Harmless Harvest moves into plant-based yogurt: 'We’re making it pretty differently than just about anyone else'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Harmless Harvest yogurt alternative cups (MSRP $2.29) come in four flavors (plain, strawberry, vanilla, blueberry) and are cultured with seven live active yogurt strains. Picture: Harmless Harvest
Harmless Harvest yogurt alternative cups (MSRP $2.29) come in four flavors (plain, strawberry, vanilla, blueberry) and are cultured with seven live active yogurt strains. Picture: Harmless Harvest

Related tags plant-based yogurt plant-based plant-based dairy Harmless Harvest

Harmless Harvest – which has carved a distinct niche in the coconut water category via its use of micro-filtration (instead of thermal pasteurization) – is promising to bring the same commitment to novel processing methods, organic ingredients, and clean labels, to the plant-based yogurt market.

On the face of it, Harmless Harvest​ dairy-free yogurts – launching nationwide exclusively (for 90 days) in Whole Foods at $2.29/cup – have a fairly similar ingredients list to other coconut-based dairy-free brands, albeit with organic ingredients and no gums and natural flavors (see box below), but the devil is in the detail, SVP of brand, innovation, and marketing Heather Cutter told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Just like we did with coconut water we have a differentiated proprietary process for our yogurt and we’re making it pretty differently than just about anyone else.

"Most other brands start with processed nutmilks or coconut creams, adding thickeners and stabilizers and cultures and making it into yogurt, so they start with a liquid and process it to get a yogurt texture. We scoop the fresh meat from the same young Thai coconuts we get our coconut water from, and puree it until it’s smooth, then add cultures and create yogurt, and it has a more clean-tasting and dairy-like texture. It’s not overly coconutty.”

CEO Ben Mand added: “They’re ​[other brands] starting with a milk or cream that’s already been processed once already and then they process that again. The milk or cream has a different texture as they push water through the [shredded coconut meat] and you don’t get all the solids, it’s thinner and more gelatinous. We get all the solids and the fiber.”

The market opportunity in plant-based yogurts

Scores of brands – including the key players in dairy yogurt (Danone North America, Chobani, General Mills) – are now jostling for space in the plant-based yogurt segment, US retail sales of which grew 39.1% to $230m in the year to April 2019.

However, the volatility within the category suggests that there is still everything to play for, said Mand, a CPG veteran who most recently led up brand marketing and innovation at Plum Organics, and joined Harmless Harvest in June 2018.

Overall, from a consumption standpoint the plant-based yogurt category is seeing very strong growth, more than 50% in MULO (IRI multi-outlet data, which covers food, drug, mass etc but not natural chains), and consumers are looking for new options. I’d say sometimes with the early pioneers they get something out there to address a need, but maybe they haven’t nailed all the aspects of it.”

The bar has been raised

He added: “When we assessed all of the products out there, there were still so many that did not deliver a great taste experience from a texture and a flavor standpoint.”

Cutter added: “The shopper is changing. More people that are not ​[eating entirely] dairy free are shopping the category, and they are making a choice to eat plant-based alongside dairy, so the rules of engagement are changing; the bar has been raised.

“We did a blind taste test with the leading plant-based yogurt and we won unanimously on taste and texture. Ours has a creamier texture and it's not gritty or runny, plus we consistently got the feedback that it has a clean taste and finish; it doesn’t linger.”

New product development

Picture: Vanessa Tierney Photography

Moving forward, we can expect to see more products from Harmless Harvest that use more coconut meat (as well as the water), said Mand, citing the recently launched protein & coconut beverages, made with coconut meat, coconut water and pea, pumpkin, and sunflower seed protein.

"When I took over the business, what struck me was that we had amazing coconut water, but we didn't have that much of an innovation pipeline. We were buying these coconuts for their water and I felt we should be scooping the meat and making it into purees that could be used in yogurt and other plant-based offerings."

Probiotics beverage morphed into something else

Harmless Harvest Probiotics – a cultured beverage line that launched in 2017 and also combined coconut meat with coconut water – morphed into the drinkable yogurts, moving from the functional beverage set to the plant-based yogurt set, explained Cutter.

“We relaunched and reformulated it into a dairy free yogurt drink. The insight there was that it had a tart yogurt-like taste, but because we weren’t positioning it as a yogurt it wasn’t clear. We also took down the sugar and simplified the ingredients list, put it in the dairy set and it’s performing much better.”

Harmless Harvest single-serve 8oz dairy-free drinkable yogurts (MSRP $2.99) - made with organic coconut meat, coconut water and cultures - were launched in select Whole Foods regions last year, but can now be purchased at an expanded selection of Whole Foods stores and natural grocers across the country, Mand explained: “The drinkable dairy category – whether it be plant-based or regular dairy – is growing much faster​ [than spoonable], and plant-based within drinkable is really exploding.”

Cutter added: “Some people have them as an on-the-go breakfast, some people have them at home, in smoothies, or as a snack, so it’s a really versatile product.”

'Our consumer is a premium functional beverage consumer'

Harmless Harvest’s core coconut water business “continues to do really really well,” ​said Mand, who said the company overall was growing at a "very healthy clip."

harmless harvest coconut water

“We tend to be the most productive or the second most productive brand, and in any given account we’re in, we typically have at least a couple of SKUs in the top ten from a velocity standpoint in refrigerated beverages.”

And from a distribution perspective, there’s still a lot of runway, said Mand, who noted that Harmless Harvest is a refrigerated product sold alongside beverages such as kombucha and cold brew in the grab & go functional beverage set, and is not really competing with shelf-stable coconut water brands.

“Our consumer is a premium functional beverage consumer. Just the same way as the cold pressed juices were not really competing with shelf-stable juices but with other premium functional beverages.

“In MULO in terms of % ACV (distribution) we’re in the low 40s, so we see a lot of upside from a growth standpoint in distribution. We also have opportunities in more up and down the street and convenience stores and drug stores.”

*Visit Harmless Harvest at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco January 19-21, booth #5126  

coconut plant based yogurts

Harmless Harvest, vanilla: ​Organic coconut milk (water, organic coconut meat), organic cane sugar, organic tapioca starch, organic vanilla extract, pectin, organic vanilla seeds, live and active cultures

Chobani non dairy, vanilla: ​Cultured coconut blend (water, coconut, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, agar, cultures), cane sugar, water, chicory root fiber, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavors, fruit pectin, locust bean gum, vanilla extract.

Oui dairy free, vanilla (Yoplait/Gen Mills): ​Coconut Base (water, coconut cream, cane sugar, modified tapioca starch, malic acid, natural flavor, vanilla extract), cultures

So Delicious (Danone North America) vanilla: ​organic coconutmilk (filtered water, organic coconut cream), organic cane sugar, rice starch, contains 2% or less of: natural flavor, calcium citrate, pectin, locust bean gum, citric acid, live and active cultures, vitamin D2, vitamin B12

Coconut Collaborative vanilla: ​Coconut Milk (coconut extract, coconut water, water), coconut water, corn starch, potato starch, pectin, natural vanilla flavor, vanilla bean, cultures

Daiya, vanilla bean:​ Filtered water, coconut cream, cane sugar, pea protein, creamed coconut, potato protein, chicory root fiber, potato starch, lactic acid (vegan), rice starch, vegan natural flavors, tricalcium phosphate, tamarind seed gum, locust bean gum, vanilla extract, guar gum, sea salt, vanilla bean seeds, l. plantarum, vitamin d yeast, l. casei, stevia, vitamin B12.

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