VIDEO dispatches from Expo West 2017

Kite Hill weighs into plant ‘milk’ debate: ‘Do electric cars not get to call themselves cars because they don’t have a combustion engine?’

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An electric vehicle uses a very different propulsion system to the internal combustion engine, but it also has four wheels, and gets you from A to B, which to most consumers, makes it a 'car.' So isn't it time to apply the same logic to plant-based 'milk' 'cheese,' and 'yogurt'? asks the CEO of almond-fueled brand Kite Hill.

Brand owner Lyrical Foods makes almond milk from nuts and water, and then cultures it using proprietary cultures and enzymes to separate it out into solids and liquids, just as traditional cheese makers do.

Its products (almond milk cheeses, cream-cheese-style cheeses, chilled ravioli, and yogurts) are now in several thousand stores including Whole Foods, Sprouts, and The Fresh Market, and rolling out into Target, Kroger and Safeway/Albertsons stores.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Expo West show in Anaheim, CEO Matthew Sade said the fact that the FDA is not cracking down on firms using terms such as ‘almondmilk’ (although standards of identity dictate that ‘milk’ refers exclusively to the lacteal secretions of dairy cows) is likely because there is no evidence that consumers are being misled (a view backed up by some federal judges in the case of soy- and almond-milk).

The FDA needs to step in an provide clarity for all stakeholders

As leading plant-based dairy brands (Silk, Almond Breeze) have recently been targeted in a new wave of false advertising lawsuits on this issue, and legislators are urging the FDA to enforce dairy standards of identity via the Dairy Pride Act, however, the FDA now needs to actively intervene such that all stakeholders are crystal clear on its position, he argued.

While some commentators believe that the FDA's apparent lack of interest in enforcing "antiquated" standards of identity should be taken as a sign that it's OK to start using terms such as 'vegan cheese,' or 'almond ice cream,' plaintiff's attorneys and state lawmakers may beg to differ, said Sade, who currently uses terms such as ‘artisan almond milk products’ to describe his dairy-free cheese to avoid legal hot water.

“The mandate for the FDA is to avoid consumer confusion and to do what’s in the best interests in consumers… I would suggest that they [the FDA] just clarify the fact that absolutely no one is being misled [by the use of dairy terms in plant-based products].

We just want to be able to use terms that consumers recognize at a glance

But does he have any sympathy with the dairy lobby, which says it is simply asking for the FDA to enforce the law?

When standards of identity were originally conceived, adulteration was rife, and consumers were being duped by cheap knock-offs purporting to be dairy products, said Sade. But modern plant-based food brands such as Kite Hill are not 'purporting' to be dairy products, he said. They just want to be able to use terms that consumers understand so shoppers know at a glance what their products are.

 “Dairy products serve a purpose in your day,” he said. “What they [dairy companies] are actually suggesting is that if the product did not come from a lactating mammal, then it’s not milk, and what I would say is that is entirely false.

“Do electric cars not get to call themselves cars because they don’t have a combustion engine? They transport you from here to there and use new, better cleaner technology and what we have is a product that does the exact same thing.”

Click HERE to get the National Milk Producers’ perspective on The Dairy Pride Act.

Vegan cheese, yogurt is much harder to make than almondmilk, soymilk

Asked whether dairy-free cheese was a tougher sell than dairy-free milk, he said: “The reason [that consumers of plant-based milks] have not all historically migrated to other categories – yogurt, cheese, butters – isn’t because there isn’t a desire to have them but because products in these segments are technically much more challenging to make…

“But for the first time a company like Kite Hill is able to make a cultured product… that has the taste and texture that people want, and for that reason what we’re going to see is that these other segments [dairy-free cheese, yogurt etc] will claim their fair share of the category at much much greater speed than we’ve seen to date."

Kite Hill - a San Francisco-based brand on a mission to disrupt the dairy case with its cultured nut milk products – closed an $18m fundraising round led by 301 INC (General Mills’ business development and venturing unit) and CAVU Venture Partners in May 2016.

Founded by vegan chef Tal Ronnen, cheesemaker Monte Casino and Stanford biochemist Dr Pat Brown, brand owner Lyrical Foods makes almond milk from nuts and water, and then cultures it using proprietary cultures and enzymes to separate it out into solids and liquids, just as traditional cheese makers do.

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