In the dynamic landscape of modern food innovation, a new trend is taking center stage – the emergence of hybrid products. The basic concept of these so-called hybrid products is to combine both plant-based and animal-based ingredients into a single food. Hybrid products might incorporate precision fermentation, animal-free cellular agriculture, or plant-based technologies along with traditional dairy.
While hybrid products have been making waves in the meat industry, we now turn our attention to the dairy sector. In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of hybrid dairy products, understand why both consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies and consumers are intrigued by them, and explore the myriad benefits these products offer.
Examples of Hybrid Products
Hybrid products ideally maintain the familiar taste and experience of traditional foods while embracing the sustainability and health advantages of innovative ingredients. Just as hybrid meat products integrate plant-based, precision fermentation, and cell-cultured ingredients with animal-based counterparts, hybrid dairy products follow suit.
Hybrid Milk and Dairy Products: The landscape of hybrid dairy products is diverse and dynamic. Perfect Day’s Bored Cow milk is a prime example, combining precision fermentation-derived, animal-free whey protein with plant-based milk. Strive Nutrition has also entered this space with their precision fermentation and plant-based milk products. Another intriguing creation is Shamrock Farms’ Swirled milk, an innovative blend of dairy and plant-based milk. Hybrid dairy products extend beyond just milk, as seen with Laughing Cow’s Blends, which mix dairy cheese and plant-based ingredients like chickpeas or lentils. While current commercial offerings consist of plant-based, precision fermentation, and traditional dairy ingredients, the future holds even greater promise. Companies like TurtleTree, Wilk, and Biomilq are exploring the use of cell-cultured technology to create milk without cows. Some predict that cultivated milks will be introduced as hybrid products to reduce costs, just as cultivated meat companies like UPSIDE and Eat Just have done with their hybrid cultivated chicken products.
Clearly, food and beverage companies new and old are increasingly turning to hybrid products for new product lines. Here, we’ll explore the benefits of hybrid products to CPGs and consumers, as well as some remaining hurdles before hybrid dairy products can truly take off.
The Dual Fascination with Hybrid Dairy: CPGs and Consumers
Meeting Sustainability Goals: CPGs are increasingly under pressure to align with sustainability objectives. By incorporating plant-based or precision fermentation components into dairy products, CPGs can reduce the carbon footprint associated with their dairy products. That’s because by nature of being animal-free, the production of plant-based and precision fermentation derived products is much kinder to the planet than dairy products. Perfect Day’s Lifecycle Analysis of their whey protein demonstrates that this animal-free whey protein uses 59% less energy, 96% less water, and 96% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional dairy. We can reasonably expect that production of other animal-free dairy proteins using precision fermentation will show similar results.
Reducing Costs: Hybrid products offer a clever solution to the cost challenges of expensive ingredients like plant-based alternatives, precision fermentation-derived elements, and cell-cultured components. Alternative dairy companies have the particularly difficult task of reaching price parity with traditional dairy, which benefits from extreme government subsidization. A report estimated that in 2015, federal and state milk subsidies totaled $1.32 per gallon of milk. A 2022 paper conducted in New Zealand demonstrates that cow milk is still the cheapest of all the milks by ~ $2.23 USD per liter. The most expensive milk alternative surveyed in the paper, hemp, was ~$6.20 USD more than cow milk per liter. Without subsidies for alternative dairy products, producers are forced to sell high-end products to those that can afford it, reduce costs, or eat some of the costs to encourage widespread adoption. So, by blending cow milk in particular with novel, animal-free ingredients, CPGs can strike a balance between innovation and affordability. The hope of course is that as these animal-free food production technologies scale, cost will become less of an issue and products can be “weaned” off of animal dairy just as consumer adoption skyrockets.
Reaching a Wider Consumer Base with New Ingredients: One of the prime advantages of hybrid dairy products is their ability to cater to diverse dietary needs. By offering options suitable for both traditional dairy enthusiasts and those seeking plant-based alternatives, CPGs can tap into a broader market. Increasingly, consumers are turning away from dairy milk. One study found that from 2003 to 2018, milk consumption dropped 42%, with the average person drinking 0.57 cups in 2003 and 0.33 cups in 2018. With this in mind, CPGs are looking for new, animal-free ingredients that can entice consumers they may have lost in dairy sales. The global milk substitute market value, on the other hand, has now reached $20.9B USD. The per capita consumption of milk substitutes is expected to increase 32% by 2028. Clearly, consumers are looking for animal-free alternatives. CPGs want to deliver, but they also don’t want to alienate their dairy-loving base. One major advantage of hybrid products is that they largely mimic dairy products in form. This mimicry enables CPGs to introduce novel ingredients in a tried and true formfactor. Consumers of all preferences are more likely to embrace new components if they are integrated into recognizable products. Thus, CPGs are banking on using hybrid products to successfully introduce new ingredients to dairy lovers and alternative dairy lovers alike. TurtleTree, for example, focuses on producing a milk bioactive protein called lactoferrin, traditionally found in milk. As a dry powder, TurtleTree’s LF+ can be added to already well-known and loved products like plant-based or dairy milks, yogurts, or shakes, enabling consumers to try this new, functional ingredient without branching too far out of their comfort zone.
Environmental Friendliness: Consumers are increasingly aware of their purchasing power and the impact it has on the environment. Hybrid dairy products resonate with environmentally conscious consumers, providing an opportunity to make sustainable choices without compromising on taste. A 2023 Cargill report found that 70% of US consumers believe we need to find alternative ways to meet nutritional needs with fewer resources. 60% of people surveyed thought that science and technology were our best bet to combat climate change. More importantly, perhaps, consumers want to feel that their choices make a positive impact. One 2020 study found that 48% of US respondents agreed they make environmentally responsible choices for the good of the planet. Hybrid products are appealing to consumers in part because they are more sustainable than traditional dairy and help consumers to feel that they are positively contributing to the health of the planet.
Nutrition and Health Benefits: Another advantage of hybrid dairy products is their potential to enhance the nutritional profile of plant-based dairy alternatives. While plant-based alternatives have gained popularity, they may not always provide the same nutritional benefits as traditional dairy products. After all, milk was designed to sustain life at a critical time of growth and development, so it’s no wonder that it has numerous health benefits. Hybrid products have the opportunity to bridge this gap by incorporating animal-free components that mimic the nutritional richness of milk. For example, they can provide essential nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamins that are naturally abundant in dairy. This offers consumers a more nutritious and well-rounded option while still aligning with their dietary preferences. Here at TurtleTree, we’re laser focused on delivering animal-free ingredients with functional health benefits. Our lactoferrin has numerous health benefits beyond nutrition – from gut health, to immune function, and iron regulation for sports nutrition. By adding LF+ to plant-based milks, consumers can experience the best of both worlds – the health benefits of animal proteins without animal involvement.
Catering to Dietary Needs: Hybrid dairy products offer a bridge for consumers with varying dietary requirements. Individuals who are lactose intolerant or seek dairy alternatives for health reasons can find products that align with their needs. In a 2018 Cargill report, the majority (63%) of consumers who avoided dairy cited lactose intolerance/dairy sensitivity as the main driver. Just as CPGs are looking to use hybrid products to reach a wider consumer base, consumers benefit from the range of hybrid product blends and are sure to find one that works for them.
Enhanced Taste and Texture: A common challenge with plant-based dairy alternatives is replicating the taste and texture of traditional dairy. As we’ve discussed in depth in our blog post: Alternative Dairy: State of the Industry – Part 2, plant-based dairy struggles to recreate the experience of traditional dairy. Taste and texture are some of plant-based dairy’s greatest shortcomings currently. And these factors are top of mind to consumers. The 2023 Cargill report found that 59% of people said that a new ingredient needed to be tasty in order to try it. Other reports have backed that taste is the strongest factor in food/drink choice. Hybrid dairy products aim to conquer this challenge by maintaining the creaminess and richness associated with dairy while incorporating innovative, animal-free components.
Remaining Challenges of Hybrid Dairy Products
While the prospects of hybrid dairy products are exciting, there are still some challenges to overcome. One significant hurdle is consumer perception and acceptance. Traditional dairy has a deep-rooted cultural and sensory appeal that hybrid products need to match or exceed. Convincing consumers to embrace a product that blends animal-free ingredients with dairy components may require effective marketing, education, and continued taste improvement efforts.
Another challenge lies in the scalability and production efficiency of hybrid products. As demand for these products increases, manufacturers will need to ensure a consistent supply of high-quality animal-free ingredients. This requires advanced technologies to maintain the desired taste, texture, and nutritional properties of the final product.
As hybrid dairy products gain momentum, they exemplify the evolving relationship between tradition and innovation in the food system. For CPGs, these products present a pathway to meet sustainability goals, reduce costs, and broaden their consumer base. Consumers, on the other hand, are drawn to the potential for environmentally friendly choices that meet their dietary needs and enhance taste while delivering the health benefits of milk. This convergence of interests between CPGs and consumers is steering the hybrid dairy trend toward a future where dairy products not only tantalize the taste buds but also resonate with the values of a changing world. At TurtleTree we’re launching LF+ and are teaming up with some of the most innovative companies in the world to bring functionality to consumers’ favorite products. Find them in the grocery aisles soon!
Sustainable nutrition for all is just around the corner. Reach out to us to find out how you can join us.