Best-known for its pea-based milks, Ripple utilizes proprietary 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. However, its first attempt at incorporating the proteins into yogurts was not a success, acknowledges co-founder Adam Lowry.
“Basically, we messed up the first time around. We produced a yogurt [at the beginning of 2018] that we thought was going to be great, but we had scale up issues, and it [the commercially available version] had a grainy texture that was not acceptable.”
Sometimes you mess up
He added: “We have a pilot plant at our HQ here in Berkeley, so we have a step inbetween full production and bench where we validate stuff, but essentially the solubility of the protein was an issue at that scale, and without going into too much detail, the way you mix, heat, and do all the things at scale is a little different than you do at pilot scale, but it’s on us. Sometime you mess up.
“When it was clear it wasn’t up to snuff from a product experience standpoint, we pulled it out pretty quickly, and we’re relaunching a new improved product now. We’ve just shipped it and it will be showing up on store shelves in retailers [including Target and independent natural grocers] soon.
“We’ve also taken the opportunity to revamp the proposition, so we started with a Greek style product whereas the new proposition is more of a creamy yogurt, which is more universal with a broader number of usage occasions.”
We had some explaining to do
Retailers expect perfect quality out of the gate every time, “as they should,” said Lowry, “and when you don’t deliver on that it weighs on your reputation, and that’s something we’re earning back. So this time we’ve done countless line trials at scale, which is an investment, but you’ve got to do that. We had some explaining to do with those customers, but we’ve gone back to them with this new product and they are very excited about it.”
Asked why Ripple decided to go back, rather than count its losses, he said: “Plant-based yogurt is a great category to demonstrate what’s unique and different about Ripple Foods. Most non-dairy yogurts still lack the basic nutrition of a dairy yogurt. The top varieties are almond- and coconut-based and they don’t really contain any protein at all, which means they are nutritionally substandard but also makes for a weird experience texturally, they are kind of gelatinous.
“So with our product, we’re trying to create a plant-based option that is a bit more like the animal version in terms of protein [it has 6g protein], we’ve got live and active cultures for digestive health, which not all plant-based yogurts have.”
The new ‘superfood’ milks will be available exclusively in Target stores through 2019, with additional retail expansion to come in 2020, he said.
They come in three varieties in 32oz multi-serve packs: Matcha, Turmeric, and Acai. Each serving contains 8g of plant-based protein from peas, 40% of the RDA for calcium, and 6-7g of sugar, added Lowry, who noted that Ripple milks tends to over-index vs other plant-based milks when it comes to consumption as a beverage.
“A lot of the almond- and coconut milks are not used so much as beverages – where people pour a glass of them to drink – they are more for cereal or adding to smoothies.”
Our base business is performing really well
Ripple does not share revenues, but is performing well overall, with particularly strong growth from its core business (pea milks), said Lowry.
“Same stores sales are growing more than 20% year on year and we’re actually spending a bit less on marketing, so we’re getting great repeat purchases, the healthiest type of growth you can get, plus we’re building out the portfolio across multiple categories.”
New products in the pipeline include ice cream, cheese and sour cream
New products in the pipeline include ice cream, cheese and sour cream, “products where we think the non-dairy analogs are not quite as good as the dairy versions,” he said.
New plant-based protein sources
Ripple is also applying its technology to other plant-based sources beyond peas, he said.
“Some of the things that are most interesting to us are secondary feedstocks,” said Lowry. “We were awarded a grant from the Gates Foundation to extract pure protein from sunflower meal, but we’re looking at all sorts of proteins.
“Sunflower meal, cottonseed meal or flax meal, things that are left over after the oilseed crushing process, those meals contain a lot of protein and they are inexpensive and sustainable as they are byproducts from agricultural process.”
He added: “At the bench level, we’ve done a bunch of research that we’ve turned into IP around the extraction of protein from waste feedstocks and we’re now applying for the next grant to be able to do that at pilot scale, so we have a line of sight over the next couple of years…
“We have the potential of creating really really low cost protein, which is why the Gates Foundation is so interested in this.
“This is a potential path for creating a plant protein that’s cheaper than soy and that’s super exciting for us from a nutrition and accessibility standpoint. Everyone’s using pea, soy and wheat, and so we’re trying to broaden the innovation space.”
Kids and the plant-based trend
How are parents incorporating plant-based alternatives into their children’s diets? And what are the nutritional implications? Hear from Michele DeKinder-Smith at Linkage Research & Consulting at the 2019 FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago. November 18-20.