“The growth we've experienced has been extremely exciting,” said Manny Lubin, who founded Slate Milk in 2018 with college friend Josh Belinsky. “We saw 300% growth from 2020 to 2021 and expect another year of triple digit growth here in 2022.”
Reinventing chocolate milk
Lubin and Belinsky, who self-identify as modern milkmen, began with a love of chocolate milk and followed a conviction that the waning fluid milk category offered a niche opportunity.
The idea: a healthier, high-protein chocolate milk that evokes the deep nostalgia of Yoo-Hoo but reimagined in a sleek 11-oz. can without all the sugar to “give chocolate milk a clean slate” and a grownup-appeal.
Contributions from angel investors and $52,000 from a pre-order Kickstarter campaign – complete with a video featuring Lubin pumping up cans of chocolate milk in a pre-game locker room – created a buzz that landed Slate Milk on Shark Tank. Despite the snub by the Sharks, who took issue with Slate’s valuation and taste, the modern milkmen pressed on and launched in Classic chocolate, Dark chocolate and Espresso flavors not long after.
By last fall, Slate had raised an additional $3.3 million in seed money following a $1.7 million fund raise in 2020, which it used to expand its channels and venture out of the chocolate world for the recent launch of its French Vanilla and Vanilla Latte flavors. Investors include RXBar founder Peter Rahal, Halo Top’s cofounder Doug Bouton, Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt’s cofounders Drew Harrington and Amanda Klane and OneRepublic’s lead singer Ryan Tedder.
‘An all-natural strength brand’
Lubin says that Slate continues to respond to consumer feedback and has naturally evolved into what he calls “an all-natural strength brand that sells high protein chocolate milks and lattes”. The repositioning of its chocolate milk as functional beverage with 20g of protein and 0g of sugar is supported by a “strength in every can” tagline. The lattes filter in Colombian coffee with 175 mg of caffeine for “lactose free energy”.
“Protein is one of the most sought out macronutrients, but drinks with protein have typically been thought of as supplements for intense athletes,” he said.
“We think of our brand as offering great tasting, real drinks (not supplements) that are high in protein - and for everyone.”
Milk sourced from family farms is ultra-filtered to remove lactose sugars, as well as some water to concentrate the milk proteins, before enhancing it with allulose and monk fruit sweeteners, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Vitamin A Palmitate. Cans are then submitted to a retort process to ensure shelf stability and allow products to be shipped without refrigeration.
Even though Organic Valley, Chobani, and Maple Hill Creamery have recently exited the ultra-filtered milk market citing inflation and supply chain issues, Lubin says Slate's business has not been affected and forecasts growth for the ultra-filtered milk category.
“A consumer typically isn't making a decision to either buy Slate or a half gallon of ultra-filtered milk,” he clarified, explaining that Slate Milk is not in the same category as a milk sold by the gallon or a supplement but also appeals to buyers as an indulgent snack, a caffeine pick-me-up or a post-workout drink.
‘Follow the data’
As to whether the Shark Tank judges would be fans of Slate Milk today, Lubin laughs it off: “While we still feel passionately that the products we brought onto Shark Tank were fantastic, they have since been reformulated.
“And while taste is of course subjective, we always like to say ‘follow the data’. The data shows that not just with our dark chocolate, but all our flavors, consumers very, very often come back for more.”
Slate is available direct-to-consumer online and currently retails in some 5,000 stores including Publix, Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Market Basket and select divisions of Whole Foods and Ahold.
“We work with hundreds of gyms and sports teams as well!” Lubin added.