It’s happening, folks. Environmentally sustainable, plant-based foods are finally breaking out from their cozy spot in the small business world and are entering the corporate playing field, on the backs of food titans no less! Pinnacle foods bet their money on Gardein and won big, and now General Mills is part of the $18 million investment going to Lyrical Foods’ brand Kite Hill, which makes dairy-free nut-based cultured cheese and yogurt.

Relatively new to the venture capital world, General Mills is trying to invest in the hottest new food companies. And what’s hotter than dairy-free products right now?

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“U.S. milk consumption has been steadily declining by 25 percent per capita since the mid-1970s. Americans, on average, drink 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970, according to data from the USDA,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet. “The fact is, there is a whole new dairy-free market rising as one-third of consumers prefer dairy-free milks. Dairy-free milk sales represent a $2 billion category and growth is expected to continue outpacing dairy milk sales at least through 2018.  In addition, natural groceries saw annual sales of dairy-free cheese rise 22.7 percent in 2014 alone to $30 million – and dairy-free is also one of the fastest growing segments in yogurt and with eight percent dollar sales growth year over year, this segment is estimated to reach $2.9 billion by 2017.”

Driven by concerns over antibiotic and hormone use, in addition to allergen concerns, more consumers are eschewing dairy and looking for alternatives that can replicate their favorite foods – without sacrificing anything in terms of taste or texture, especially in the case of cheese.  This is something that Kite Hill has done flawlessly with their line of soft cheese spreads and ready-made ravioli. They also make a line of cultured yogurts.

“Plant-based used to be more synonymous with sacrifice than with taste,” said John Haugen, vice president and general manager of 301 INC, General Mills’ venture capital arm. “Now, companies like Kite Hill are able to deliver plant-based products that taste good.”

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With General Mills behind Kite Hill, it won’t be long before their dairy-free products can be found across the U.S. And they certainly won’t be alone in the dairy-free case, either. With the likes of vegan cheese companies including Miyoko’s Kitchen, Daiya, Follow Your Heart, Field Roast’s Chao Cheese, and numerous others, this burgeoning sector shows no signs of slowing down.

“A whole new conscious food economy is rising, consisting of companies that are working to disrupt our food system by offering healthier, more sustainable foods. We’re undoubtedly at an exciting point in history where concrete steps are finally being taken to focus on solutions that have the power to shape the future of food.” continued Zacharias. Undoubtedly, food as we know it is changing, redefined to be better for both people and the planet. Driven by plant-based products, the future of food is certainly here – and it is delicious.

Image Source: Herb and Garlic Almond Cheese

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