To fill that gap, Danone is launching two new dairy-like milk alternatives in North America: Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Wondermilk, both blends made with oat milk, coconut milk, coconut oil and soy protein, among other ingredients. The products each come in full fat and 2% and will hit US grocery shelves in January with a suggested price of $4.99 per carton. Nextmilk will be available at regular grocery stores, and Wondermilk at natural grocers. Wondermilk will also be used in a new line of dairy-like ice creams that will be available through the So Delicious brand.
One challenge for the company is that milk, and imitations thereof, is already a pretty crowded category.
How Danone made Nextmilk and Wondermilk
It took a couple of years for Danone’s team of experts to come up with the new beverages, said Takoua Debeche, chief research and innovation officer for Danone North America.
“We tried to mimic both the positive and the negative attributes of dairy flavors,” Debeche said. Cow’s milk is sweet and creamy, she said. But it’s also sour, bitter and salty. Danone tried to match those flavors, as well as the texture of milk, using blends of plant-based liquids. Ultimately, Debeche and her team landed on the blend made with oat, coconut and soy in each type of alternative milk.
While both products rely on most of the same ingredients, they’re not totally identical, Debeche explained. Silk’s nextmik is designed to be consumed on its own (or maybe with a warm cookie). You can do that with Wondermilk as well, but that version was designed with cooking or baking in mind.
To this reporter, they each seemed like a passable substitute for milk.
The whole fat version of Nextmilk is smooth and rich and tastes a little sweet and a little sour, as Debeche promised. It’s still identifiable as an alternative — the color and texture are a little off, and there’s a nuttier base — but is a closer approximation than soy, almond or oat. Whole fat Wondermilk looks a little whiter and chalkier and has a milder flavor, but is still pretty close to the mark.
A holy grail
Sales of milk alternatives may be growing, but the $2.5 billion category still trails far behind the $11.2 billion US dairy milk market. The category also lags in terms of household penetration, or the percentage of consumers who purchase a product. For cow’s milk, penetration is about 94%, Danone said, citing IRI data. For plant-based milk, that figure is roughly 40%.
“We think there’s a huge opportunity to close the gap between those households that currently have dairy milk in the refrigerator and those that currently have plant based beverages in their refrigerator,” John Starkey, president of plant-based food and beverages for Danone North America, told CNN Business.
Making a product that looks and tastes like milk is essential to achieving that goal, he said. Customers who buy dairy milk may be doing so because they “have comfort and a lot of assurances from the nostalgia of dairy,” he said. By developing products that mimic the look, taste and texture of milk, Danone believes it has broken “one of those holy grail barriers that’s keeping consumers away from plant-based beverages.”
The company hopes customers will love the product — but won’t abandon the plant-based or regular milks they bought from Danone before.
“Every person in the household doesn’t necessarily have the same tastes, needs and desires,” Starkey said. “So we want to really make sure … that we have a portfolio of offerings that can meet all of consumers’ desires and tastes.”
Many American adults are indeed buying several types of milk, said Sydney Olson, food and drink analyst at Mintel. About 17% of US adults buy at least four types of milk, and 39% buy two to three, according to a Mintel, which surveyed 2,000 internet-using adults in June about their milk purchasing habits over the previous three months.
For Danone, that could mean that Nextmilk or Wondermilk could get swept into the fold: A shopper might add it to the mix, while still buying other types of milk for different applications — coffee, cereal, smoothies — or to accommodate different tastes. But it could also mean that shoppers will consolidate, swapping multiple cartons out for one new carton. A dairy-like product could “help US adults … save money and time in not purchasing four different types of milk,” Olson said.
But Danone will have to tout its health benefits in a way that makes sense to consumers, something that could be trickier for a plant-based dairy brand than one that makes plant-based hamburgers.
“With meat it’s very clear… you will have a hamburger whenever you are treating yourself,” said Maria Mascaraque, who oversees food and nutrition research at Euromonitor. “I don’t think cow’s milk or dairy in general has as bad a reputation as processed meats.”