As global economists predict the collapse of the dairy industry within 10 years, New Zealand should be looking at the future of farming. As a country famed for its innovation Aotearoa is currently falling behind as new technologies come into play. From those who cry that dairying is no good for our land, say hello to precision fermentation and plant-based dairy alternatives.
As supermarkets compete to give shelf space to plant-based dairy products, a continuing trend has seen a surge of new plant-based companies operating in New Zealand. It seems that Kiwis cannot get enough plant milks, yoghurts and ice creams. Even butter is taking a hit as Kiwis embrace the new range of plant-based butters and spreads.
As the price of dairy rises, production costs increase and global milk prices drop, the writing may be on the wall for New Zealand's dairy industry. Consumers are finding that plant-based alternatives are fast becoming a cheaper option than their favourite dairy item. Oat milk is the new environmentally friendly product, being cheap to produce, grows with low inputs and can now be processed within New Zealand.
Coconut based ice creams have become a fast favourite amongst Kiwis of all ages, giving that delicious creaminess that people expect in a frozen dessert. Even plant-based cheeses are gaining greater interest from the public, as more people become aware of the problems caused by dairying.
“We are seeing an increase of people signing up to our vegan challenges, our business members report more interest than ever in their products,” said Claire Insley, media spokesperson for the Vegan Society Aotearoa,
“FebNoDairy is a great time to look at all the dairy-free alternatives now on the market. Vegan versions of practically every dairy product now exist and those who are looking to reduce their intake of animal fats, can now enjoy all the flavour of their favourite food, without any cholesterol and lower saturated fats. Our Dairy Free Awards showcase the excellence of these products, consumers are able to vote for their favourites on our website. The future is vegan”
There is a real game-changer on the horizon for a true non-animal cheese, one that melts and stretches, just like dairy cheese does. Casein is the milk protein that denatures to a stretchy substance that people love on their toast or pizza. Precision fermentation is a cheap way to produce this casein. Using microorganisms to ferment a mixture of amino acids, enzymes and flavourings and combining it with biomass fermentation, Daisy Lab has been able to make dairy-identical casein.
Catching on quickly in the US, precision fermentation is still in its infancy here in New Zealand. That seems likely to change though as the need to feed a burgeoning global population continues.
As millennials seek to reduce their carbon footprint, and boomers seek to avoid covid, it is clear that business as usual is no longer an option.
"It is time for farmers to diversify and a transition towards plant-based farming is inevitable for those wanting to farm in the future," said Insley.
"As infertile land is given back to rewilding, the growth of native forests is a good climate change mitigation strategy for Aotearoa."