Food & Beverage Insider: Grains redefined- Formulating for healthy products

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Grain-based Beverage Innovation

Author: Loula Merkle, VP of Business Development at Comet Bio

Plant-based eating is here to stay. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased 11 percent in 2019, bringing its total market value to $4.5 billion.1 And it is not only vegans and vegetarians driving this eating evolution. According to Nestlé, 87% of Americans are now incorporating plant-based proteins into the diets and nearly two-thirds doing so one or more times weekly.2

Beverage manufacturers are responding to this demand by rolling out new plant-based beverages using grain-based ingredients to achieve optimal taste, texture and nutrition. In the coming years, expect to see more dairy-free milk alternatives using oats, brown rice and quinoa. As consumer interest in digestive health continues to rise, expect to see more prebiotic fiber options extracted from grains driving category growth as well.

Grains grow in the dairy case

Plant-based beverage sales have been on the upswing for the last decade fueled predominately by consumer desire for dairy-free milk alternatives. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation 2020 Food and Health Report found that almost one-fourth (24%) of consumers are eating more plant-based dairy.3 Dairy-free milk alternatives beyond soy and nut-based beverages are especially taking off as health-conscious consumers look for novel options.

Oat milk, which is made by soaking oats in water, first gained popularity in trendy coffee shops such as Chicago-based Intelligentsia and San Francisco-based Philz Coffee. While once a niche milk alternative, it has since become ubiquitous with Starbucks and Dunkin’ both adding it to their menus in 2020.4

Oat milk’s popularity can largely be attributed to its rich, neutral taste and smooth texture that froths like cow’s milk. It’s taste and flavor profile makes it an excellent alternative for dairy milk, especially in coffee drinks. Oat milk is also environmentally-friendly as it requires less water than to produce—one eight the amount of almond milk and produces relatively few greenhouse gases. BBC environmental impact calculator ranks it as the most sustainable milk option alongside soymilk.5

Oat milk is not only popular with baristas but also with retail customers. Oat milk sales have been up by 289% year-over-year from March to June in 2020 according to Nielsen data.6 Brands such as Chobani now have oat milk beverages and creamers at retail stores nationwide.

Another dairy-free alternative gaining momentum is brown rice milk. Elmhurst brand Milked Brown Rice Milk claims its beverage also has a more creamy and rich texture compared to other plant-based options. The company produces its brown rice milk by using its “HydroRelease” method to transform the whole grain — bran, germ and endosperm —into a creamy emulsion.7

Quinoa is one more ancient grain increasingly being used in plant-based beverages. In 2018, Glanbia Nutritionals introduced a BevGrad Quinoa beverage to the market. The brand claims that by using super finely milled seeds and grains, its beverage has a superior taste, a smoother, non-gritty mouthfeel, as well as a clean label.8

Despite these new grain-based beverages hitting shelves, there are still formulation challenges for many beverage manufactures. Whole grains can often create an unappealing mouthfeel and flavor in products. In addition, whole grains can cause viscosity issues, such as unwanted settling.

Fitting in fiber using grains

One of the key reasons consumers are reaching for grain-based beverages is their health benefits, including fiber content. The average American gets less than a third of the WHO recommendations for fiber.9 This deficiency is alarming as adequate fiber consumption is linked with weight management, heart health, metabolic health and immune health.

Prebiotic fiber intake is particularly important as it is linked to digestive health, a growing area of consumer interest. Prebiotics are the crucial non-digestible fibers that fuel the growth of healthy bacteria, including probiotics. Unfortunately, many popular prebiotics fibers, such as inulin sourced from chicory root, can cause GI distress and bloating, making it difficult for consumers to incorporate them into their healthy diets. Prebiotic fibers’ tolerability issues have opened the doors for more innovation, including prebiotic fibers extracted from grains.

An example of a prebiotic fiber extracted from grains is Comet Bio’s Arrabina™. The Arabinoxylan Plant Fiber Extract is sustainably sourced from upcycled wheat straw and exceptionally well-tolerated by the gut.  Results from Comet Bio’s recent clinical trial reveal that consumers can take up to 12 grams per day of Arrabina™ with no negative gut or bowel reaction.10

Despite its exceptional prebiotic and health benefits, Arabinoxylan has not previously been widely available for use due to inefficient extraction technology. Comet Bio saw this market need and determined its patented upcycling technology would be the answer. The proprietary technology uses water and pressure to produce Arabinoxylan as a fully-soluble powder with superior functionality in plant-based beverages.

Plant-based foods sales are projected to continue to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9 percent from 2020- 2027.11 Given the wide diversity of grains available and new advances in production technology, expect to see more of these grain-based ingredients driving this plant-based market growth.



  10. ISAPP; Windley et al. 2015, Cloetens et al. 2010, Francois et al. 2014, Maki et al. 2012, Walton et al. 2012, Damen et al. 2012, Kjølbæk et al. 2019; Inulin comparison data from Bonnema, Angela L. et al., “Gastrointestinal Tolerance of Chicory Inulin Products,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 110, Issue 6, 865 – 868;