The brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Neil Renninger, PhD and Adam Lowry, Ripple utilizes novel technology that strips out unwanted components (color/flavor) from commercially available plant protein isolates to yield a neutral-tasting protein that can be incorporated into foods and beverages in high quantities.
By overcoming the sensory barriers (“most plant proteins taste truly awful,” says Dr Renninger), Emeryville, CA-based Ripple has been able to dial up the protein (8g per 8oz serving, original flavor) and dial down the sugar (6g per 8oz serving, original flavor) to create an allergen-friendly (soy-, dairy-, nut-free) beverage with 20% fewer calories, a sixth of the saturated fat and half the sugar of 2% dairy milk, and eight times the protein of almond milk.*
Ripple – which retails at $4.29 at Target and $4.99 at Whole Foods, and is also available in Sprouts, Jewel Osco, Meijer and other big names - contains 32mg of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA (from microalgae) per serving, 45% of the DV for calcium, 30% of the DV for vitamin D, 10% of the DV for vitamin A and 13% of the DV for iron.
We’re delivering incremental growth
And while it has only been on the market since April, it is already getting the attention of retail buyers because it is bringing new shoppers to the dairy alternatives category, and thus incremental growth, Dr Renninger told FoodNavigator-USA at the BevNET Live conference in Santa Monica this week.
“The early data looks like we are growing the entire consumer base of plant-based drinkers, not just grabbing share from the incumbents. At Target we know we’re delivering incremental growth because Ripple is bringing in consumers to the dairy alternatives category that have not previously shopped there at all, so they are super-excited about this.
“It’s also over-indexing with Millennials and Gen Xers,” said Dr Renninger, who co-founded synthetic biology pioneer Amyris Biotechnologies, and said Ripple Foods has filed patent applications covering the protein purification technology and the use of the purified proteins in multiple food and beverage applications.
“But people are coming to the brand for different reasons. Some almond milk shoppers are looking for something with more protein and less sugar, while some people like it because they are sensitive to dairy, nuts or soy, so [pea-protein-based] Ripple works for them.
“Other people just like the fact that it’s creamy and delicious. People are consistently blown away when they try it,” added Dr Renninger, who said Ripple had raised $13.6m in its Series A funding led by Prelude Ventures in late 2015 and a further $30m in a Series B round in summer 2016 backed by a flurry of high-profile investors including Google (GV), and Khosla Ventures.
(Other well-known names supporting the business include Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman, who is an investor and board member.)
We’ve proven the technology with all sorts of different plant proteins
Pea protein was chosen for the first wave of Ripple products because it is a scalable, non-GMO economic protein source, and provides an element of differentiation in the dairy-alternative milk market, said Dr Renninger. However, the technology also works on other plant-based proteins, and Ripple doesn’t talk about peas on the front of pack, describing the product as ‘nutritious plant based milk’ (as opposed to ‘pea milk’).
“We’ve proven the technology with all sorts of different legumes from soy to black beans and lentils, but we’ve also been looking at oilseeds such as hemp and flax. There are other pea milks coming to market not using our technology and in our view, they don’t taste as good.”
Ripple comes in original, unsweetened original, vanilla, and chocolate milk varieties.
The ingredients in the original (sweetened) version include water, pea protein, sunflower oil, organic cane sugar, algal oil [for the long-chain omega-e fatty acid DHA], vitamins A and D, calcium phosphate, potassium phosphate, sunflower lecithin, natural flavors, sea salt, organic guar gum, and gellan gum.
It is made by blending purified yellow pea protein isolate with water, sunflower oil, and organic cane sugar, while the vitamins and DHA are added following homogenization and sterilization.
The pea protein inside Ripple is now sourced from yellow peas grown in North America, said Dr Renninger.
"Unsweetened and chocolate are our top sellers in the 48oz size, and are also the top sellers in 12oz size, but original and vanilla also do well. We are certainly looking at expanding the distribution of the smaller size and to give consumers a bit of a different choice in the RTD case than coconut water and kombucha."
12oz format a surprising hit
It’s still very early days for the brand, but its performance has been so strong to date that Renninger and Lowry are looking to extend it into new formats including a dairy-free creamer and kids’ products in 2017, followed by yogurts and other products (options include cheeses and protein shakes) in 2018, 2019 and beyond, he said.
The success of 12oz single-serve bottles of Ripple (12g protein per bottle) as well as the larger 48oz multi-serve bottle also shows that consumers are drinking it on its own as a beverage rather than just adding it to cereal or coffee, added Dr Renninger.
“We’ve been blown away by the success of the 12oz format. We thought they would be used as a good way to encourage trial before people bought the 48oz, but people are buying it again and again so there are different usage occasions [for the two formats].
"We have plenty of consumers that have told us that they use the 12oz bottles as a nutritious mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. I do this personally, and it is enough to last me the entire time between meals."
While not everyone is convinced Americans need more protein, Dr Renninger said that the higher protein levels vs nut milks were key to the overall proposition: "Protein is important not just as a macromolecular nutrient, but in satiety and control of blood sugar. Protein leads to a low glycemic index and increases the 'filling' filling of Ripple."
*According to Ripple Foods: "1 cup of almond milk contains 1g protein. 1 cup 2% milk contains 12g sugar and 293mg of calcium. 1 cup Ripple Original contains 8g protein, 6g sugar, & 450 mg calcium. Almond milk and milk data from USDA National Nutritional Database for Standard Reference, release 28 (2015)."