These days, even being plant-based sometimes isn’t enough.
As should come as a surprise to no one who’s been following the industry, plant-based beverages and non-dairy milks have been one of the biggest growth sectors in the marketplace; research firm Future Market Insights projects the dairy alternatives market to reach $34.6 billion by 2029. With that proliferation of brands entering the space, establishing a point of difference can be difficult — but oat-based drinkable yogurt maker Hälsa (formerly Simpli) is aiming to create space for itself by highlighting its nutritional content and ultra-clean production process.
“The first level of the plant-based movement was just ‘get me anything that’s plant-based,’” Hälsa co-founder Helena Lumme told BevNET. “The next level is how is my plant-based milk made and what is in it? Is it nutritious or just fortified water? The same thing happened with gluten-free products — they have become better tasting and more nutritious.”
According to Lumme, the origins of the brand can be traced back to the early 90s, when the governments of Sweden and Finland made significant investments in supporting oat research. Some of the scientists who worked on those projects later produced patents based on their work, one of which Lumme and her business partner Mika Manninen acquired in 2011 for use in their initial venture, Simpli Oatshake.
The last four years, however, have been spent trying to address what the pair saw as Simpli’s major flaw: its reliance on chemical-heavy processing that required the use of emulsifiers. Without getting into the specific details, Lumme said Hälsa has developed a chemical-free production process allowing them to make plant-based milk from any source. No enzymes are used to break down the ingredients, and the whole grain is not extracted or altered in any way.
The company’s organic drinkable oat yogurts come in 8 oz. single-serve PET bottles. Each of the four flavors — Mango Pear, Strawberry, Concord Grape and Blueberry — contains 120-140 calories and 9-11 g of sugar (none added) per bottle, depending on the SKU.
For a company already producing a clean label oat milk base for its yogurts, the obvious question is why Hälsa hasn’t followed the lead of fellow Swedish oat specialists Oatly and entered that red-hot category. Lemme said the decision to base the brand around a single-serve drinkable yogurt was to position it as a portable everyday snack and not just a breakfast item. She also thinks it will help protect the brand from what she believes will be forthcoming price wars.
“We are a small company and we knew a lot of the big companies would come to the market and follow suit from Oatly,” she said. “We don’t have the money or the resources that the others have to push these products. The more milks that come to the market, the more competition there will be with price.”
While oat milk isn’t on the horizon, Hälsa is planning on launching a spoonable version of its non-dairy oat yogurt this year in response to consumer demand. The brand’s supply chain of imported Scandinavian oats can handle increases in scale, Lumme said, noting the company may begin exploring co-packing operations on the West Coast to support its existing manufacturing in New York.
In the meantime, Hälsa is aiming to continue talking to consumers and retailers about the “next level” of plant-based dairy by expanding distribution across the country. The product is currently available at Wegmans, Fresh Direct, ShopRites (about 50 locations), all New York metro area airports and in approximately 100 stores in New York City. It is set to launch at Costco locations in the San Francisco Bay Area in June.
“We are clean food advocates,” Lumme said. “We want to show the food manufacturers that if a small startup like ours can develop a chemical-free product, they can as well.”