The Challenges of Plant Based Milk

Ice cream is a guilty pleasure, but consumers also increasingly want varieties that are good for the planet, or at least offer lower eco-impact.

Producers are capitalising on this trend by offering locally produced, fair trade, vegan and organic ice cream, as well as varieties that come with less plastic packaging and a lower climate impact.

Today, six percent of ice cream launches are organic, double the number a decade ago. Plant-based milks, which have a lower carbon footprint than dairy, are also enjoying solid growth.

Many modern plant-based ice creams are extraordinarily good. But, as Tetra Pak's Innovation Manager Per-Henrik Hansen, explains, it is all too easy to get it wrong. This is because the milk powder used for traditional ice cream is a highly standardised, well-defined product. By contrast, plant-based milks vary widely not only between varieties but also between suppliers. Oat milk, for instance, often differs substantially between suppliers.

“Because these milks are less generic and standardised than white milk, you may need a closer working relationship with your supplier and to understand that the product will differ depending on the supplier choice,” said Hansen.

“My advice is to work with the supplier and your ice cream recipe to optimise it for that particular plant-based milk. It’s also absolutely necessary to test on a semi-industrial scale using real ice cream freezers to find out exactly how you can use different plant-based raw materials together and how you can combine them.”

In packaging, according to Hansen packaging options offering a lower climate impact and less plastic are constantly growing.

“There are a lot of good alternatives already out there, it’s a question of following what is launched. Cardboard cups have been on the market for many years and have a lower environmental impact than plastic. Spoons can be made from sugarcane, or you can use a wooden stick. I suggest you keep it simple and speak to your material and equipment provider.”

Sources: (1) Mintel: A year of innovation in ice cream 2018 (2) Mintel: A year of innovation in ice cream 2018 (3) Mintel Insight “Organic ice cream must evolve” February 2020 | Tetra Pak link here