You can milk anything…

The Spring Sheep Milk Company’s gelato hasn’t even reached the market but it is a finalist in the World Dairy Innovation Awards for the best ice-cream and packaging categories. With its rich ‘full-mouth’ flavour, the sheep milk gelato, in chocolate or vanilla, is looking good to launch this summer.

Alternative milk products are gaining popularity worldwide as consumers seek to ease allergies and try more ethical and/or trendy diets. MarketResearch.com says the industry is projected to reach around US $19.5 billion by 2020, growing at a 15.5 per cent yearly rate.

The Asia-Pacific region dominated the dairy alternatives market in 2014. Yuangrong Chen, investor in New Zealand sheep milk infant formula and powder company Blue River Dairy, said sheep dairy would grow to challenge the cow-milk industry at a recent sheep milk conference, which attracted 160 people.

But sheep are sensitive creatures. “Not everyone realises they are sensitive but if they don’t have feed or are stressed they… shut up shop,” says Andrea Wilkins, marketing & innovation director at Spring Sheep Milk Company. Affectionately nicknamed “woolly divas”, the 3,000 East Friesian dairy sheep enjoying the company’s grassy Lake Taupo pastures listen to music, enjoy scratching posts, have their tails undocked and revel in a dog free environment.

Spring Sheep Milk Company’s dark chocolate and vanilla bean gelato

So was Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Fockers right all along? Can you milk almost anything? The World Health Organisation’s FAO report names donkey, reindeer, yak, camel, moose and llamas as just some sources of milk. In New Zealand there are a host of non-cow milk options including Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, Carew Kitchen’s nut milks and Little Island’s Coconut Creamery. There is even an alternative cow-milk to cow-milk, a2 Milk, which milks cows with the superior A2 protein only.

The influx of unconventional dairy products is a “sign of the times,” says Wilkins. Among other products, BodyBuilding.com recommends earthy-flavoured hemp milk, which contains omega-3s and iron. Although it does warn that many alternatives miss out on protein and other nutrients, which need to be added. 

Wilkins says the Spring Sheep Milk Company’s products will soon move from niche to mainstream, but will remain a premium dairy product due to its high quality and the high costs involved – it takes 20 sheep to make the same amount of milk as one cow. The company looks to supply cafes and to be stocked in a range of supermarket, with 470ml on shelves for $14.99.

There have been numerous studies into the benefits of non-cow milk products. A UK study, with half of its subjects intolerant to cow-milk, reported that 99 per cent tolerated sheep milk products and 83 per cent preferred it. Soy, rice, goat and other dairy alternatives were also tested.