Bananamilk... the next big thing in plant-based dairy?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

One 237ml of Mooala bananamilk serving contains 60 calories, 1 g fiber, 1g protein and 3g sugar
One 237ml of Mooala bananamilk serving contains 60 calories, 1 g fiber, 1g protein and 3g sugar
The plant-based milk segment was already pretty crowded by the time Jeff Richards quit the day job to launch Mooala in 2016. But the fact that buyers at the likes of Whole Foods, Safeway, H.E.B., Costco, and Wegmans, were willing to give him a shot this late in the game proves there is still white space in the category, claims VP marketing Jordan Campbell.

Mooala organic bananamilk – made from five ingredients: banana puree, roasted sunflower seed butter, sea salt, cinnamon and gellan gum – was a brand new innovation, while Mooala almondmilk offered a premium, organic option with more nuts and less sugar than leading brands that could also appeal to the whole family, she argued.

“Consumers want something that’s 100 or fewer calories per serving and much lower in sugar. Our bananamilk only has 3g of sugar per serving no added sugar. Even the chocolate bananamilk has only 10g sugar whereas chocolate dairy milk typically has well over 20g of sugar, so it really appealed to parents.

“Kids also love the taste of bananamilk; bananas are the #1 fruit sold in the grocery store and the flavor is not polarizing; it seems more familiar to people than pea protein for example. Parents also love the fact it’s from real pureed bananas, not banana flavor ​[each cup serving has a third of a small banana], it’s free of the top eight allergens, and is most similar to 2% dairy milk in texture.”

The brainchild of investment banker Jeff Richards, who was diagnosed with lactose intolerance at the age of 30, Texas-based Mooala is a new entrant to the plant-based ‘milks’ market that targets the whole family. Launched in 2016, it went on to secure distribution through UNFI and placement in 1,500+ stores. A January 2018 $5m seed round was led by M3 Ventures and Sweat Equities.  

Heaviest users: Families with working parents, two children

The heaviest Mooala consumers are families with two kids in the household and both parents working, “What we’d call the 5k fun runners rather than the hardcore marathon runners,” ​added Campbell, who said conventional accounts tended to take the bananamilk and the almondmilk, while natural channel and specialty accounts have been more interested in the bananamilk owing to the novelty factor.

“When we do demos at Costco, sales go through the roof. We often demo it with cereals and granola, rather than on its own in a glass, as when was the last time you had a glass of milk on its own?”

The Mooala brand was designed to be fun and family-friendly, she added: “Jeff​ [a former banker] just felt many of them ​[other plant-based ‘dairy’ brands] looked a bit boring and sad compared to all the innovative and fun branding he was seeing from new players in the other parts of the store and he wanted to create something fun and accessible."

mooala almondmilk
Ingredients, original Mooala almondmilk: Water, organic almonds, organic honey, sea salt, gellan gum. One 237ml serving contains 60 calories, 2g protein from nuts (vs 1g at Almond Breeze and Silk) and 5g sugar.

We are looking to quadruple in size this year

While bananamilk is a low sugar option, it lacks the protein, calcium and vitamins you'd get from a glass of milk, acknowledged Campbell, but the aim was never to match dairy milk from a nutritional perspective, she said.

“A lot of people have our products in the fridge alongside dairy products. It's just another option."

Mooala is also looking into nutrient fortification options for some of its new lines and exploring single serve options for kids lunchboxes, line extensions and brand new product lines based on novel ingredients.

Based in Texas and manufactured in southern California with its biggest customers in the north east, Mooala’s geographical logic may seem a little skewed right now, acknowledged Campbell, but should make more sense as the brand expands distribution.

“It’s funny how things evolve. In a perfect world we’d have grown on the west coast first, but chains in the northeast ended up being the first adopters. We’re in around 1,500 stores now but will be launching in the southeast with three major retailers later this year so that number will grow fast.

We are looking to quadruple in size this year.”

mooala banana
Ingredients, Mooala bananamilk: Water, organic banana puree, organic roasted sunflower seed butter, sea salt, organic cinnamon, gellan gum.

What should kids drink? Dairy milk? Bananamilk? Almondmilk? Water?  Join the debate at our FOOD FOR KIDS​ conference in Chicago in November where we'll explore what kids are drinking, what they perhaps should be drinking, and where we go from here...

Get full details HERE​.

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