Plant-based ‘milk’ debate is a ‘bunch of rubbish’
NadaMoo! dairy-free brand could extend beyond frozen desserts, says CEO
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after raising $4m in a Series A financing round led by InvestEco Capital and supported by District Ventures Capital, among others, Daniel Nicholson said revenues had increased six-fold in 2017 vs 2015, and that NadaMoo! was outpacing rivals in the plant-based frozen dessert segment, which is growing at a healthy double-digit clip.
“We’re outpacing the category in growth and in key metrics such as sales per point of distribution and when buyers see this kind of data, it’s a very different kind of conversation [than the brand was having a few years ago as the category was just taking off].
“We’re in around 3,500-4,000 doors right now and we’re looking at adding 2,500 doors in the domestic market next year. We have also just got investment from groups based out of Canada, so we have some pretty strong ambitions in Canada as well.”
From a new product development perspective NadaMoo! - which launched in Whole Foods in 2005 – has added to its range with a series of flavor extensions in recent years, but is now looking at strategic moves into other categories outside of frozen desserts, he said.
“We've always done a good job of launching new flavors and we have that process down as a company, but next year we are going to dig deep and start working on new products even outside of the frozen dessert space, and really take the opportunity to show the industry what the NadaMoo! brand is all about.
"First and foremost we’re dairy free, and there are some obvious areas we could explore in plant-based categories, but we have real confidence now because we have had success in such a difficult category [ice cream] dominated by some very big names with their own DSD operations.
"And it's not just because we have great products, but because we have built a fun brand. We are young, we're passionate, and we are an energetic bunch of people trying to bring change to the marketplace."
The plant-based ‘milk’ debate
Nicholson has been monitoring the debate over labeling conventions in the plant-based dairy category (eg. should firms use terms such as almond ‘milk’ or vegan ‘cheese’?) but said it has not kept him awake at night.
On a more practical level, he said, just as meat companies are investing in both cultured meat and plant based meat, dairy companies are investing in plant based dairy, which places them in a difficult position when it comes to labeling conventions, given that they have a foot in both warring camps.
“Over the long haul, unless they want to be debating with themselves, these large dairy companies are going to have to move on, as there’s no value in this," said Nicholson.
"It’s just a lot of fear-mongering. Consumers know what they are buying and it’s for lots of reasons, cholesterol, allergies, animal welfare, health, and I just think it’s [the row over the use of dairy terminology for plant-based brands] a bunch of rubbish. It’s a free market and consumers will decide.”
You can create a massive impact before you even think of jumping in bed with a large company
Asked whether he had been talking to any larger CPG companies during the recent funding round, he said:
“If you really take the bull by the horns you can really create a massive impact before you even think of jumping in bed with some large companies in the food world.
“With the momentum we have behind us and the runway in front of us, we have so much to do before even thinking about developing a relationship with a Nestlé or a Unilever or a General Mills.
“We firmly believe that we can stand toe to toe from an operational and from an efficiency standpoint with any company in the world.”
A rising tide raises all boats
While moves by high-profile brands such as Halo Top and Ben & Jerry’s into the plant-based frozen dessert category could be seen as a threat to smaller firms, they had attracted new consumers to the category, who then shopped around within it, and became loyal to brands such as NadaMoo! because they preferred the taste, he claimed.
“None of the big competitors has slowed us down. Ben & Jerry’s has done well, as everyone assumed that they would, but as people shop around in the category, they try NadaMoo! and our conversion rate is really high because we are offering the best-tasting product out there.”
We have to champion the conversation around quality
That said, the broader movement by large brands into the plant-based and natural/organic space was not a universal positive, he added: “What concerns me as more players enter the category is quality. I feel like the category has evolved where the talk is no longer around quality and that pains me to see because the natural food movement began with high quality foods and ingredients. I know large corporations need lower price points for products to work in their model, but some are putting lower quality products onto the market.
“We owe it to the continued success of the natural food industry to continue to champion the conversation around quality, so at NadaMoo! we’re going to keep talking about organic, non-GMO verified. Our inclusions – things like pecan nuts – are not all organic, but our base mix – which accounts for over 90% of our product [just shy of the 95% threshold needed to make an organic claim] is 100% organic, and that’s very important to us.”
Read more about the funding round HERE.