The $21 billion global dairy alternatives market is seeing a growing number of companies coming up with their own sustainability plans to target environmentally conscious shoppers.

While the traditional dairy industry associated with livestock farming has been criticized for generating greenhouse gas emissions and damaging the environment, certain plant-based alternatives such as almond milk are still called out for high water consumption during their production.

Newly emerged players, including Miami-based JOI, which literally stands for “just one ingredient”, and Numilk that recently raised $2 million from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank with its technology that helps reduce carbon footprint by 90%, are changing that negative perception.

The CEO of JOI Hector Gutierrez recently told me about how established dairy alternative companies have paved the way for people to consume more plant-based products, but most of them are made with more than 90% of water. 

“The rest of their ingredients include gums, binders, and emulsifiers to replicate cow’s milk,” he pointed out. “We felt it was totally inefficient to ship water around, because it’s a huge burden [to the environment] in terms of carbon footprint.”

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The “most sustainable” plant milk

JOI set out on a mission to create the most sustainable plant milk solution a few years ago when its founders Tony Jimenez, Dave Korstad, and Izzy Shu collaborated with food scientists and engineers to develop a proprietary process that enables to break down raw nuts, seeds, and grains, and turn them into concentrate.

The result, which has a similar texture to butter, not only offers an extended shelf life of nine months even without refrigeration, compared to traditional almond milk that can only stays fresh for a few days, but also allows people to apply it to various food applications — ice cream, yogurt, gelato, as well as plant-based sauces, and dressings.

Gutierrez says the whole idea is to eventually make concentrate “the norm” for plant-based milk consumers, who are used to lugging jugs into their cars from the grocery store. 

“We empower people by allowing them to have JOI in their pantries, to make milk whenever they need it, and save the environment from the negative impact by inundated processes,” he told me.

JOI’s sustainability efforts, however, won’t stop from reduced water usage: the company is also launching its first zero waste product using completely compostable packaging, and its entire supply chain, including manufacturing components, is expected to be sustainable in the coming months.

Targeting eco-friendly shoppers online

These decisions made by JOI are pivotal to attracting health- and environmentally conscious shoppers online especially for a direct-to-consumer business, Gutierrez noted, adding the pandemic is accelerating their e-commerce revenue growth, and how the company has intentionally avoided brick-and-mortar stores due to changing retail environment.

He said: “We’ve grown 600% [in sales] from 2019 to 2020, and I believe we’re going to see explosive growth over the next couple of years,” which will also be driven by the food service channel, and recipe partnerships with other food manufacturers. 

“We’re always doing qualitative and quantitative interviews and discussions with our customers to understand how the market landscape has been evolving,” Gutierrez added. “For us, the future is really going to be as clean label and humane as possible.”