First get the protein right…

Speaking at the virtual Future Food Techconference on alternative proteins​on Wednesday, Close said plant-based ice cream is a “$600m market that’s growing* at more than 20% a year,” ​driven by a range of factors, from demand for more sustainable products to lactose intolerance, milk protein allergies, and a desire for novelty.

“It’s our job to make sure that we take all those different needs into account as we help to develop this exciting market, not just in the US where two thirds of the businesses is, but also in Europe, which is emerging fast,” ​said Close. “We’re also seeing a lot of pent up demand in Asia and in Latin America,” ​he told delegates.

Where we started in this market, it was really with specialty brands, offering specific plant-based options and we found that that was exciting for consumers, but perhaps a little bit niche… actually we’ve seen an explosion in the growth of plant based when we’ve taken it to our mainstream famous brands, brands like Magnum, brands with the kind of excitement that Ben & Jerry’s can create.”

‘Products that are a little bit hard and icy…’

From a formulation perspective, most non-dairy frozen desserts contain a combination of water, sugars, fats & oils, emulsifiers, stabilizers (gums, hydrocolloids etc), and protein. Replacing dairy fat with plant-based fats (coconut oil, cocoa butter etc) is “pretty easy​,” he claimed, but the protein is more of a challenge.

“Getting the right plant-based protein that will provide the same texture and taste that we’re used to with milk protein is the big challenge. A lot of plant proteins lack the functionality to create and stabilize the unique microstructure that ice cream needs… we’re looking for a fine stable air structure. That’s critical for a smooth, creamy texture.

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