Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor


California: Land Of Milk And…Fake Milk?

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter Publishing Co., Inc.
dgroves@cheesereporter.com 608-316-3791

September 1, 2017


By pretty much any measure, California is a dairy powerhouse. The state has led the US in milk production since 1993, and has produced more than 40 billion pounds of milk in each of the last seven years, and nine out of the last 10 years.

California also leads the US in the production of butter and nonfat dry milk, among other products, and ranks second in cheese and yogurt output. In short, California’s dairy industry is huge.

As it turns out, California also appears to be emerging as a powerhouse in the growing market for ersatz, or fake, or imitation, or “alternative,” dairy and other food products.

We were reminded of this when, last month, the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it is creating a new Alternative Meats Lab to give students a leg up on what it describes as a “trillion-dollar market opportunity”: transforming the meat industry.

The Berkeley lab will use the latest technology tools and techniques to engineer plant-based meat alternatives, with animal meat-eaters as the target market. There are many venture-capital backed startups developing plant-based products aiming to compete with traditional meat (which, according to the North American Meat Institute, topped $1 trillion in 2016), but typically their approaches and techniques have been industry secrets, UC Berkeley noted.

One of the goals of Berkeley’s alt.meat lab will be to develop research to open up the industry by freely distributing findings in order to enable more entrepreneurs to be successful around the world in the “meat alternatives” space. So apparently these researchers will be “fakin’ bacon.”

“Through our network of alumni, investors, and founders, we determined that meat alternatives represent one of the biggest opportunities for creating a startup right now,” commented Ikhlaq Sidhu, faculty director and founder of the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at UC Berkeley and professor in the department of industrial engineering and operations research.

“The market is huge, and we believe the technology is ready for entrepreneurs to compete with traditional meat in the near future,” Sidhu added.

So what’s next in California? An alt.dairy lab?

That’s probably not as far-fetched as it may sound. There is at least one very compelling reason why California has a pretty big economic incentive to explore dairy alternatives: its almond industry.

Yes, California is a dairy powerhouse, but it’s also an almond powerhouse. Indeed, according to the Almond Board of California, almonds are the state’s number two commodity by value, trailing only milk ($6.3 billion for milk in 2015 versus $5.3 billion for almonds). California almonds are now grown on 1.11 million acres in California (including more than a few former dairy farms); that acreage has nearly doubled over the last two decades.

And almonds are used, quite extensively (or not), in dairy alternatives. This is no small market. Indeed, according to a 2016 Nielsen report, almond “milk” is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years.

During that same period, however, the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion. And while almond “milk” still accounts for just a fraction of the total milk market (about 5 percent), it brings in more than twice the revenue of the other substitutes combined.

Granted, there aren’t all that many almonds in some of the leading almond beverages.

According to the Almond Board of California, a one-ounce serving of almonds contains six grams of protein. Meanwhile, a one-cup serving of unsweetened Silk Almond “milk” contains just one gram of protein.
Interestingly, the first ingredient in that Silk beverage is listed as “almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds),” which would seem to indicate that this product is a lot of water and not all that many almonds. But it sure is popular.

So California has at least one solid economic incentive to support the alternative dairy industry. Has that translated into much economic activity in that business?

Yes, it has. For one thing, the Plant Based Food Association – which was formed in 2015 to engage in education, promotion, and advance policies to meet the increasing consumer demand for plant-based foods – is based in San Francisco.

And at least some of the PBFA’s members are based in California. Miyoko’s Kitchen, for example, is based in Fairfax, CA, and produces dairy alternatives based on products such as cashews. Leaf Cuisine, based in Santa Monica, CA, produces dairy-free spreads and other dairy-free products. And California-based Follow Your Heart produces and markets a variety of vegan “cheese” products and other dairy alternatives.

With all of this in mind, it would be difficult if not impossible to see a pretty bright future for the alternative dairy products business in California. To begin with, this is a growing sector of the food business according to pretty much everybody who’s studied it, and California in particular appears to be a hotbed for the dairy alternatives business.

California’s alternative dairy business also has some other advantages, including a population approaching 40 million and a whole heck of a lot of tech-savvy researchers, scientists and, perhaps most importantly, investors.

California’s dairy industry will remain a powerhouse for years to come, but its “alternative” dairy industry is poised to become a powerhouse as well.

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.



Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 35 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

Recent Editorials written by Dick Groves.

Brucellosis In the 21st Century Dairy Industry
August 25, 2017

Finally, Some Progress on Using UF Milk For Cheesemaking
August 18, 2017

The US Imports What, From Where?
August 11, 2017



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