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Plant-based milks make a bigger splash

Thew plant-based milk and cheese market is gaining in popularity and attracting new brands.

4 min read


The evolution of plant-based dairy alternatives

Califia Farms

Not so long ago, non-dairy milks were limited mostly to soy and almond beverages in traditional milk cartons and shelf-stable Tetra Paks, but that’s been changing in recent years as more consumers make the shift from dairy to plant-based milks and the market segment grows both more popular and more competitive.

Plant-based beverages are on track to comprise 40% of the total dairy and non-dairy alternative beverage category by 2021, up from 25% two years ago, as health and animal welfare concerns spur more consumers to switch from dairy to non-dairy options, according to Packaged Facts. Non-dairy milk sales grew 61% between 2012 and 2017, and topped out at $2.1 billion last year, according to Mintel.

At Califia Farms, the expanding line of almond milks, plant-based yogurts, creamers, coffee and probiotic beverages come in curvy bottles with pretty pictures of some of the sustainably sourced ingredients that go into the brand’s growing stable of recipes.

Founder Greg Steltenpohl created the brand in 2010 and began widely distributing the first products six years ago. Today, Califia boasts about 70 products in five categories, all plant-based and non-GMO.

During the Summer Fancy Food Show earlier this month, the company announced a new round of $50 million in funding in a round led by Ambrosia Investments and a celebrity-studded advisory board that includes Karlie Kloss, Leonardo DiCaprio and Shaun White.

California-based Steltenpohl is a jazz musician who first made his name in the beverage business when he co-founded juice brand Odwalla in 1980. That brand was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2001. The brand’s name comes from the Spanish legend of Queen Califia, who was the inspiration for the name of the brand’s home state.


“The name represents a land of abundance and nature,” he said. “It’s inspirational to have a feminine figurehead.”

The brand’s success stems from a strategy that combines art and science, and the creativity shows in both its packaging and marketing, which is key in the highly competitive field. Califia faces giants in each of the categories where it competes, including Nestle, Starbucks and Danone.

“Our little brand goes head-to-head with those companies,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a growing market for artisanal, creative startups, which keeps the space dynamic.”

The brand’s newer lines of probiotics and drinkable yogurts come in single-serve sizes to meet growing demand for snacks and grab-and-go breakfast options. The category is likely to continue evolving over the next decade, he said, and there will be growing opportunities for plant-based beverages in foodservice.

“Brands are responding to the consumers,” he said. “First we’re listening, then we’re acting on that.”

Califia was one of several plant-based dairy alternative brands on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show.

  • Three-year-old Nutpods makes almond-coconut blend creamers with no added sugars. The creamers, in flavors including Original, French Vanilla and Hazelnut, in both shelf-stable and refrigerated versions. Nut Pods come in packaging that’s made from 95% plant materials.
  • Several non-dairy cheese brands also showed off their products at the show, including startup The Uncreamery, which served up flavors including Smoked Gouda and Ghost Pepper Jack.
  • New Hampshire-based Nuttin Ordinary’s line of cashew-based cheeses were also featured at the show. The oil-free cheeses are each made with only five ingredients.


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