Sector News

Kaslink & Tetra Pak partnership: Transforming Nordic oats into plant-based dairy alternatives

July 18, 2018
Food & Drink

With plant-based dairy drinks trending strongly in Europe, Kaslink and its partner, Tetra Pak are “willing to take risks to stay ahead of the competition.” In the Nordic countries, oat is a common food ingredient. Oat-based drinks and fermented oat-based products are cereal-based products which are common in Asia where many products are based on soy, almond or rice. The global market for alternative dairy drinks is expected to reach US$16.3 billion this year alone, according to Innova Market Insights data, a dramatic increase from US$7.4 billion in 2010.

While consumers look for healthier ways of living, the interest in vegan diets will continue to increase significantly, particularly for millennials. Consumer appetite for plant-based foods and beverages, often labeled as healthier alternatives to dairy and meat, is growing. US milk consumption has dwindled as consumers switch to alternative dairy drinks.

Dairy alternative drinks accounted for seven percent of global dairy launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2016, up from six percent in 2015. Actual global launch numbers more than doubled over a five-year period. Just over half of these launches were positioned as lactose-free, nearly 40 percent as vegan and just under a quarter as GMO-free.

Kaslink is a family-owned Finnish company specializing in developing and manufacturing premium Scandinavian food products including cooking products, drinks and snacks.

In 2001 Raino Kukkonen began to co-pack high-quality sauce bases for a customer who sold the products to professional kitchens around Europe. Sixteen years later, the company has sales of €60 million (US$70.5 million), 170 employees and products that are sold in more than 15 European countries. Raino’s three sons, Tuomas, Juha-Petteri and Matti, have taken over operation of the company, which has gradually been transformed from a sauce production company into a dairy company. Between 2011 and 2016 the company’s revenue grew by 50 percent per year.

The ambition is to try and create new, ground-breaking products for the consumers, according to the company. One such direction is the move towards non-dairy products such as oat-based drinks and fermented oat-based products. “Most of our manufacturing today is in dairy, but non-dairy products will take over,” says CEO Tuomas Kukkonen.

“There is a big global shift going on, especially among young people, the millennials, who are switching from dairy and meat to non-dairy and vegetarian products. This shift will persist,” he says.

“We believe that the first player in the market will have the greatest success. We want to be ahead of others, so we focus on making investments that will enable this. The non-dairy segment is only 2-5 percent of the total market share of dairy drinks, so there is room to grow,” Tuomas explains.

Kaslink turned to its long-term partner for a solution. “Tetra Pak is a great company, with lots of expertise in all the fields we’re working in,” Tuomas says. “They are a complete solution provider, so we see good possibilities in cooperating with them. The partnership keeps us ahead.”

Juha-Petteri Kukkonen (pictured), Executive Vice President, Brand & Communications, at Kaslink Foods, one of the three owners of the company, recently spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst.

“Healthy foods and well-being in general are global mega-trends,” he claims. “The knowledge of a healthy lifestyle and the demand for plant-based food are increasing significantly. People are also more and more aware of issues concerning the environment and sustainability. What’s more, people are eager to try new things and new foods.”

The industry must listen to consumers’ wishes very carefully, and also come up with new food innovations and thus create more demand for plant-based products. It is important to follow trendsetters as well as to be the first in line creating new product innovations, says Juha-Petteri.

Kaslink was the first to launch a fresh oat drink in Finland under the brand Kaslink Aito. “We are a pioneer in organic oat-based products, having been the first to launch an organic, fresh oat drink in Finland.”

Another big innovation for us is our oat-based dairy alternative yogurts, Juha-Petteri notes. “Oat is a Nordic superfood, and it’s a new, growing category in the plant-based dairy alternative yogurts. We want to develop the category even further, as the demand is multiplying and the whole category of oat-based dairy alternative yogurts is growing very fast. We believe oat is going to become the most popular plant-baseddairy alternative yogurt globally during the next five years.”

Oat has four official EU-level health claims, which make it a great plant-based alternative. Oat is a slow-digesting carb and it helps in weight control. Beta-glucan, which occurs naturally in oat, helps keep cholesterol on a reasonable level. Oat also supports the well-being of the gastrointestinal tract and helps to balance blood sugar levels.

Juha-Petteri believes the trend of well-being and healthy food goes together with the trend of sustainability. “People want what’s good for them, but also what’s good for the environment,” he explains. “Food safety and quality are also important: People want to know where their food comes from, and that the ingredients used are fresh and of excellent quality.”

The category with the most growth and also with the most potential for growth is plant-based dairy alternative yogurts. “The demand for these kinds of products is huge and we want to develop the category even further, providing the consumers with choices,” he adds.

According to Juha-Petteri, the vegan trend is here to stay, but flexitarianism is also growing. “Many people who consume a lot of dairy products want to replace some of them with plant-based alternatives. For example, in Finland 75 percent of the population have already tried plant-based alternatives to dairy products.”

The company wants to develop and launch new products to answer the consumers’ needs and improve the whole category of oat-based products further. “Next year we will have significant new launches in the category of oat-based products,” Juha-Petteri concludes.

By: Elizabeth Green

Source: Food Ingredients First

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