Founder and CEO of Mooala, Jeff Richards, remembers the moment he went dairy-free. It all started when he was obsessed with Cross Fit and used it to counterbalance the stress of his high-finance job, which he now looks back on as not being so much fun, compared to his current post. He ditched dairy, he says, to reduce all the inflammation in his body, and allow his muscles to recover and repair more quickly between crushing Cross Fit sessions.

Then one day he hurt his back, as he says most people who over-train with Cross Fit end up doing, and when he tried to go back to drinking milk, his body rejected it. It turned out he had become lactose intolerant–or he may have always been somewhat intolerant to lactose–but suddenly he needed to find an alternative milk option that tasted great and was healthy. Fast forward to when he launched Mooala, the company perhaps best known for making banana milk, but is actually the largest seller of organic almond milk, and now has just launched keto milk (he spells it mylk) which they can not keep in stock–it's taken off at such a clip. This is not only the story of a founder who created a product to fit his needs, but one who, like many founders, has pivoted, learned, and iterated to find market success where others might have been happy to stay small. We get to benefit, in the form of a new plant-based, organic, keto-friendly milk with less than one carb, and plenty of MCT oil for brain health.

Mooala is now the number one largest seller of organic almond milk, and Richards is proud of the fact that his milk is offered at a price point that makes prioritizing one's health both affordable and accessible. But he will always have a soft spot for their best-selling banana milk, which is the first products that he created.

Now Mooala may just be poised to steal the vegan bacon from bigger makers, by focusing on organic plant-based kinds of milk, especially the new and first of its kind keto-friendly milk, containing MCT oil and other healthy plant-based ingredients, less than 1 gram of carbs, since no one else is owning that part of the market. Guess who's having fun now? Here's how Keto Mylk came to be launched and where you can get it.

The Beet: You're a major success story. How and why did you start Mooala?

Jeff Richards: My background is in finance. I spent10 years in investment banking and private equity, and like everyone else at the time, I was into Cross Fit, and if you're into Cross Fit at some point, you try out a dairy-free diet. It's better for recovery, to fight inflammation, and help you stay uninjured. So I was living and breathing that Cross Fit life pretty hard for a couple of years until I hurt my back. At some point, everyone who does Cross-Fit hurts their back.

When I left Cross Fit and moved to other kinds of workouts, I tried to re-introduce dairy into my diet. But  I had become lactose intolerant as a result of not having it for a couple of years.

So that's how I became interested in dairy-free products, and also as a result of my job. And around this time, almond milk was taking off. But it was all highly processed and contained lots of ingredients.

No one had made organic almond milk, at least in an affordable way. Most almond milk is not organic. It's pretty common for it to be inorganic because growing organic almonds is very expensive.

So when I launched Mooala, I decided that the heart of the company would be to make organic, affordable almond milk and other types of dairy-free milk. Our best seller has always been our banana milk. I knew almond was going to be hard, because it's a very competitive area, and I knew bananas would be the way into meetings (with potential investors). Being nut-free and dairy-free is unique. Everyone makes almond milk but only we make banana milk. So that was a conversation starter.

The Beet: So did it take off? What has been the most popular so far?

Richards: Banana is still my bestseller. There is just a hint of banana taste, so it works great in smoothies or cereals. There's a subset of the population that is going to expect it to have a banana taste since it's milk made from bananas. You can sense it -- so if you love bananas you will love this. We didn't develop something that tastes like dairy milk. We wanted it to have a hint of banana.

The number one consumption of our banana milk is going to be in smoothies and cereal and after that people might drink it by itself. Banana lovers just love bananas, but not as much the banana taste in other things, like candy and such. Banana-flavored candy is always the last in the bag even though people love bananas they do not always love banana-flavored things. But that is because so much of it tastes artificial or overwhelming. We made sure that Mooala had no artificial favoring. It's naturally flavored and not overwhelming at all.

The Beet: That is fascinating. For smoothies, you want a banana taste. What else?

Richards: We just launched keto milk that has MCT oil and is made of coconut cream and coconut milk and oil. It has less than one carb and anyone on a keto diet is looking for this. We can't keep it in stock, it's selling so fast. It's a good problem to have. It's exploding.

The Beet: Where do you expect the company to grow?

Richard: We became the number one organic almond milk producer in the country. It is very expensive to make organic brands. It's the price that sets us apart since a lot of brands that make conventional almond milk are competing to go after 10 to 20 percent of the market.

The Beet: What is better about organic almond milk than non-organic?

Richard: A lot of almond milk now is non-GMO and when shoppers see that they think it's organic, but organic goes a step further. There are pesticides in the almond growing that are known carcinogens and can be used in nonorganic products but not in organic ones.

Pesticides are not allowed in organic growing and you have to turn the soil over and a whole lot of other guidelines that improve the and environmental standpoint n the soil. That's tough to do because adding the organic to something already $4 a bag adds another 25 percent or more to the price of the raw almond. It's just more expensive on shelves.

The thing about being in the dairy case is that it the most competitive part of the grocery store. Studies are done where a dollar change in the milk section has the biggest impact on its sales. That stems from the grocery store using milk as a loss leader. Milk was always sold as a loss leader, at $1 and they put it at the back of the store. Shoppers will shop at certain stores, depending on the price of the milk.

That still translates into almond milk even though almond milk, banana milk, and oat milk don't operate on the same rules as cows' milk. So we still have to compete, so ours is $.50 higher but that means we are paying more for organic almonds.

The Beet: Where is Mooala's Milk made?

Richard: Primarily in the US and Canada. Everything in North America, For the sake of discussion, it's some level of IP. We just reduced the plastic of our bottle by 30 percent and introduced paper packaging and shelf-stable packaging. Mooala Chocolate Banana milk is launching nationwide in Publix next month. It's made with chocolate cocoa butter... and delicious.

Mooala's number one milk is the banana. We add sunflower seed butter for a little touch of fat silky buttery texture. Bananas Foster is my favorite thing in the world. Cinnamon is in there... Banana produces milk. The factor not even on your radar that has helped us as a leading growing plant-based food company's been a real factor in our growth.

The Keto Mylk is blowing out nationwide in Sprouts, Wegmans, and a couple of regional Whole Foods. Mooala has done many launches and I've never seen something like this. We are having trouble keeping up with supply but this is a good problem to have.

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