We are told that milk does a body good, and while soymilks, kefirs and other dairy alternatives don’t actually contain milk, they do have many beneficial qualities. Soymilk is cholesterol free, low in saturated fat, and contains vitamin A. Dairy-based kefir contains probiotics, which aids in digestion. In addition, yogurt drinks are perceived as healthy because of their own strains of live cultures.

Consumers may be tightening their money belts, but dairy alternatives’ sales numbers have continued to rise during the past year. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, the refrigerated kefir/milk substitutes/soymilk category earned nearly $562 million for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6 in food, drug and mass merchandise outlets (excluding Wal-Mart). The category increased its sales by 5.3 percent from the previous year.

WhiteWave Foods Co., Broomfield, Colo., a division of Dean Foods Co., led IRI’s refrigerated kefir and soymilk count with its Silk Soymilk. Although Silk Soymilk’s sales decreased by 3.2 percent, the product still earned $255.6 million, which is almost $160 million more than private label sales, the No. 2 in the category.

Silk Soymilk Light and Silk Soymilk Plus also ranked in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively. Silk Soymilk Light’s sales increased by 12.9 percent, and it offers half the fat and 30 fewer calories than regular Silk. Silk Soymilk Plus’ sales decreased 19.2 percent.

Also making inroads as a dairy alternative is hemp milk. Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Pacific Natural Foods added All Natural Hemp Milk to its line of non-dairy beverages. Available in Original and Vanilla flavors, the milks contain 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium,4 grams of fiber and 10 amino acids, the company says.

“Our intention is to give our customers what works best for their active, healthy lifestyle and these new options meet a variety of those specific needs and requests,” said Kevin Tisdale, director of marketing at Pacific Natural Foods, in a statement.

The company also added All Natural Hazelnut Chocolate Non-Dairy Beverage to its 32-ounce and 8-ounce four-pack beverage offerings. The Organic Unsweetened Almond Non-Dairy Beverages are now being sold in the 64-ounce family size as well.

“Non-dairy beverages have grown significantly as food allergies have become more prevalent, and alternative lifestyles have increased the demand for non-dairy alternatives,” Tisdale says. “The alternative segment, which includes beverages such as almond, hemp, hazelnut and oat, is the segment that is truly driving category growth.”

Dairy drink companies also have recognized the importance of creating beverages for a wider range of consumers, including those who are lactose-intolerant.

Valio USA, Parsippany, N.J., introduced Real Goodness, a lactose-free milk. The product is made from Grade A milk, and is ultra-pasteurized, homogenized and rBST free. Real Goodness is available in Fat Free and Reduced Fat varieties, both in quart and half-gallon sizes.

Real Goodness has 38 percent more protein and 42 percent less sugar than other lactose-free brands, the company says. The company uses an ultra filtration process, to remove the lactose from the milk, which it says also contributes to the reduced levels of sugar and increased levels of protein.

“Lactose intolerance is a real condition with real consequences, affecting between 30 and 60 million Americans,” said Rita Korpela, vice president of research at Valio, in a statement. “We are proud to introduce our milk to lactose-intolerant individuals in the U.S.”

Nestle HealthCare Nutrition, Minnetonka, Minn., also developed and launched a lactose-free product, Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink. The drink gives kids ages one through 13 immune-strengthening probiotics, the company says. Boost Kid Essentials Drink is fortified with 25 vitamins and minerals, 7 grams of protein, antioxidants and 244 calories.

Kefir containment

While soymilk and dairy-alternatives are options for consumers looking for non-milk based products, kefir offers options for adding nutrition in a dairy format. Kefir is a probiotic-rich drink that may have a positive effect on digestion, or on reducing antibiotic induced diarrhea in certain children experiencing health problems, said Julie Smolyansky, chief executive officer of Lifeway Foods, in a statement.

Lifeway Foods recently expanded distribution of two of its Kefir flavors to all Albertsons grocery stores in California and select Albertsons grocery stores in Nevada. The company also produces Lifeway Lassi, an 8-ounce smoothie drink in Mango and Strawberry varieties.

Eugene, Ore.-based Turtle Mountain launched a kefir product as well. So Delicious Coconut Milk Kefir is a probiotic beverage designed to give consumers the health benefits of coconut milk and kefir all in one, the company says. The product contains 10 live and active bacteria including lactobacillus. So Delicious Coconut Milk is available in Unsweetened, Vanilla and Original flavors, and packaged in half-gallon cartons.

Protein proposition

Another trend sneaking into the dairy-alternative category is the addition of protein. Many of the new products containing protein fall into the refrigerated milkshakes/non-dairy drinks category. According to IRI, the refrigerated milkshakes/non-dairy drinks category earned $55.5 million in food, drug and mass merchandise channels (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6. This number dropped 5.7 percent from the previous year. Nestle Nesquik landed the No. 2 spot with $10.5 million, down more than 22 percent from the previous year. Topping the chart is Rice Dream, a brand of the Hain Celestial Group Inc., Melvill, N.Y., with $14.1 million, an increase of 19.3 percent.

Among those boosting their milkshakes with protein, Odwalla Inc., a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., added Vanilla Protein and Chocolate Protein to its line of Protein Monster beverages. Each 15.2-ounce bottle contains 33 grams of both soy and dairy protein.

“Today’s active lifestyles require us to look for smart, convenient sources of the nutrients our bodies need, especially the regenerative and sustaining power of protein,” said Jason Dolenga, brand manager at Odwalla Inc. “The two new Protein Monster drinks are perfect for people seeking delicious, easy ways to add protein to their diet.”

Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. also introduced protein-based Kellogg’s Special K Protein Shakes, which contain protein and fiber. The shakes are available in Milk Chocolate, French Vanilla and Strawberry flavors. Each variety contains 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of soluble polydextrose, a carbohydrate that is 90 percent fiber.

On the lighter side of refrigerated protein shakes, CytoSport Inc., Benicia, Calif., unveiled Muscle Milk Light with 160 calories vs. the original 270 calories. Muscle Milk Light is available in Chocolate, Vanilla Crème and Strawberries ‘n Crème flavors. The product is packaged in a 14-ounce bottle. BI