Are You Ready To Drink Pea Milk?
Remember when everyone drank milk from cows? Now, the only people who drink animal protein are, like, your parents.
Today people aren’t drinking as much cow's milk, whether it's because they have difficulty digesting lactose, they want a healthier alternatives with less fat or, perhaps, a product not associated with a beating heart. As the U.S. market continues to shift towards alternative milks — almond, hemp, coconut, soy and rice — and our meals transition to healthier plant-based diets, the tradeoff is that we risk losing key sources daily protein.
Beginning May 2, every Whole Foods from here to Omaha will stock a new morning drink called Ripple, made from protein pulled from plants. And (phew) it doesn’t taste like grass.
Ripple will come in chocolate, vanilla and unsweetened flavors, and will retail for $4.99 for a 48-ounce bottle.
It has 8 grams of protein per glass, the exact same amount as that moo juice. I tasted each of Ripple's offerings, and while I tried hard to seek out some inherent planty-ness, the creamy mouthfeel and light sweetness made me a convert for any of my breakfast go-tos.
Currently made from yellow split peas, the cold beverage can be derived from most legumes. The decision to use yellow split peas was twofold. There was a large enough organic supply chain of the vegetable –– currently from France, but Ripple founders Adam Lowry and Neil Renninger are working on a U.S. farm source –– and the patent-pending extraction process works exceedingly well on split peas.
Lowry and Renninger are entrepreneurs and dads who were looking to start a company that would be good for the world and at the same time disrupt a staid segment of the market. Previously, Lowry was cofounder of Method (a $100 million+ cleaning product company), and Renninger was the founder and ex-CTO of Amyris (a biotech-based renewable product company) with a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering.
Ripple reports the product uses 93% less water than dairy (most of which goes to cows and grazing) and 85% less water than almond milk (most of which goes to growing the almonds, a water intensive nut). The brand claims its carbon footprint is also lower than dairy, by about 93%. No answer if that includes the peas being shipped from France.
According to market research firm Mintel, over the last several years, cow’s milk has been in gradual decline, with the alternative milk category taking its place. However, the segment leader in the dairy aisle is still skim/low-fat milk, with more than 45% of the market share. But for how long? It’s a sector with many players fighting for shelf space.
They say the possibilities are endless.
Plant-based protein might be all the rage, but it still has problems of transparency: where the ingredients originate and what manufacturing processes are used, to name two. Hampton Creek, maker of eggless Just Mayo, is under scrutiny for its scientific practices. Beyond Meat, maker of plant-based meat, buys its pea protein from a vendor. And Impossible Meat, another fake meat maker, is overvalued. Because of such existing issues, the Ripple founders began their innovation at the ingredient level in order to solve problems like aftertaste, purity and scale.
They say the possibilities are endless: yogurt, a healthier Nutella, a pea-nut butter you can send your kid to school with or serve on a plane (no peanut allergies).
Ripple milk begins with ground, dried peas purchased from a vendor. The peas are soaked in water and sodium, which helps to solubilize the protein. Then the protein is extracted using a combination of temperature, pH and a salt solution, what Renninger calls their “magic sauce,” to separate out the flavor, color and carbohydrate molecules. Then it’s put into a giant centrifuge to separate the protein from the liquid, which results in the base ingredient and the most valuable part of the company’s IP. In the lab they refer to it as “Riptein.”
“It’s almost white and it’s flavorless.”
Two hours later the base of Ripple is created: a wet paste. Add water, sunflower oil, algal oil and flavoring; the resulting product is so pure, Renninger says, “it’s almost white and it’s flavorless.”
Ripple has about a dozen scientists working on more secret products at a lab in Emeryville, California, but the bulk of manufacturing is based in Illinois.
While other scientists and R&D labs are doing similar experiments, Renninger criticizes that they’re too focused on academic solutions that won’t get to a final product. “They can never commercialize it, they don't think of the economics, and they won’t get to the impact they want,” he says. He’s referring to scale, of course, which Ripple may or may not achieve. The proof will be in its sales, whether the company can transition its supply chain to the U.S. and, finally, convince the market we’re ready to drink plants.
The dairy sector is thick with new players that go beyond your plain Jane almond milk. Businessweek reported “specialty milk sales jumped 21 percent in 2015, up from 9 percent growth in 2014, largely thanks to ‘the launch of Coca-Cola’s high-protein Fairlife brand.’"
Fairlife is an ultra-filtered milk that purports to be better than old-school milk. The lactose-free beverage is chilled to 37 degrees as soon as it leaves the cow, and the dairy components are separated and then re-blended. It’s pricy, however, and even costs more than organic milk.
From a New Zealand scientist comes dairy milk called a2. While still relatively difficult to find in the U.S., it’s taken over the Asian markets. The difference in this product can be boiled down to two proteins: A1 and A2. The company claims that A2 milk is easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant or have other health needs. Corresponding studies go both ways.
Another high-tech challenger is Muufri, an animal-free milk made without touching a single cow, with plans to introduce products in 2017. The yeast strains initially begin in the lab from cow DNA; fat comes from plants.
As the trend toward healthy food and drink continues and we become less dependant on animal protein in our diets, you can bet we’ll see new products on the shelves, like Ripple. And these outliers from the lab and niche farm animals, well, let’s just wait and see.
Originally published for Mashable.