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How Do You Design Non-Dairy Products That Look & Taste Just Like Dairy?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 02/14/2022 | 4 Minute Read

A mistake people sometimes make when trying dairy-free milk is thinking that the beverage will taste like good old-fashioned cow’s milk. 

While milk alternatives are delicious in their own right, they have an entirely different consistency, mouthfeel, and flavor—with options like almond milk tasting nuttier or oat milk tasting more, well, oat-y.

That is why Danone’s Nextmilk from Silk and Wondermilk frozen desserts from So Delicious might just change the dairy-free milk scene for good. Consumers get all the benefits of non-dairy milk (less fat content and kinder to animals, for instance), all while drinking something formulated to look and taste incredibly close to the real thing. Or, in the case of So Delicious, they can indulge in a pint of ice cream-less ice cream.

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“Both brands are part of a plan of really having a stake in the future of plant-based products,” explained Fe Amarante, the former senior creative director and head of brand design at Danone North America. Danone worked closely with the team at goDutch for these projects.

Fe added that some people shop for milk alternatives but aren’t necessarily wanting something that has an earthy or almond taste—they simply want something that tastes like dairy. “That is the key barrier of resistance to converting someone from dairy milk to a vegan plant-based product, so that’s where Nextmilk and Wondermilk come in. They’re plant-based, but with a creamy, delicious texture and mouthfeel that has all the properties of dairy without the cow.”

Inspired by the uniqueness of these products, Danone had to convey what makes each line special in the diary-free world while still promoting the sector. Silk Nextmilk calls back to the days of the milkman, with the carton featuring an image of a glass bottle. The creaminess of the product pops at the top with an illustrated splash of NextMilk; even the thick font has a richness to it. Red and blue coloration indicates the whole fat and reduced-fat options, respectively—the same color cues used for cow’s milk.

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As a sweets and dessert line, So Delicious’ Wondermilk has a bit more whimsy to it. “That brand is just so magical,” said Fe. “We thought there was nothing more fun and more exciting than to make it feel like this fluid river of milk with cow prints showing up and revealing themselves like magic.”

“We're playing to the specific master brand strength with Silk having more traditional cues of dairy milk, and with So Delicious being a little bit more of that indulgent, playful brand,” said Jane Sayer, senior manager of brand design at Danone. “We're really playing with that idea of cow's milk in a completely different way.”

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Finding that balance in the design of plant-based but uncannily lactose-like proved challenging, but brand equity was on their side. Silk’s name, for instance, is synonymous with dairy-free milk options, and when a consumer sees a product of theirs on the shelf, it’s an expectation to be plant-based. “The equities of the brands and the store placement reinforce the plant aspect of it,” said Tammy Anthony, partner at goDutch. “So we had to work extra hard to communicate the appetite appeal and the smoothness that you expect from dairy.”

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Because the brands are established, that gave the team more freedom to play with the products’ equivalence to dairy items—they even included identifying terms like “Whole Fat” and “Reduced Fat,” something typically reserved for traditional milk choices. Fe added that consumer feedback helped guide their designs. The teams communicated with consumers to make sure they understood two critical things—they're plant-based and very similar to dairy.

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“There is a sea of sameness in the dairy category,” Fe said. “Everything is in a jug, or everything is white. Everything has a barn and a farm scene, and a cow. We didn’t really go there, and that was something quite unique about these two offerings.”

The plant-based milk market has experienced recent growth, and more than 745 million units of it sold in 2020—making it an exciting time for both Silk and So Delicious. Without a doubt, the future looks bright and lactose-free.