I once dreamed of baking treats for my daughter’s birthdays to take to school to share with her friends like my mother did when I was a child. When my friend told me that her children can only bring store-bought treats to school because of allergens, among other safety concerns, I was disappointed to hear that, but after reporting on the beverage and food industries for nine years, I was not surprised. Now that my daughter has developed a dairy allergy, I completely get it. I want to know every ingredient in a product.

At press time, my daughter is a little more than five months old. Because she is nursed, I’ve had to remove all dairy from my diet as well. I search store shelves for dairy alternative beverages and foods labeled for vegans, because dietary vegans don’t consume foods made with ingredients from animals, which includes dairy cows. Without the vegan distinction, I’ve found that many dairy alternative products still contain milk proteins although they have removed the lactose.

A couple retailers have made my allergen aware shopping easier. Whole Foods Markets clearly marks products that are vegan, and Trader Joe’s also offers lists of its vegan products. I’ve found my local conventional grocery stores don’t have many dairy-free food alternatives, but I do find dairy alternative beverages readily available.

Although I’ve been forced to do it, I’ve discovered so many new options that are equally as tasteful. I’ve traded in dairy milk for almond milk and instead of cheese and yogurt, I purchase soy cheese and yogurt.

I, among many consumers, feel very fortunate that the number of dairy alternative beverages keeps growing. This month’s Ingredient Spotlight on coconut (page 60) showcases coconut ingredients’ growth in the beverage marketplace, including coconut milk as seen in the launch of WhiteWave Foods’ Silk Pure Coconut milk as an alternative to dairy. iTi Tropicals’ Vice President Don Giampetro points out in the article that coconut is considered an allergen as well, and formulation and production considerations must be made.

New competition in dairy alternative beverages also is knocking soy down from its leading position. Last month, Mintel International, Chicago, reported that soy food and beverages declined 16 percent from 2008 to 2010. “Among those who prefer alternatives to soy, 34 percent report having a preference for other non-dairy milk, such as coconut milk or oat milk, and 21 percent specifically prefer almond milk,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel, in a statement.

Looking ahead, Mintel expects that the market for soy beverages won’t perform well, declining another 17 percent from 2010 to 2012. This is primarily due to several factors, including competitive non-soy-based product threats, higher ingredient prices passed on to consumers, soy burn-out and soy allergies, Mintel says.

While I am hoping my daughter grows out of this dairy allergy, I’ve learned to be more aware of allergens and dietary restrictions and more appreciative of the diversity of beverages available to address consumers’ needs.

Related links:
Category Focus: Soymilks struggle under pressure

Beverage Beat: Prepping for summer selling season

Beverage Beat: Healthy innovations for ‘maxed out’ moms