Dallas Startup Moo-ves into the $894M Dairy-free Milk Market

After seven years in investment banking, Mooala founder quit his day job to pour more time into launching his new milk business.

Mooala

Moo-ve over big brands. A new Dallas-based almond milk business has recently launched, giving customers a new choice in dairy-free beverages.

Mooala, pronounced “moo-ah-luh,” hit the shelves at Central Market Sept. 26, followed by August launches at Royal Blue in Highland Park Village, and Ann’s Health Food Center in Dallas. 

The product’s recipes using pure, simple, and organic ingredients coupled with fun packaging is just what Mooala’s founder Jeff Richards envisioned for his brand, which was in development for four years.

After seven years in investment banking, Richards quit his day job in March to pour more time into launching his new milk business, which seems ironic since milk wasn’t his favorite beverage as a child.

“When I was a kid, I always had a problem drinking milk,” Richards said with a chuckle.

DAIRY-FREE MILK MARKET GROWTH

Dairy-free milk beverages are trending at an all-time high. For example, almond milk is taking center stage and is now America’s favorite milk substitute, with sales growth up 250 percent during the past five years, according to a recent Nielsen study. 

mooala

Jeff Richards (left) and Clayton Stiff, Royal Blue employee. [Photo: courtesy of Mooala]

 

For example, almond milk is taking center stage and is now America’s favorite milk substitute, with sales growth up 250 percent during the past five years, according to a recent Nielsen study. In 2015, almond milk sales topped $894 million, though growth had slowed with only 7.8 percent over 2014. From 2013 to 2014, almond milk sales grew by nearly 40 percent. 

Mooala currently has six SKUs: original almond milk, vanilla bean almond milk, banana milk, and three cold-brew coffees —creamy vanilla, whipped mocha, and smooth caramel. Ingredients are few, using only organic, natural foods such as roasted almonds, pure honey, real vanilla beans, and cane sugar.

The packaging had a humble beginning as Richards used PowerPoint to design the logo, which is similar to a koala bear, has spots like a cow but lives in a tree, picking nuts, seeds, and fruits — ingredients found in Mooala’s plant-based milk.

For guidance, Richards took his logo and packaging ideas to Double Six Design, a company out of California that helps with product branding and packaging from start to finish.

The finished product is healthy, wholesome, and also trendy, he said.

“Everything we make is organic, using real ingredients. Our products taste like what’s in them instead of being loaded down with thickeners and artificial flavors and colors,” he said. “There’s some pretty bottles and pretty packaging out there and people assume it’s organic … Ours is organic — and we have a pretty package as well.”

FROM BANKER TO ENTREPRENEUR

So how does one go from investment banker to milk producer? It evolved through the years.

Richards was always good with numbers, so he studied finance. Prior to Richards graduating from Baylor University in 2007, he took an aptitude test to find his calling, which recommended he be an entrepreneur.

“What do I do with that?” he questioned at the time.

Almond milk came into play a little later down the road as Richards continued to strive for ultimate fitness. He was into cross fit, faddish diets such as Paleo, and eventually cutting out dairy for three months, discovering when he reintroduced it he realized he was lactose intolerant.

“ … [Jeff] was always very business savvy and entrepreneurial at heart and had dreams of starting his own company one day.”
Sean Sundby

At that time, he said there were few dairy-free options.

“I started tinkering in my kitchen making my own almond milk, roasting almonds, adding honey, for making shakes, and making my roommates mad at the mess I would leave behind,” he said.

Sean Sundby was one of the roommates.

“Jeff worked at a couple of large corporate investment banks in Dallas but was always very business savvy and entrepreneurial at heart and had dreams of starting his own company one day,” Sundby said.

After making his own milk for a while and playing around with different recipes, Richards had an idea.

“Why can’t I make something like this to sell?” he thought. “Because, well it’s really hard,” he said.  “It took three to four years to find someone to help with recipes and safety. Production is very difficult with milk products.”

But he succeeded.

MILK BUSINESS IS LIKE THE WILD WEST

One of his products, the banana milk, is a best-seller despite being the flavor with the most risk. The dairy-free, nut-free, vegan-friendly, allergen-friendly milk is made with pureed bananas, roasted sunflower seeds, and a dash of cinnamon, offering those with nut allergies an alternative to almond milk.

Richards said he has three major focuses when coming up with recipes. The product must be organic, using real ingredients, and as few ingredients as possible.

“We are going after the Texas market first, to hone our place here, see how it does and then expand into other states.”
Jeff Richards

Competing in the milk business is a challenge, but one that Richards is ready to tackle. The company is launching in Texas first. Along with the Dallas locations and Central Market statewide, Austinites can find the milk in five Royal Blue stores. 

“We are going after the Texas market first, to hone our place here, see how it does and then expand into other states,” he said. “We waited until we were confident people would buy it, and now are reaching out to a handful of investors to grow our business.”

Richards calls the plant-based business the “wild west,” and a rapidly changing landscape.

“Small consumer package goods companies are sending the message to large food companies loud and clear,” he said. “It’s a trust and quality issue, and large food companies are losing to smaller brands.”

AND IT’S TASTY, TOO

Jenny Harris, a former coworker at the investment bank Richards worked, watched Mooala grow from an initial idea to a successful company.

“I love Mooala first and foremost because of its organic and simple ingredient profile. Mooala products contain only five ingredients and most importantly, are free of chemicals, artificial flavors or additives. I like to know what my family is drinking,” she said. “I also love the taste, it is creamy and nutty with just the right amount of honey. We use it in our smoothies and coffee every morning.”

Harris said she believes Mooala will sell very well because the brand, packaging, and story will resonate with consumers.

“The bottle shape and Mooala logo are eye-catching and interesting, the organic ingredients and clean label speak for themselves,” she said. “And the story of Mooala’s founder and the work he did to create the perfect plant-based products is inspiring. I also, of course, love that Mooala is based in Texas.”

Sundby, who watched the idea grow from the kitchen to the grocery store shelves, also said Richards has done an amazing job with taste, quality, and packaging.

“You look at the marketing, bottling, and packaging of Mooala compared to the other brands, none of them even compare,” he said. 

GIVING BACK

In addition to giving consumers a good quality product, Richards wanted his company to help others who are less fortunate. A portion of sales, exact numbers are still in the works, will be donated to Seed Effect, a nonprofit, Christian microfinance organization. 

“They make financial investments in poverty stricken countries, investing in entrepreneurs,” he said. “The focus is giving a hand-up instead of a handout.”


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