Like a number of SMEs, Goodmylk Co., a US supplier of plant-based dairy products, was started after founder Brooke Harris encountered health problems. The Californian firm, formed in 2018, has built a customer base predominantly in the coffee-shop channel, as well as online, but has had to pivot as Covid-19 has hit the foodservice sector, Harris tells Dean Best, in just-food’s latest bitesize interview.

just-food: Goodmylk Co. started because of health issues you had. Nutritionists advised you to look at the make-up of some of the foods you were eating?

Brooke Harris: Exactly. I was a vegan at the time and I assumed that meant I was eating healthy foods. It caused me to get really sick with some major digestive issues but I didn’t relate it back to food because I thought I was doing something good for myself.

I spent a year going to all these doctors trying to figure out what was going on and no-one could figure it out. Then, I ended up meeting a holistic nutritionist and she said a trigger is the processed food I was eating.

The burgers, the fake chicken patties, didn’t really surprise me too much, although I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it before. What really surprised me was the almond milk, which was something I was drinking multiple times a day. I wasn’t going back to dairy so I Googled how to make home-made almond milk and started making it for myself. Beyond the health, the taste was just 100 times better. It’s a completely different product than the shelf-stable, store-bought stuff.

We started selling it very small time at the local farmers market. It started with almond. I added hemp. I think we’re probably a touch ahead of the game on hemp. It will be a really important plant-based milk in the near future.

When we started, we were selling a product that had a five-day shelf-life so it wasn’t really scalable. Frozen concentrates was the first answer and, once we started making those, saw it was working but we still couldn’t travel with the product. I looked at the market and said there needed to be a clean, milk-powder ingredient and that’s where we formulated our powdered version. Those are the two products that we’re now scaling with.

just-food: Who does your manufacturing?

Brooke Harris: We manufacture ourselves. We kind of created the process, created the format. We didn’t know if it would work, if people would buy into it, so we wanted to have control over how much we made. There’s also some proprietary things about both processes so we manufacture everything ourselves.

just-food: In broad terms, what is the process?

Brooke Harris: For the frozen, essentially, beyond our clean ingredients, we like the fact that we’re minimally processed. The basic process of making the milk concentrates is exactly the same as the process you would use at home if you were making home-made milk. We soak and sprout the seeds and nuts. At home, you would blend them and run it through a nut milk bag and so we do that just with different equipment on a much larger scale. Then we blast-freeze to preserve it. Blast-freezing freezes it really quickly at really low temperatures. You don’t get the ice crystals. It’s pretty much like you’re preserving everything from the minute it was frozen. That’s what allows it to be that fresh, home-made quality the second you defrost it.

We moved into a new facility last June that will allow us to scale, based on our projections, for about two years and, at that point, we’ll decide whether we find a partner with a co-packer that we share some information with or whether we build out a larger facility.

just-food: What was the business’ annual revenue in 2019?

Brooke Harris: I’d rather not share that. We did a decent amount. We’re still definitely a small company but growing quickly. We’ve done enough to prove there’s absolutely interest and a need for this quality of a product.

just-food: What were your expectations for revenue growth in 2020?

Brooke Harris: We were expecting 3x growth this year. We had some solid plans in place in our B2B channel, which was our biggest channel that we were growing, which, went on pause, putting it nicely, when Covid hit. So we’ll see about 1.5x. I think, first, we’re lucky to survive this and, second, we’re lucky to be able to still have some progress.

just-food: What is your B2B customer base?

Brooke Harris: Specialty coffee shops, some smoothie shops, but really specialty coffee has been our niche. This year, we were moving into some hotel partnerships that we were really excited about, which of course is on hold. Direct-to-consumer’s our next biggest. We started to dabble in grocery but we won’t have plans for that for probably the next year-and-a-half. Our big focus is on direct-to-consumer. We can ship both our frozen and powdered products nationally.

just-food: Have you got active grocery retail customers?

Brooke Harris: Erewhon, which is a specialty grocery store here in L.A., they have five locations, that was kind of our testing ground nursery and that’s where we’ll hang out for a bit. It’s going really well. The problem with grocery is, even before this, there was a lot out of your control and now it’s really out of our control. We can’t demo, we can’t really have a physical presence in the store as far as sending team members in there to check on things.

just-food: With foodservice practically closing in late March, how did you react?

“We saw a really great organic shift in direct-to-consumer. Now we’re leaning into that”

Brooke Harris: We were really lucky a lot of our customers that were buying the product at coffee shops – but weren’t necessarily buying online – still wanted that same coffee experience at home and so they came to our site to buy products. We saw a really great organic shift in direct-to-consumer. Now we’re leaning into that and building a team around a direct-to-consumer strategy and building out that channel.

just-food: Are you taking on more staff to serve that channel?

Brooke Harris: It’s a whole different skill-set than the team that we had, so we’ve brought in some consulting outside help to figure out the first phase of it and then we’ll decide if we need to bring in full-time internal help.

just-food: Are you on Amazon?

Brooke Harris: We are on Amazon. It’s going well. It’s a little bit tough being a brand versus just a product on Amazon. There’s such a lack of control over that customer experience. It was really great early Covid because that’s where everyone was shopping, stocking up, but we are looking to move that customer experience over to our website and have a little bit more of that traffic to our site versus Amazon.

just-food: What’s the present status of your core coffee-shop customers at the moment?

Brooke Harris: It’s evolving. Most of our business is in southern California and in New York, so places that are kind of hit the hardest and also under the strictest regulations. About three weeks ago, we had some real hope with one of our biggest partners opening up all of their doors. They’re kind of a leader in the industry so we expected others to follow – and then the riots started here in L.A. and New York and so everyone shut back down. The middle of last week, they opened back up and I think it’s going to be a little bit slower of a transition than anyone was hoping for. Both New York and L.A. seem to be on the same pace but it’s slow. They’re doing maybe a quarter of the business so far that they were doing pre-Covid. Unfortunately some of our smaller partners probably will never open back up.

We’re looking at pivoting that plan and looking at states that have been open longer like Texas, maybe Florida and looking to gain some accounts there. It’s hard. The [coffee-shops] sector took a big hit. Everyone’s still really figuring it out.

just-food: Thinking about your product portfolio, what are the best sellers?

Brooke Harris: Probably the almond concentrates. Hemp has been doing well and growing. The powdered almond latte creamer is definitely gaining popularity. It’s a newer product that we haven’t really put any marketing dollars behind, we’re still in the process of scaling that. We also have an exciting product launch coming in August that we’re expecting to do really well.

just-food: How does the average consumer use your frozen and instant products?

Brooke Harris: Coffees, smoothies, the frozen over granola. The creamer was really meant to be travelled with so you don’t have to compromise on your alt milk when you travel but you can use both of them in any way that you would use any other alt milk or dairy – in baking recipes and cooking recipes.

just-food: Given Covid-19, how is Goodmylk Co. looking to build consumer awareness?

Brooke Harris: Our B2B channel was a big piece of our marketing and there was a lot of organic marketing that happened through that. Now our biggest opportunity is online, so we’re looking to tell our story in a few different ways, certainly through social, paid ads, newsletters, our blog. And I think just more dialling into the story – the why we do what we do – and then leaning into the fact this is a product that’s really delicious. One thing we’ve seen is people use our product in different ways than you would another plant-based milk. People are really sacred about their cereal experience or their milk and cookies and, with most other plant-based milks, you’re not chugging down a glass of it with your cookie because it just has such a strong, different taste to it. Ours is really creamy and fresh. The chuggable factor and the fact you can make ice cream really easily with our frozen products, we’re leaning into the things you can do with our products that you usually do with dairy but you wouldn’t necessarily do with the boxed, plant-based milks.

just-food: Do you have any plans to start selling your milks in cartons?

“When you put it in a carton to extend shelf-life, you have to compromise the integrity of the product”

Brooke Harris: As of right now there isn’t. I don’t see that happening. It’s why we’ve worked so hard to figure out these other formats. Unfortunately, when you put it in a bottle or a carton to extend the shelf life, you have to compromise the integrity of the product. That would be definitely a last resort for us. We know we’re a bit unconventional but, for the quality of what we’re offering, it’s worth doing these other formats first and, if for some reason that doesn’t work out, then we may explore bottles – but definitely not in the near future.

just-food: By the same token, selling in sachets and tins may confuse consumers?

Brooke Harris: Certainly there’s a lot of education that goes behind that, absolutely. It all goes back to the reason behind why we do what we do and that is my own health journey. The last thing we want to do is compromise the liquid and that’s where we are willing to work harder, get innovative, maybe spend a little bit more money educating people. Because once you understand the value of what we’re offering, the fact that it comes in a frozen or powdered format is no big deal.

just-food: What are the main levers you are looking to pull to continue to grow over the next six months and into 2021?

Brooke Harris: Omnichannel is very important to us. We think big-picture and long-term omnichannel is what we need – B2B, direct-to-consumer and grocery. For the short term, certainly for the next six months, we’re looking at where do we have the most control. That’s online, direct-to-consumer, ideally through our own channel, which allows for retention and brand-building. Once things get back up to normal, B2B will be our next most important channel and hopefully those two channels will inform timing and locations for a grocery launch.

just-food: Any international ambitions?

Brooke Harris: Definitely. Canada will be the first expansion plan. That is the other thing that’s really exciting about our powders. They’re shelf-stable so it allows us to be a global brand. We get inquiries from outside of the US all the time. As a small business it’s a matter of resources and planning and timing.

just-food: There’s a company of the same name in India.

Brooke Harris: There is one in India, yeah. I don’t know that India is in our [plans for] top locations but we do have a trademark rights here in the US, and we are about to have them in Canada. Then we’ll expand to different countries after that with that. I think their mission is really great. Our products and our food philosophies I think are very different.