The media exposure related to food allergies, including lactose intolerance, during the past few years is a clear indication that consumers are looking for more dairy-free foods, according to Jamie Schapiro, director of marketing for Galaxy Nutritional Foods, headquartered in North Kingstown, RI.
“We do a tremendous amount of research, and some of the results drive our research and development,” he said.
For health reasons, more people with allergy and/or diet sensitivity, or just lifestyle reasons, are reducing or eliminating dairy in their diets and are looking for better-tasting and more accessible lactose-free and dairy-free products.
Mr. Schapiro noted that one research report conducted by Packaged Facts, a leading publisher of market research in the food, beverage, consumer packaged goods and demographic sectors, stated that dairy-free products are more popular than ever. The report provided 2011 statistics.
“This report showed that dairy-free milk sales reached $1.3 billion in 2011,” Mr. Schapiro added. “The category was led by soy, rice and coconut substitutes. In the same report, it stated that 2011 was the fifth consecutive year that dairy-free sales have risen.”
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report, also utilizing 2011 data, showed that Americans drank an average of 20.2 gallons of milk, which is a decline of 3.3 percent from the previous year, and that it was the biggest slide in consumption since 1975.
“Sales of vegan, or casein-free, cheeses are up dramatically over past years,” said Mr. Schapiro. “A Nielsen report showed that vegan shredded non-dairy cheese sales were up by about 32 percent in 2011, and that these products sell 64 times faster than slices. People want the convenience of shredded product due to ease in the preparation of recipes.”
At the PMA Fresh Summit in Oct. 2012, Galaxy Nutritional Foods featured both of its lines under its new brand, “GO Veggie!” Mr. Schapiro said that the “GO Veggie!” lactose-free line of products is a better-tasting reformulation of the previous “Veggie” brand. The newest family line of products is “GO Veggie!” Dairy Free. They are distinguished by the packaging colors: the lactose-free family is in green, and the dairy-free is in purple.
“Our shredded products under the new ‘Go Veggie!’ brand are hitting stores now, and we’re getting good feedback,” Mr. Schapiro said in early January. “We started selling and shipping the lines in December.”
He said that some people believe that the seeming surge of food allergy-related illness is related to preservatives in prepared foods, and others feel that it is a matter of people and the medical community being able to diagnose allergy illnesses better today.
“Years ago people may have thought they just had a stomachache or headache, and attributed it to any other reason,” said Mr. Schapiro. “Today it is believed that 10 percent of the population has celiac disease, but only an estimated 1 percent is reported because people have not been properly diagnosed.”
Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.
But the point is that there may be a large portion of the population that is allergic to dairy or lactose that has not been diagnosed.
“People are just now coming forward with clearer information about food allergies,” said Mr. Schapiro.
In November 2012, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, known as FAAN, and the Food Allergy Initiative, or FAI, merged and formed a new organization known as FARE.
The new organization will be dedicated to food allergy research and education with the mission of ensuring the safety and inclusion of individuals with food allergies while relentlessly seeking a cure.
“This merger is a big milestone in the food allergy community,” said Mr. Schapiro. “And it indicates that allergies are becoming more mainstream with doctors. In June 2011, Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, [published] statistics showing that one out of every 13 children has food allergies. Milk is number three in the top eight food allergies that people have.”
Galaxy Nutritional Foods is gearing up to bring even more dairy-free products to the market soon. In the spring it will introduce “Go Veggie!” Dairy Free slices, also in its eye-catching purple packaging.
“Also new in the spring, we will be bringing our new ‘Go Veggie!’ Dairy Free Strawberry Cream Cheese to the market,” said Mr. Schapiro. “Strawberry is the number one flavor in flavored cream cheeses.
“Galaxy is always trying to help educate the media and consumers, as we do in describing the difference between casein and dairy,” he continued. “Casein is a milk protein that is used as an emulsifier because it melts and stretches well. Dairy-free has no casein in it, and so it raises the question of how it can act as a good substitute. Rice and cornstarch in our products work as the emulsifier to build the cheese-like quality and mouthfeel that real cheese provides. It’s very difficult to make dairy-free shreds, cream cheese and other cheese products, but Galaxy has worked hard to develop products that not only taste like, but also act like their real counterparts.”