Organic and cold-pressed nut milk brand MALK has landed placement at 1,200 Kroger-owned grocery stores. The deal with Kroger gives MALK a coast-to-coast presence and a foothold in the premium set of the fast-growing dairy alternative category.
Kroger will carry MALK’s three original SKUs — Pecan, Unsweetened Almond and Vanilla Almond — which like all of the brand’s products are USDA certified organic, contain no binders, fillers, carrageenan, gums, or thickeners, and undergo high pressure processing (HPP). Packaged in MALK’s distinctive 28 oz. plastic bottle, the beverages require refrigeration and retail for $6.99.
MALK co-founder and CEO August Vega credited greater consumer demand for organic and clean label products as a driver of the distribution deal, which was shepherded by Harlow-HRK Sales and Marketing, a broker dedicated exclusively to servicing Kroger.
“Nationwide, awareness is higher than it ever has been before on clean food and food where you understand everything on the label,” Vega said. “I think that there’s just been a huge shift in just the way people are looking at what they’re putting in their bodies.”
Meanwhile, MALK is doubling down on its relationship with Whole Foods. The natural foods giant currently carries the brand in approximately 100 locations among its Southwest, Rocky Mountain and Northeast regions and sells some MALK beverages on an exclusive basis. Going forward, Whole Foods will incubate all new line extensions, including a seasonal “Pecan Nog” and a cashew milk and matcha blend, both of which will debut next month.
MALK produces its nut milks at company-owned facility in Houston and outsources HPP to a local toll processor. The company recently received validation regarding its use of HPP, which Vega said had elicited debate among some attendees at Natural Products Expo West 2016. Although Vega and her co-founders were confident in the safety of MALK products, executives from competing brands questioned the ability of HPP to inhibit the risk caused by Clostridium botulinum, a pathogen also known as C. bot.
“That was a big topic of discussion at Expo West, to the point where some of our competitors were even telling stockists of ours that we were going to be shut down by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration),” Vega said.
To that end, MALK partnered with a C. bot expert who validated that MALK beverages are safe from the pathogen. Vega noted that the expert has no ties to any HPP manufacturer.
Concerns about the effectiveness about HPP on C. bot and other pathogens still exist. A handful of upstart nut milk producers that launched as HPP brands, including Three Trees and Pop & Bottle, have since transitioned to pasteurization. However, Vega said that MALK will continue to use HPP, which she believes maintains the flavor integrity of nut milks better than other processing methods.
“If had any advice to give anyone in our position, I would say you really have to be careful about industry noise and where it’s coming from and really do your research and understand the science behind what you’re doing so that you have a leg to stand on,” Vega said.