Expo West 2017: Dairy Alternative Brands Unleash Wave of New Creamers

As any serious coffee drinker knows, milk and cream are two different beasts when it comes to taste and texture, and until recently vegan and lactose-intolerant coffee drinkers have had to either make due with black coffee or use dairy alternatives, most of which did not adequately recreate the experience of cream or half and half.

At this year’s Natural Products Expo West 2017, however, alt-dairy brands including Califia Farms, MALK, Milkadamaia, New Barn, Nutpods, Oatly, and Ripple unleashed a range of products designed to improve the taste, mouthfeel and blending ability of plant-based creamers.

Amidst growing consumer interest in plant-based dairy alternatives, these new alt-creamer products carry with them expanded business prospects for plant- and nut milk companies. Some brands have seized on opportunities to partner with coffee shop chains to exclusively offer their products as barista blends. Others have created coffee-specific blends simply to expand their customer usage occasions.


The Right Recipe

The difference between creamers and milk boils down to the fat content. Cream is the fat that rises to the top of whole milk, and a heavy cream can be as much as 40 percent butterfat. Half and half is about 10 to 18 percent butterfat, compared to whole milk, which tops off at a little over 3 percent.

So for the beverage engineers at Ripple, creating a plant-based half and half was a matter of mastering the fat content and amino acids.

“With the half and half, we didn’t want to make something that was solely a creamer,” Ripple co-founder Neil Renninger told BevNET. “It’s something that is good for coffee, but half the usage is also for cooking.”

To create barista blends, brands also had to create creamers that can foam up, but which also complement the taste of espresso for a proper latte experience. According to Milkadamia CEO Jim Richards, whose macadamia nut-based “Latte Da” went out to coffee shops in Q4 2016, part of getting the barista blend right was to use unroasted nuts that won’t overpower the taste of coffee.

“The whole thing with baristas is when they make a coffee they want to bring out that roast taste,” Richards told BevNET. “When you roast the nut as well you have two roasted tastes in a competition that shouldn’t be going on. We use raw, so the only roast coming out is theirs, and baristas like that.”

New Barn co-founder Billie Thein said that the company’s new barista blend achieves its froth by upping the almond content, creating a more nutty drink that helps with thickness.

Oatly is an oat-based milk brand that has been a Swedish mainstay for two decades and is now launching in the U.S. Its barista blend steams well thanks to natural sugars, but like Milkadamia, the company says its blend does not overpower the flavor of espresso.


Partnering Up

MALK Organics’ barista blend came from its owners’ observations that coffee shops in the company’s home market of Austin, Texas were already using their almond milk for lattes, according to co-founder Joel Canada.

“What we do is entirely different from what we think our competitors are doing and our barista blend is just an extension of that,” Canada said. “People use our products in their coffees anyway, we know just from living in our communities that a lot of baristas personally use MALK and there was a need for a very clean barista blend.”

MALK has recently partnered with Blue Bottle Coffee to develop a barista blend. Canada calls it a “stripped down” version of the unsweetened Almond Malk variety, and the plan is for it to be used exclusively in Blue Bottle’s cafes on the East and West coasts. MALK is planning to launch a new barista blend for its retail customers in the coming weeks.


The Creamer Experience

Other brands are offering flavored varieties for simpler coffee experiences. Nutpods, a line of half-almond, half-coconut based creamers, is keeping it simple to start with original, hazelnut and French vanilla varieties. Meanwhile, constant innovator Califia Farms has come out with seven different creamer flavors; three of them, Mexican Cocoa, Irish Cream, and Dulce de Leche, launched at Expo West.

The company also offers its own barista blend and a “Better Half” line similar to Nutpods that is made with almond milk and coconut cream.

“With two-thirds of consumers whitening their coffee, you’re talking about a pretty massive audience of people who are looking for new ways to whiten their coffee, and enjoy it with flavors and sweeteners,” said Vilma Livas, Califia’s vice president of marketing.

According to Livas, offering a wide variety of flavors helps improve the consumer’s “coffee experience.” Califia Farms has also redesigned its creamer bottles to feature a simple flip cap with a bottle designed suited for single hand pouring.

“There are a lot of folks who want to personalize their experience,” Livas said. “They want to enjoy it, maybe have a cup in the afternoon that’s a little more flavorful. Our core goal is about bringing consumers an experience that they haven’t been able to find from other creamer options.”