International dairy conglomerate Müller has raised a few eyebrows this week announcing plans to trial a new “Müller vegan” range across Europe.

Rob Hutchinson, operations director for Müller Milk and Ingredients, mentioned the development during a panel discussion hosted this morning (February 16) as part of Dairy-Tech.

But it was revealed the firm is not alone. During the session, a representative of industry rival Arla said the firm had also set out on a strategy to capitalise on the ‘flexitarian’ eating trend.

Flexitarians eat less meat, rather than no meat, as is the case with both vegetarians and vegans.

It’s understood Müller’s vegan range will be piloted in Germany beginning next month and will include desserts and on-the-go drinks as well as vegan versions of Müller rice.

However, Hutchinson explained that depending on how sales go, it could also be extended into the UK.

“We’ve got more high-protein products coming through – which is almost about becoming clean eating and health,” he said.

“We are actually launching a Müller Vegan range in Europe, so if that goes well, we may bring that to the UK.

It is absolutely about adapting to consumers and adapting to the changing habits and making sure you stay relevant with consumer trends because things are moving fast at the moment and we have to adapt just as quickly.

Making dairy ‘centre of the plate’

Jonathan Dixon, vice-president of Arla, explained that Arla was working to decommoditise dairy through high mark-up products.

One strategy is to harness the flexitarian eating movement to see dairy become the main attraction on plates rather than simply an ingredient in dishes.

“It’s around really understanding the consumer and the consumer journey and really driving that consumption right the way from the start,” he said.

“Most children start with milk, so it’s about extending that consumption throughout their life stage and making milk relevant right the way throughout their life.

It’s identifying how you can innovate – so we are looking at new products which are more ranged at flexitarian markets – so some cheese products.

“It’s about having dairy as centre of plate rather than just an ingredient and again the return on that is more significant. It’s about getting dairy into new channels as well – the Starbucks ready-to-drink range, for example.

“I guess it’s trying to decommoditise dairy and add value through the branded proposition and I think demystifying where milk comes from.

“The more you can educate consumers to understand the time, effort, energy, transparency of the supply chain, animal health and welfare [behind products], will all go into a good place to ensure that dairy has a strong future.”