Does the success of Califia Farms' plant-based yogurt drinks signal market opportunity?
- Califia Farms' probiotic dairy-free yogurt drink line, which was launched in February 2018, is now the brand's most accepted product with a 60% gain in distribution in the last 12 weeks compared to the same time a year ago, according to Food Navigator. The beverage is now sold in 7,000 cross-channel stores in 47 states.
- The yogurt drinks are available in multi- and single-serve in four different flavors: strawberry, super berry, mango and unsweetened plain. It took more than two years to develop the product so it struck a balance between taste and probiotic benefits.
- Califia Farms’ CEO and co-founder Greg Steltenpohl said the company's success in the plant-based dairy space "represents a real tipping point for the future of the category." He told Food Navigator “it normally takes several years for new products to incubate in natural and specialty stores before being picked up by mainstream retailers," but Califia achieved this in less than a year.
Califia Farms entered the already crowded plant-based milk space to become one of the fastest-growing natural beverage companies in the U.S. This year, the company tested its mettle once again and entered the drinkable yogurt market with success.
The products' warm reception is no surprise seeing that plant-based dairy alternatives are no longer niche. Non-dairy milk sales in the U.S. have increased 61% during the past five years and reached an estimated $2.11 billion in 2017. But within the yogurt drink category, Califia's growth is notable.
The drinkable yogurt market is a bit more challenging than the broader plant-based beverages sector due to the variety of players and offerings — such as Danone, Lifeway, KeVita, Siggi's and Good Karma, who are already producing kefir, kombucha and dairy- and plant-based yogurt drinks.
Despite this crowd of competitors, Califia saw room for growth. The drinkable yogurt category is experiencing the fastest growth out of any other breakfast category, with the segment rising 19.9% from $760 million in 2016 to $911 million in 2017, according to a company release. Packaged Facts also projects the drinkable yogurt market will grow another 13% by 2022.
Still, Califia will likely need to tread lightly knowing that to get ahead, taste will continue to be a paramount concern. A recent Cargill study has shown that taste matters in the dairy department, and to pull ahead as a plant-based alternative, companies are going to have to scientifically engineer flavors that are on par with dairy.
As consumers gain more insight into the impact of hormones and enzymes — such as the effect lactose has on individual consumers — people have been seeking alternatives to traditional milk. The problem is that when yogurt probiotics are thrown into the mix it is difficult to create an item that maintains the textural and flavor integrity of a dairy product.
Steltenpohl told Food Navigator that "the problem with plant-based ingredients is they have a lot of other components which are not usually that friendly to the palate in a liquid format.” But after two and a half years of formulation, Califia claims they found the answer with a special BB-12 strain of Califia Culture Blend, which the company said is well-known for bolstering digestive health and maintaining taste.
People are responding favorably to their recipe. Not only is their market share in the drinkable yogurt category growing — in six months their distribution has already expanded 60% — but the company is receiving some star-studded financial backing which they are using to drive further research and innovation to become "the leading plant-powered food and beverage company of the future." Although they’re off to a strong start, Califia will have to fight to keep its advantage in the growing, hyper-competitive plant-based market.