Sharon Gerdes
Sharon Gerdes is a certified food scientist and author who writes extensively about dairy’s role in health and wellness. Learn more at

How many kinds of milk are in your refrigerator? In our house, there’s 2% milk for my husband and cooking, and ultrafiltered milk for me. In some households, there might be almond milk for mom’s coffee, oat milk for cereal, whole milk for the toddler, and 1% for dad and the older children. If a hybrid plant/dairy milk fulfilled multiple needs, would consumers buy it? That’s a question that a few innovative brands are exploring and betting on.

Appeal to flexitarians

Depending on which survey you read, as few as 7% or as many as 42% of global consumers identify as flexitarians, or those looking to consume more plant-based foods, but who also are consuming traditional animal products. According to the International Food Information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, 12% of consumers are following a plant-based eating pattern, and 21% of consumers surveyed said, “I wanted to eat in a way that would be good for the environment.”

Across all age groups, protein still tops the list of nutrients that Americans are trying to consume more of. And that provides a unique opportunity for combing high-quality dairy protein, with plant foods that might offer other nutritional benefits, such as fiber. Hybrid dairy/plant opportunities exist in milk, yogurt, cheese, snacks, and frozen dairy categories.

Unique milk blends

In 2021, Shamrock Farms introduced its “Swirled” line of chocolate milks with real dairy milk, reduced sugar, and healthy almond and coconut fats. More recently, French business Triballat Noyal launched a new brand of drinks called Pâquerette & Compagnie, which combine 50% cow’s milk with either oat, almond, or hazelnut plant-based ingredients.

Strive Nutrition Corp. produces unique hybrids of plant- and animal-free whey proteins. “We looked at research on what consumers felt was missing in almond and oat milks, and it was clearly protein. We also wanted to enhance the protein enrichment to 10 grams of protein per 8-ounce serving for efficient nutrition. There are some enriched protein oat and almond milks using pea protein, which is not a complete protein. However, with Perfect Day Animal-Free Whey Protein being vegan, we were able to combine oat and almond milks with a complete vegan whey protein made through precision fermentation that is bio-identical to the dairy whey protein,” said Dennis J. Cohlmia, chairman of Strive Nutrition Corp. Its three hybrid products are Strive Oat Original, Strive Oat Barista, and Strive Unsweetened Vanilla Almond, all amazing for frothing and foam in coffee, because of the whey protein.

Improved Nutri-Score

Companies are paying much more attention than before to the Nutri-Score, a system that is gaining traction in Europe, where it is more widely used than in the United States. , Cargill is one such company creating several prototype hybrid dairy/plant products designed to improve the Nutri-Score. For example, its hybrid vanilla frozen desert prototype went from a Nutri-Score rating of D (24 out of 100) to an A (72 out of 100.) 

In addition, food scientists at Plymouth, Minn.-based Merlin Development have been refining combinations of dairy and plant ingredients in alternative yogurts, also with a nod at improving the Nutri-Score. 

“With dairy, you get a complete protein that is very functional in cultured products. For example, casein forms a gel network in acidic conditions, which creates a great texture. Plant sources of protein tend to be less soluble, lower quality proteins that come with their own off-notes, but they have a sustainability halo and also contain fiber not found in dairy,” explains Hillary Sandrock, senior scientist with Merlin Development. “Combining them can help you retain the characteristic taste and texture of dairy while minimizing off-notes, increasing the sustainability of your product, and improving the nutritional profile by adding fiber or reducing cholesterol.” 

The Laughing Cow Blends are a new dairy/plant-based snack item, made with real creamy cheese combined with chickpeas, lentils or red beans, plus herb or spices. Its Chickpea & Cheese Spread with Herb contains 2 grams of protein per serving.

Hybrid dairy/plant innovation promises to deliver improved nutrition and unique functionalities that might appeal to flexitarians. However, it will take clever marketing to persuade consumers to embrace these new hybrid products.

Sharon Gerdes is a Certified Food Scientist and author who writes extensively about dairy’s role in Health and Wellness. Learn more at