Why PlanetDairy avoids hybrid labeling for plant-based and dairy products Audu

Hybrid dairy products, combining dairy and plant-based ingredients, are an emerging category. Although some believe this sector is attractive to consumers, innovation is lacking. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a milk, yogurt, or ice cream hybrid product on the shelves.

Except in Denmark, where a new hybrid dairy company, PlanetDairy, has launched hybrid cheese brand Audu. Although it’s technically a hybrid (in that the cheese is made from a blend of dairy and plant-based ingredients), you won’t find the term “hybrid” on the packaging.

You also won’t find other descriptors like “more sustainable” or “green” cheese. And this is all intentional. “We’re trying to find the sweet spot where we can speak to traditional consumers (rather than) vegans and vegetarians,” explained Jesper Colding, president and sales manager.

Why PlanetDairy chose to make hybrid and non-vegetable cheese

PlanetDairy aims to produce new dairy products with a lower CO2e footprint. Founded by a team of former dairy industry executives, the company’s ultimate goal is to make it “very easy” for retailers and consumers to switch from conventional dairy products to more sustainable alternatives.

According to the UN, the dairy industry is responsible for approximately 3.4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

What does “Audu” mean?

The brand name Audu is inspired by a “cow rich in milk” from Norse mythology known as Auðumbla. The cow gave milk to the gods, which indirectly links it to creation, the divine and the formation of the cosmos.

While a good number of brands currently sell dairy alternatives with a similar goal – reducing carbon footprint – most do so from a purely plant-based perspective. But adoption hasn’t been as strong as the industry hoped, according to Colding. “It will take a long time before consumers are ready to jump into this space. The plant-based category was hot three or four years ago, but mainstream consumers feel like they’re sacrificing (taste and texture) when they go there.

The Audu brand does not use the term “hybrid” on the packaging. Image credit: PlanetDairy

Instead, PlanetDairy’s solution is to combine dairy and plant-based ingredients, with the latter making up at least 50% of the formulation. Under the Audu brand, four SKUs are currently on the market: an alternative to grated mozzarella; a shredded cheddar alternative, a block cheese alternative and slices. “We started with cheese because that’s where consumers experienced the biggest performance gap.”

On the plant-based side, PlanetDairy sources its pea and faba proteins from France, and coconut oil from the Philippines and Indonesia. Other oils come from rapeseed and shea. The dairy ingredients come from Europe: the milk proteins and fats come from Denmark and the cheddar base comes from the United Kingdom.

Filling the functional and protein deficiencies of plant-based cheeses

PlanetDairy has two approaches to developing its hybrid products. Her cheddar alternative starts with a cheddar base, to which she adds plant-based ingredients. For the mozzarella alternative, dairy proteins and fats are mixed from the start with plant-based ingredients. Plant ingredients are chosen with the aim of maximizing protein availability and digestibility, we were told.

But combining dairy with plant-based proteins isn’t as easy as it seems. The plant base has a different pH than dairy and can give a “bean” taste and “grainy” mouthfeel to the final product, Colding explained. Add to that the fact that plant spores love to feed on dairy nutrients and shelf life can be compromised. “It’s not easy to do, but along the way we discovered (technology) that we think is our property. We have intellectual property in the works.

By blending dairy with plant-based ingredients, PlanetDairy claims to have filled the functionality gap that can exist in purely plant-based cheeses. Without the addition of dairy, it can be difficult to achieve “extensibility” and “meltability”. But the sales manager told us that a consumer using PlanetDairy’s shredded hybrid cheese wouldn’t notice at all that its formulation contained plant-based ingredients.

“Scientifically, casein is a fantastic protein. If you remove casein from cheese, there is a price to pay. The question is whether the price tag is so high that consumers notice the difference. We’ve been able to formulate some really good products through our work with University of Copenhagen (ingredient supplier) Chr Hansen and others.

“Our goal is not to produce better products than dairy products. Our goal is to find the right balance between taste and reducing CO2 emissions: if the product doesn’t taste good, we can forget about it.

Using dairy products And ​plant-based proteins, PlanetDairy also claims to fill the protein gap that exists in many purely plant-based products. In recent years, plant-based approaches to cheese have relied on starches, fats, and flavorings with minimal, if any, protein. PlanetDairy’s cheese contains at least 14% protein, which is considerably higher than plant-based cheese alternatives but lower than the standard 25% of conventional cheddar.

Why PlanetDairy doesn’t advertise itself as “hybrid” (even though it technically is)

Audu products communicate on the front of the package that they are made from cheese and plants, which is accompanied by a claim that its products are responsible for 40% less CO2 equivalent than their counterparts conventional.

Rimma_Bondarenko dairy

By blending dairy with plant-based ingredients, PlanetDairy claims to have filled the functionality gap that can exist in purely plant-based cheeses. GettyImages/Rimma_Bondarenko

But they don’t carry pictures of plants and their packaging largely imitates that of conventional cheese products. The term “hybrid” is not found. For the supermarket consumer, the product appears more like a “cheese” than a “plant”.

This is not to say that PlanetDairy hides its plant-based content. “We are transparent in what we offer,” Colding confirmed. But the company does not want to create a “barrier” between its products and its potential customers.

“When there is no ‘climate itch’ for the everyday customer, they are not willing to sacrifice (taste and functionality). We have seen that we need to create a greater “comfort zone” for the consumer. So we’ve created a sense of comfort, and then when that’s established, we talk about our proposal.

“We’re not saying we’re a green cheese, we’re not saying we’re a more sustainable cheese, we’re just presenting the facts: we use plant-based ingredients and provide a verified life cycle assessment benchmark by Carbon Cloud. »

The decision to avoid the term “hybrid” – which is typically the descriptor used for these types of products – stems from lessons learned from the industry. The company’s founders studied the hybrid category before its launch and noticed that some products obviously marketed as “hybrid” were no longer on shelves. Examples include Live Real Farms products in the United States and the Pâquerette & Compagnie​ brand from Triballat Noyal in France. Both sold hybrid dairy products.

“Most of the hybrids we studied didn’t work. Our immediate conclusion is that you are between two stools: you are not a dairy product, you are not a plant product. So who are you really talking to here? We call this the “hybrid trap.”

What lies ahead for PlanetDairy?

PlanetDairy’s Audu brand was first launched in 2023 and has since been “widely accepted” by Danish retailers. The company is “satisfied” with sales to date, which Colding described as “encouraging”: “We can see that our market share is better than that of the plant-based equivalent.”

In terms of price, its products are close to those of the market leader in conventional cheeses.

As for PlanetDairy’s next steps, other hybrid dairy products are in the works, ranging from milk to yogurt and cream cheese. For now, new product development will continue to focus on plant-based and dairy ingredients, but eventually the company wants to also incorporate ingredients derived from precision fermentation.

What is precision fermentation?

Precision fermentation is a microorganism-based process, in which microbes are used as production factories to produce complex proteins, such as dairy products.

Once these new proteins receive regulatory approval and can be cost competitive, PlanetDairy sees the opportunity to create a “whole new” type of dairy business. “This is the business we want to create.”

At the same time, the company does not believe that conventional dairy products will ever be completely replaced. Colding doesn’t want that to be the case either. “I love cheese and I’m not going to stop eating cow’s cheese. But the thing is, you don’t have to eat pure dairy all the time.

“We envision that there will always be a dairy industry, it’s part of our culture. But at the same time, there will be companies like us that will take up some space and complement the category. We can grow the category together.

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