While fluid milk sales have been on a downward trajectory for years, sales of more functional dairy products have grown, says Slate Milk co-founder Manny Lubin, who claims many Millennials love chocolate milk, but want something with more protein and less sugar in a format that’s “a bit more hip than that bottle of YooHoo they drank as kids.”
Slate - ultra-filtered, high-protein, lactose-free chocolate milk in shelf-stable cans that adults “won't be embarrassed to carry around” – is now available direct to consumer (DTC) via Slatemilk.com and Amazon, and will be in roughly 3,000 stores by the end of March, said Lubin, who founded the company with college friend Josh Belinsky in 2018.
"While there are other chocolate milks, RTD protein shakes, and lactose free milk options, many of our retail partners have seen success in nostalgic and functional products. Slate is delivering both of these things."
The brand is still learning what is resonating with shoppers, but from early feedback online, the key usage occasions are “breakfast, the 3pm pick-me-up, and post workout,” said Lubin, who has brought in a series of new hires in recent weeks to support the retail expansion and fast-growing DTC business.
'Nostalgia and functionality'
Retail partners include Harris Teeter, Giant Food, Giant Martin's, Wakefern, Hannaford, Bristol Farms, Central Market, and select regions of Whole Foods Market, with expanded distribution in the convenience store channel and Publix coming online later this quarter.
“In some retailers we’re in the dairy cooler, in others we’re in the functional beverage cooler next to single serve coffees and kombuchas and teas, and in Publix, we’ll be in the new age beverages set,” explained Lubin, who co-founded marketing firm, Reppr, a job board offering millennials and Gen Z-ers brand ambassador and influencer opportunities
“We’re still learning what works best, but we don’t want to be next to children’s chocolate milks, because that’s not where our consumers are going.
“When they buy it [for the first time], our consumers often say that they are not necessarily looking for a chocolate milk, they see the high protein, low sugar, see it looks indulgent, and they put it in their cart.”
Shark Tank (spoiler alert: Mark Cuban was not a fan of the early prototype)
While many investors interested in early-stage CPG brands are heavily focused on plant-based products, they also recognize the growth in lactose-free and ultra-filtered, higher protein milks such as fairlife, and the growth in beverages such as cold brew combined with dairy milk, said Lubin, who has secured financing from a variety of investors including Riverpark Ventures, OneRepublic lead singer Ryan Tedder, Halo Top International CEO Doug Bouton, and Drizly co-founder Nick Rellas.
But it hasn’t all been plain-sailing, added Lubin, who observes that the brand’s appearance on Shark Tank last year did not go entirely as planned (spoiler alert: Mark Cuban was not a fan). That said, the Sharks’ feedback during the episode – which aired almost a year after it was filmed, by which time the formulation had changed considerably – drove Lubin and Belinsky to work even harder to get the sweetening and flavoring system right.
“When we filmed we were pre-launch and the version the Sharks tasted was not the version on shelf today, but we appreciate all feedback,” said Lubin.
“We’re pretty encouraged by the kind of feedback we’re getting online and the velocities we’re seeing in stores now, but we’re always listening to consumer feedback and trying to improve. The key was getting something that delivered the sweetness and indulgent flavor profile without a monk fruit aftertaste.”
The next iteration of the product will have even more protein and less sugar, he said. “We are inbetween the kids’ chocolate milks and the high-protein bodybuilder type drinks category, but based on feedback, we want to get the protein [currently at 17g/can] up a bit more, and the sugar [currently at 9g/can] down a bit further.”
The process: Slate Milk uses ultrafiltration on its milk (sourced from 30 family-owned dairy farms in upstate New York) to concentrate the protein, eliminate the lactose/milk sugar (it also adds the lactase enzyme that breaks down any residual lactose) and remove some water. It then adds back 9g of cane sugar and some monk fruit for sweetness.
In order to create a shelf-stable product, the cans go through the retort process (think a large pressure cooker).
Nutritionals: Each 11oz can has 17g protein, 9g sugar and 120-130 calories. As a point of comparison, 11oz of TruMoo chocolate whole milk has 11g protein, 32g sugar and 275 calories.
Ingredients (Classic Chocolate Milk): Ultrafiltered Skim Milk Blend (Ultrafiltered Milk, Water), Cane Sugar, Natural Flavors, Cocoa (processed with alkali), Monk Fruit, Potassium Chloride, Pectin, Salt, Cellulose Gel, Cellulose Gum, Lactase Enzyme, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.
Pricing: The cans are sold via the Slate website at in 12 packs for $35.99 with a subscribe and save option for $29.99 and are available at selected retailers for $2.49-$3.29/can.