tone with values emphasized in health and for the environment. The organic market has been badly affected by competing demands for biofuels and shortage of organic feedstuffs, but the Grow Food not Feed concept of these last 50 years is nicely upheld by turning soya and cereal crops directly into the output of the Alpro "dairy" and their likes rather than stuffing them into the miserable and overworked cows and their calves, even in the dairies approved by the Soil Association and monitored by the RSPCA - they certainly don't rate as cruelty-free.

6. So Good is the main branded player in the market, with a performance that is not so good. "A year of transition" has seen "a decline year-on-year of 9%". So Good's ownership has changed and "the new owners Wessanen will be looking to make an impact in 2009." Consumers will be able to enjoy the choices offered by the competition, from the origins of the ingredients, through the nutrient qualities, to the suitability for tea, coffee or cereal and the packaging and availability in the catering industry. Soya Health Foods and soya milk brand Sunrise was given a revamp in April "to raise awareness of the health benefits associated with soya, in particular its proven capacity to lower cholesterol." The Sunrise Healthy Start range of juice and milk drinks includes varieties such as Mandarin and Pomegranate, and Orange and Mango, aimed at the breakfast table. Rice milk (mainly Rice Dream) and oatmilk (mainly Oatly) have seen "healthy sales growth in the past year," albeit from a small base (totalling less than 10% of the present dairy-free market).

7. There are therefore plenty of dairy-free alternatives - chilled and UHT, supermarket own brands, well known varieties and names, custards and creams, yoghurts and desserts - to ease switches for consumers seeking the uncowed status of dairy-free and further innovation is lively - and not to forget ice cream. Tesco's loyal customers are already being temped with vouchers to purchase Alpro soft cheese. The Alpro Year of Wellbeing beckons with the make-your-body-a-better-place-to-live theme, urging customers to watch out for the huge potential promising for the UK soya category. "There is an additional £70m of sales potential in this market if the UK could, for example, match per capita consumption of Belgium." We hope that our labels and tags, available free for domestic use and in the food-service industry, will grace jugs and other containers of the dairy-frees in a nicely forthright way.

8. This sustainable business, based on the "all-pervasive" ethos of the three Ps at Alpro - people, planet, profit - "upheld in everything the company does could pride itself more powerfully in its alleviation of cruelty and exploitation of the "other" animals, whose welfare motivates consumers cutting-down their resort to old-fashioned dairy-products. VEGA now looks for hope and activity for the meat-frees where developments in beans, pulses and cereals have manifold attributes, as well as fermentation products such as food-yeasts (for example torula and demonstrated in commodities such as Marmite and Quorn) that offer opportunities for consumers extricating themselves from the evils of the meat-industry to possibilities matching the promise in the dairy-free market.

The Pharmaceutical Touch and Fish Freedom
9. However, there are still more goals to aim for in the hearty repertoire of Alpro and its competitors in the omega 3 field of aims and promises. Just as the opposition in the dairy and egg markets have added value in the rivalry in the omegas - the yoghurts and poultry products in the one group being derived from animals fed enhanced diets rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, the plant-based milks and drinks can reach out further by fortification with long chain polyunsaturated acids (LCPUFAs) that are supposed to benefit consumers of certain fish, albeit with some qualms over pollutants and overfishing. VEGA alerted manufacturers and retailers of dairy-free alternatives and drinks - and especially of baby-foods - of the possibilities in fish-free enrichments of the sought-after docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids (DHA and EPA) obtained commercially from primitive algae that can be feasibly added to commodities from the alternative dairy. In fact, these are the products from which the fish derive their content of DHA and EPA; some fish and humans may have limited powers of biosynthesising their own DHA and EPA from polyunsaturated fats with shorter chains, such as those from plants and nuts.

10. "Fish is good for the brain;" there's some (slight) support for this saying to add another merit to the "fish oils" and the consequent extensions to behaviour and performance. These special fatty acids, which were comprised at one time in what was called vitamin F, have not been identified in terrestrial plants nor yet in research in the European Lipgene project to "transplant" the specialized genetic and enzymatic apparatus peculiar to the primitive (but highly endowed) algal organisms; however, the first GM foods with direct and proven benefits for human health should be available within 4 years after successful experiments in the USA, which would use soya as the modified crop (oilseed rape would probably be preferred in Europe).

11. Trials in the USA with the new GM soya are clearing the way for its use in foods such as spreads, yoghurts, cereal bars and salad dressings, with direct benefits to human health. The research at the University of South Dakota has shown that oil from the GM soya can raise concentrations of LCPUFAs in the blood of humans to levels found chiefly with oily fish such as salmon, trout and fresh tuna. They protect against cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and are claimed to help the growth of brain cells in the young. The GM soya is enhanced with fungal and plant genes.

12. The meat-free and dairy-free campaign bids fair to stimulate interesting, and if controversial, benefits in farming and food production as well as in animal welfare and the environment. Plants, nuts, herbs, fungi and algae will qualify for commercial diversification that goes beyond their merits as the basis of pharmaceuticals.  

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