In recent years, with consumers adhering to increasingly healthy eating habits and artisanal beverages taking off in a big way, almond milk sales have exploded. So, what makes a truly exceptional almond milk, and how can retailers capitalize on the growing category? I tapped Three Trees Founder Jenny Eu for answers.
Can you describe the genesis of the Three Trees brand for me? What inspired you? Why almond milk?
When I was younger, I used to spend holidays with my grandmother who lived near forested mountains in Taiwan. I'd go with her on hikes through the forest, where she would collect seeds, leaves, and roots of various plants which were edible and had medicinal or nutritious properties.
Later, as an adult, of all the herbal teas and other plant-based drinks I made, my nutmilks were the biggest hit amongst friends—the cashewmilks, pistachiomilks, and almondmilks. They were different from the kinds available at grocery stores. They were made with a lot more nuts, and without any of the additives present in some of the bigger brands—carrageenan, gums, and lecithin.
I named my nutmilks 'Three Trees' because of my grandmother. For her, the forest was a pure, abundant source for ingredients, and that's the vision for my brand. In Chinese, the character for 'forest,' 森, is made of the three of the characters for 'tree,' 木.
How did Three Trees take shape?
I started selling these at local farmer's markets and pop-up markets about four years ago. One day I dropped some bottles off at Rainbow Co-op and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, without an appointment with the buyers or anything. We are very blessed to have stores like these who are willing to give small brands with a truly good product a chance. For a year, we were just in five stores, then in about 30 the following year. I was delivering product out of coolers full of ice in the back of my Prius. It was quite a moment when I graduated to an old refrigerated van that I paid $5000 for—It had 500,000 miles on it! We're now in about 250 stores in California, Seattle, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and DC.
What products were you offering initially?
We had three kinds of nutmilks, and several varieties such as vanilla, cacao, cold brew coffee, and chai spice. As the volume grew, I quickly realized that as a small business, I couldn't support all the SKUs. More SKUs meant more capital tied up in more raw materials, inventory, and greater operational complexity. So, we pared down to just almondmilks in a single size. Today we have three organic almondmilk SKUs: Unsweetened Original, Unsweetened Vanilla, and Cold Brew Coffee.
What makes Three Trees’ products truly unique?
We are uncompromising about our clean ingredient list, and about choosing the best quality ingredients. And our almondmilks are certified organic. The Unsweetened Original has only two ingredients: whole almonds and water. For our Unsweetened Vanilla, we chose real Madagascar vanilla bean for its round creamy flavor. And our Cold Brew Coffee almondmilk is a New Orleans style coffee, with notes of caramel from roasted chicory root, and is sweetened with coconut nectar.
Another bonus about our almondmilks is that we use the whole nut, so there's less food waste—and more fiber for you!
We package our almondmilk in a liter PET bottle. PET is lighter than glass, and takes less energy to produce than glass; it has a smaller carbon footprint than glass. PET is also one of the the most widely accepted formats for recycling centers.
Where are Three Trees products available? Do you have any advise to retailers looking to boost sales?
Today our 100% clean, organic almondmilks are available at natural and specialty grocers, as well as select cafes for their coffee drinks or smoothies. Check our stores locator for locations! We've had many consumers who are outside our distributed areas ask to buy our product, so we're working on shipping directly to consumers all over the continental U.S.
In terms of support and tips to our retail partners, we love to offer free samples to customers. Once people taste our almondmilk, they're amazed by how different and better it tastes, and they "get" why it's a superior, premium product.
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