The campaign – which Ripple describes as 'whimsical' but dairy and plant-based rivals say fails to reflect the nuances of the issues at stake – was conceived as the debate over which products should be allowed to use dairy-derived terms such as ‘milk’ heats up, and the nutritional credentials of plant-based dairy alternatives are more closely scrutinized.
‘Should milk shower you in sugar?’
A centerpiece of the campaign is an online eight-bit game that opens with the words… “Dear Dairy, I can understand why you’re upset. Almond milk is a sham. Only 1g of protein and less than a handful of almonds in an entire bottle? That’s not milk. Cashew and coconut milk are even worse; they don’t have any protein.
“But you want to define milk as ‘a lacteal secretion’ from a cow. Really?! Ewww! ‘Hey Mom, will you pour me a cold glass of lacteal secretion?!’ C’mon, we can do better than that.”
It goes on to ask a series of questions including: ‘Should milk shower you in sugar? Should milk serve up a lot of saturated fat?’ and ‘Should milk cause allergies?’ before going on to attack the environmental credentials of nut-based milks (on water use grounds) and challenge the nutritional profile (not enough protein) and sensory characteristics of rival plant-based products: “Many non-dairy milks are thin watery and chalky [whereas] Ripple is smooth, creamy, and delicious…”
Ripple – a new pea-based ‘milk’ claimed to blow both dairy milk and plant-based alternatives out of the water in the taste, nutrition and sustainability stakes – launched in spring 2016 and is likely to hit 6,000 stores by the end of summer 2017.
The brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Neil Renninger, PhD and Adam Lowry, Ripple utilizes novel technology that strips out unwanted components (color/flavor) from commercially available plant protein isolates to yield a neutral-tasting protein that can be incorporated into foods and beverages in high quantities.
By overcoming the sensory barriers, Ripple has been able to dial up the protein (8g per 8oz serving, original flavor) and dial down the sugar (6g per 8oz serving, original flavor) to create an allergen-friendly (soy-, dairy-, nut-free) beverage with 20% fewer calories, a sixth of the saturated fat and half the sugar of 2% dairy milk, and eight times the protein of almond milk.
It also contains 32mg of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA (from microalgae) per serving, 45% of the DV for calcium, 30% of the DV for vitamin D, 10% of the DV for vitamin A and 13% of the DV for iron.
Is almondmilk a ‘sham?’
Asked whether almondmilk – which is at the center of many of its products – is a ‘sham,’ Califia Farms CEO Greg Steltenpohl told FoodNavigator-USA that while many Califia Farms products now contain a lot more protein, almond milk doesn’t actually claim to be high in protein (so no one is being misled). Moreover, US consumers - who are not typically short of protein – read labels, and can choose higher protein options if this is important to them.
He added: "We believe in offering consumers choice. The American diet is actually already very high in protein. From a deep nutritional viewpoint the more important concept revolves around amino acids. For example we offer almondmilk options that have 6g of protein from a combination of sources that form a complete protein and will be continuing to offer higher protein combinatorial options in the month to come.
"Our labels are upfront and clear and tell the whole story of each of our products... At Califia, we trust in the intelligence of our consumers and their ability to make informed choices."
But he added: "We certainly agree that the real elephant in the room is the cow: and that a plant-centric diet is an important foundation for a sustainable diet for the future of our planet and applaud all the innovators in the plant-based beverage category for taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, and offering consumers viable plant-based alternatives to dairy."
Friday taste test: Ripple plant-based ‘milk’: Did Ripple impress members of Carpe Diem, a Santa Barbara-based a cappella singing group that agreed to act as guinea pigs last year?
National Dairy Council: Campaign likely will add confusion versus clarity
Greg Miller, PhD, chief science officer at the National Dairy Council, meanwhile, predicted that the campaign would "likely will add confusion versus clarity," adding that it contained "a lot of unsubstantiated claims that mislead instead of helping people understand their food options based on the body of scientific evidence.
"While imitation may be the finest form of flattery," he said, "'t is not true when the imitation comes with denigration and consequences to public health."
He added: "When it comes to nutrition, most plant-based milks such as Ripple try to match the unique profile of cow’s milk by fortifying with nutrients they don’t naturally contain. Whether the cow’s milk option is fat-free, low-fat, lactose-free, organic or flavored, it contains a powerful nutrient package of nine essential nutrients.
"Non-dairy milks have no standard nutrient composition, so their nutrient composition varies from brand to brand. So, buyer beware! [although Ripple co-founder Adam Lowry argues that this is precisely the point Ripple is making in its campaign, that consumers should look carefully at the differences between, say, almondmilk and pea milk].
While Ripple does have more protein than almond or coconut milk, conceded Dr Miller, "Pea protein is a lower quality protein compared to milk protein. This is a very important differentiator. Based on the current method to determine protein quality, milk protein has a 1.0 score (highest quality score) while pea protein has a 0.67 score (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score or PDCAAS)."
"Dairy production in the U.S. is responsible for only about 2% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, while helping provide a food group that helps nourish Americans."
Greg Miller, PhD, FACN, chief science officer, National Dairy Council
If you want to reduce sugars in the diet, you should go after the nutrient poor sources
As to whether dairy milk is ‘showering’ us in sugar, NHANES data does not show milk (which naturally contains some sugar in the form of lactose) as a significant contributor to daily sugar intakes, while the FDA actively encourages Americans to drink more low fat milk, and instead focuses its ire on sugar-sweetened beverages [ie. with added sugar] that deliver too many empty calories, said Dr Miller.
"White milk contains natural sugar, but no added sugar. If flavored milk is chosen, individual flavored milks contain various amounts of added sugar, but on average, it contributes only about 4% of added sugars to the diets of American children ages 2 to 18 years, while sweetened beverages contribute 36% of the added sugars (NHANES). If you want to reduce sugars in the diet, you should go after the nutrient poor sources, not nutrient rich cow’s milk."
As for fat, he noted that a growing body of data suggests that the saturated fat in dairy milk is not associated with a higher risk of heart disease, while Ripple’s question on allergens failed to reflect the fact that only a tiny percentage of consumers have milk allergies and that many children that do suffer from them subsequently grow out of them.
"In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that, Consumption of dairy foods provides numerous health benefits, including lower risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and obesity.'"
Ripple unrepentant: 'To define milk narrowly as just 'a lacteal secretion…from a hoofed mammal' is ridiculous, hilarious, and disgusting
However, Ripple Foods cofounder Adam Lowry said the 'whimsical' game was a "fantastic way to engage the public in the discussion" about 'milk,' adding: "Our point is that if we are going to request an act of Congress to define the term milk, then let’s define it right. Milk should be wholesome and nutritious. It should also be creamy and delicious.
"There are many products, both dairy and non-dairy, that don’t live up to that standard."
He added: "For the dairy industry to try to define milk narrowly as just 'a lacteal secretion…from a hoofed mammal' is ridiculous, hilarious, and disgusting all at the same time... Considering that 36% of people today prefer a non-dairy milk, we think that discussion should include plant-based products, and those plant-based products should be nutritionally similar to milk."
The #3 reason people switch to non-dairy milk is they think 'it’s a good source of protein'
As for describing almondmilk as a 'sham,' he said: "The fact is that many nut milk drinkers think that those nut milks are a good source of protein, whether they claim to be or not.That’s the sham – that consumers think they are getting the same nutrition as dairy milk when they aren’t."
To support his point, he referred to a 2015 Mintel/GMI Lightspeed survey of 1,090 internet uses aged 18 that have consumed non-dairy milk in the past three months in which 37% said they had done so because 'It's a good source of protein.'
"The #3 reason that people switch to non-dairy milks is they think 'it’s a good source of protein.' Yet almond, cashew, coconut, and rice milks are >80% of the category."
Sugar is sugar, added or otherwise
As for the 'showering in sugar' issue, he said: "A gram of lactose (sugar in dairy) and a gram of sucrose (sugar in non-dairy) have exactly the same calorie count. As our fun game points out, all non-dairy milks are lower in sugar than dairy milk. So if you’re looking to reduce sugar in your diet, choosing non-dairy regimen is one way to do that."
Finally, on saturated fat, he cited American Heart Association guidance to reduce saturated fat, adding: "People should make up their own minds about where the saturated fat in their diet comes from, but the facts are that an 8oz glass of whole milk contains 5g of saturated fat, and an 8oz glass of coconut milk has 4g.
"While I understand that opinions differ on the risks of different sources of saturated fat, the AHA is a pretty credible source, and as someone with heart disease in my family, I know that I’m going to look to limit saturated fats wherever I can."
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