Alternative Milks and How Jimmy Carter’s Granddaughter-in-law is Revamping Georgia Nuts
By: Sonja Brankovic
“Moo is Moot,” “Dairy-Free. As It Should Be,” “It’s like milk, but made for humans” —although strong-worded, these advertisements made by non-dairy milk companies like Milkadamia, Ripple Foods, and Oatly are following the numbers: almost 50% of US shoppers now purchase plant milks, and the global dairy alternatives market is expected to hit $29.6 billion by 2023 (the current global market value is $17.3 billion). Driven by consumers concerned about animal welfare, antibiotic resistance in ag animals, allergies, lactose intolerance, and general health, startups are cropping up to take advantage of these numbers. Aside from the common soy, almond, and coconut milk options, companies have been “milking” peanuts, peas, rice, macadamia nuts, pecans, hemp, oats, cashews, quinoa, and hazelnuts to see if they can ride the non-dairy wave.
However, non-dairy products face problems in the form of reduced protein and calcium content and less natural sweetness than cow milk. Alt milk companies have been combating these challenges by fortifying their milks with protein and vitamins and rolling out flavored versions of their unsweetened original products, yet many believe that these additives will drive off health-conscious consumers.
While taste and nutrition will need to improve to draw in more customers, alt milk companies have a major advantage over dairy milk: all non-dairy options on the market are more environmentally sustainable than cow milk varieties.
Nut milks are greener than dairy milk
According to a recent University of Oxford study, a glass of dairy milk produces ~3x as many greenhouse gas emissions and requires more than 10 times the land compared to the major non-dairy options. After analyzing almost 40,000 farms and 1,600 processing methods and retailers, the study’s authors created a calculator that allows consumers to see—based on global averages—how their diet preferences contribute to greenhouse gas emissions (in kg). The study also emphasized that farming itself is not solely responsible for emissions: processing, packaging, and transporting food contribute significantly to a person’s food footprint.
Georgia nuts crack open new markets
Recognizing the growing consumer interest in nut-based milks has led to new economic opportunities for nut farmers in Georgia. In 2015, Kate Carter (famous peanut-farmer and former President Carter’s granddaughter-in-law) and Bess Weyandt started Treehouse Milk, an Atlanta-based company that sells pecan milk made from Pearson Farm nuts in Zenith, GA. Well-received at farmers markets and coffee shops, Treehouse has started an online delivery business.
Alt milk at Tech
Georgia Tech has its own connection to the non-dairy drink industry – Soylent, the CA-based meal-replacement company, was founded by Tech electrical engineering alum Rob Rhinehart in 2013. After subsisting for too long on a diet of frozen corn dogs and ramen, Rhinehart and his co-founders decided to develop a convenient meal-substitute that is sustainable, plant-based, and affordable for those who struggle to nourish themselves regularly and properly.
While converting to a Soylent-only diet would be extreme, Tech’s campus offers plenty of non-dairy milk options in the Clough Commons Starbucks, Highland Bakery, and in the student center
Sonja is a PhD student in mechanical engineering who started at Tech in fall 2018. She has a strong interest in food sustainability, renewable energy, and researching ways engineers can solve problems within the animal agriculture sector. Outside of this, she can be found exploring Atlanta’s strong farmers market scene and walking with her beagle Bud.