Camel milk might leave some noses wrinkled, but consumers and investors are lapping it up.
With immune-boosting items leaping off the shelves during the pandemic, WA-based camel farm Good Earth Dairy reports a 20 per cent spike in global demand.
While the $6 billion market pales in comparison to its $300-billion bovine counterpart, founder and CEO Marcel Steingiesser says the sky's the limit for camel milk.
"In terms of health benefits, there's enough of a product differentiation for it to become an everyday, household staple, rather than just a niche item," he says.
According to the Australian Camel Industry Association, camel milk has five times the vitamin C and 10 times the iron as cow's milk. While those benefits have been long touted in the Middle East, Steingiesser says that knowledge is now trickling through to other countries.
"From a global perspective, there's significant money being thrown into educating the market about the health benefits and the value of camel milk," he says.
"People are learning that camel milk is rich in copper and zinc which support immune function."
Camel milk is growing steadily more popular in Singapore, despite retailing at around $19 per litre (compared to just $4 for cow milk). Across much of Asia and the US, he says, customers aren't scared off by hefty price tags.
"In places like China you're seeing 300-gram tins of powder selling for as much as $120."
Yet at home, Steingiesser plans to drive costs down as much as possible. While the handful of camel milk retailers in Australia sell at an average of $10 per litre, Good Earth Dairy plans to drum up $1 million in equity to bring that cost per litre down to $2.
Upscaling to three million litres, he hopes, will deliver better profits margins, as will looking outside the company's 5,000-strong herd towards the country's feral camel population of three million.
With demand for the product rapidly outstripping supply, that would allow Good Earth Dairy to tap into fresh corners of the market.
"Our market in Australia is micro," he says.
With camel milk jostling for shelf space with more popular dairy alternatives like soy and almond milk, Steingiesser says a sizeable market share stands to be won over.
"The majority of those consumers aren't actually vegan," he says.
"The overwhelming reason why people buy milk alternatives are the impacts regular diary has on many people's guts."
The former BHP chemical engineer, who spent 14 years working in aluminium and nickel refineries, is optimistic about his ability to deliver on the $2 per litre vision.
"We've spent five years and over $5 million developing our capabilities and technologies to be able to get to this point where we can scale up quickly and efficiently."
"As we bring the cost of camel milk lower and lower, we stand a good chance of being able to compete with the $500 billion dairy market."
Industry heavyweights including ASX-listed Australian Dairy Nutritionals (ASX: AHF) have also jumped on board the bandwagon.
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