It’s never been easier to avoid dairy, thanks to an ever-expanding array of plant-based milks: Rice, soy, hemp, oat, coconut, almond, macadamia, hazelnut, cashew.
But some people can't drink some of those milks due to nut or soy allergies. Some aren't good for the environment: Many words have been written about the water that almond milk production wastes. Women may be concerned about the estrogen-like compounds in soy. And alternative milks can be lacking in certain vitamins and nutrients, such as protein.
Enter pea milk, the newest nondairy beverage on the block. It's vegan, nut free, soy free, lactose free and gluten free. It's better for the environment than almond milk. And it has more protein and calcium than other alternative milks.
Yes, it's funny to say "pea milk" out loud. Let's all pause here to get all of those very mature pea milk jokes out of your system. Shall we carry on?
The biggest brand in pea milk thus far has been Ripple, a company that obtained $44 million from Google and Silicon Valley venture capitalists, according to Bloomberg. But it's about to get competition from Bolthouse Farms, the Campbell's-owned brand that is releasing its own line of pea milks this month. Ripple is already available in Charlotte at supermarkets including Harris Teeter, while Publix will carry Bolthouse Farms. The milks come in flavors, from lightly sweetened to unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate.
Pea milk doesn't taste like peas, and it's not made in the same way almond milk is, by soaking in water. At Bolthouse Farms, it begins with harvesting yellow peas and milling them into flour. That flour is processed, separating the pea protein from the fiber and starch. The pea protein is further purified and blended together with water and other ingredients, including sunflower oil and sea salt, as well as such vitamins as B12.
"There's some taste trade-offs and some calcium trade-offs and most certainly protein trade-offs with all the alternative milks on the market," said Suzanne Ginestro, the company's chief marketing and innovation officer. Consumers "shouldn't have to compromise on those three things."
The Bolthouse Farms' milks have 10 grams of protein per serving, as compared to one gram in many almond milks. It has more calcium than dairy milk. It is fortified with 110 percent of a consumer's daily requirement for B12, which came out of consumer research that "found that vegetarians have a very difficult time getting sources of B12," which is found naturally in animal products, Ginestro said. And environmentally, pea milk "has a much lower water footprint than growing almonds, and a much smaller carbon footprint than raising dairy cows."
Plant-based milk sales are on the rise, while sales of traditional dairy milk continue to decline – though sales of yogurt and cheese are staying strong. Recent research from Nielsen has found that the plant-based milk category is up 3.1 percent since last year, while cow's milk sales are down about 5 percent over the same period. According to Nielsen research from 2016, almond milk is the top-selling milk substitute in America, with sales growth of 250 percent from 2011 to 2015.
Both Bolthouse Farms' and Ripple's pea-based milks are found in the refrigerated aisle, alongside dairy milk, as opposed to being packaged in the shelf-stable Tetra Paks that several brands of alternative milks use. This is because the milk does not contain preservatives, Ginestro said, and it's also to grab consumers' attention.
"People are used to buying their milk in the dairy aisle," she said. "We want to be where consumers are, and where they can get greater access to these alternatives."