IMCD's UHT Pilot Lab expedites speed-to-market for leading plant-based beverage

A dynamic start-up approached IMCD with a challenge: enhance the functionality of a barista-style oat-based creamer to boost performance and drive repeat purchases. To improve the formulation, the customer turned to IMCD’s technical expertise and capabilities. 

The goal was to achieve a consistent barista-style microfoam and boost shelf stability to preserve the creamer’s whipping ability so that the product could find success in an emerging market.

In honour of Plant Power Day on March 7, which brings awareness to the benefits of sustainable eating and plant-based diets, IMCD is highlighting this plant-based solution. At IMCD, we know that understanding trends is the first step toward successful product development — because what’s trending informs and directs innovation.



A growing trend offers opportunity

Over recent years, consumers have begun to view plant-based alternatives more favourably and are drinking more dairy-alternative beverages. According to a 2022 Innova Market Insights survey, 67% of Canadian consumers and 71% of U.S. consumers have become more positive toward plant-based alternatives. As a part of that shift, 26% of Canadian respondents and 36% of U.S. respondents have increased their consumption of non-dairy milk and milk drinks in the past year.


However, at the time of the initial customer request, the oat-based barista-style beverage market was still niche. While this meant the team didn’t have historical data or many market examples to use as a benchmark, the emerging market also presented an opportunity to get ahead of a trend and position this brand as a leader. Stay ahead of the market trends that are shaping the food industry — download IMCD Trends Commentary for 2023 and beyond here.


“It was exciting to work with a customer whose entrepreneurial spirit identified a gap in the plant-based market,” says Jacob Klopfenstein, Technical Account Manager, IMCD US Food. “With close collaboration, we were able to bring their vision to life through our Technical Expertise and product knowledge.”


Because this project involved an emerging market, trust was essential. The customer trusted IMCD’s technical expertise, and IMCD trusted the customer’s market positioning and vision. Both teams worked closely with the supplier on testing product stability and forecasting to ensure a robust supply chain. This collaborative partnership made for a smoother process and greater success for the product.

The UHT pilot lab

As the technical experts, the IMCD team aimed to create a functional solution — an oat milk beverage that offered a desirable taste and texture, as well as fulfilled the customer requirements for clean-label and organic ingredients. Discover four different oat drinks developed by IMCD beverage experts here.

This goal required the team to start from scratch, setting the testing parameters, reviewing every ingredient, and suggesting replacements. They educated the customer on ingredient functionality and worked to optimize the product’s stability. In this way, IMCD served not as an ingredient seller, but as a true solution provider.

This project was notable because it was the first one run in IMCD’s new ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurisation laboratory. Learn more about this IMCD facility here. Unmatched in its capabilities, the UHT lab contains state-of-the-art equipment that produces small-batch trials that mimic full production. It can also run multiple trials to create different product samples. Within the lab, IMCD was able to produce multiple taste formulations and conduct microscopic analysis on the plant trial material.

“The opportunity to utilize our UHT Pilot Lab was invaluable to our customer,” says Marlyne Felix, Technical Application Supervisor, IMCD Canada Ltd. “It provided them validation of the formulation early in the process, established the processing steps for full-scale production, and ultimately increased their speed to market in an emerging plant-based segment.”

No other distributor in North America offers this type of technology, so it truly sets IMCD apart. Aside from reduced development time, and less production waste and downtime, the UHT Lab has the capabilities to adjust trials to mimic the customer's process, allowing for seamless scale-up in production.

Measuring success

Our customer looked to IMCD for scientific and technical expertise, but they also wanted to measure success in a unique, more qualitative way. Through the use of focus groups with café staff and baristas, the team evaluated the product based on artistic criteria from the consumer perspective, rather than an analytical review. It was important to the customer to collect feedback from the people who would actually stock and use the product. As a result, IMCD contributed to the customer's evaluation with scientific parameters, supporting a well-rounded product analysis.


IMCD’s solution met the customer requirements, which exceeded the average oat-based beverage on the market. The new formulation was lower in sugar and higher in protein and fibre. It was also USDA organic and non-GMO, used whole grain oats, and contained no added phosphates or canola oil.

Most importantly, the solution significantly improved product functionality. A product that initially wasn’t viable is now generating sales revenue and repeat purchases — and leading the way in a growing market segment. As a result, the company is currently expanding into additional product lines with great success.


This case demonstrates the importance of engaging technical experts and unique resources like the UHT lab, as well as the value of listening to the customer and trusting their vision. With this blueprint for future development in the dairy alternative market, IMCD is poised to use its innovative UHT lab and top-tier technical expertise to produce more trend-based solutions for its customers.