The health food movement has grown steadily since its inception amid ‘70s hippy culture, its most current incarnation centred around hot ladies doing yoga and eating non-dairy foods, posting pictures of themselves and their beautiful, oceany, clean-eating lives on instagram for emoji-happy fans the world over.
Almond Milk Co’s Cameron Earl couldn’t be further from his dairy free counterparts. Instead of a long blonde ponytail, Earl sports an ample beard and an in-depth knowledge of hospitality. After cutting his culinary/coffee-making teeth in places such as St Ali and Auction Rooms, Earl knows his stuff when it comes to good food and drink.
“Getting into Almond Milk just came out of necessity,” Earl says. “I’d been in the coffee scene for so long, I think my body built up an intolerance to milk. And it was just a really flippant casual conversation with my girlfriend where I was complaining about the poor almond milk products on the market when she said, ‘this is the best we can buy unless you wanna make your own.’
“It was a light bulb moment that just sent me into this handmade almond milk wormhole on the internet. I went a little crazy, youtubing like a madman, finding out who was making it, if it was available, if it was legal.”
Running Brighton café Little Ox at the time, Earl began taking his milk into work, listening to customer feedback to refine his recipe. With the current product, Earl soaks almonds for 14 hours until they grow plump, mixes them with medjool dates and a bit of sea salt, then blends, strains and passes the mixture through a pneumatic press. And that’s literally it – minimal interference, no additives. “It’s a simple process, but it’s a time-consuming process,” Earl says. Despite this, Earl has been bolstered by people’s interest in the product.
“I was just getting such a good response [serving it at Little Ox],” He says. “The crazy thing was, more skim milk drinkers were taking it on board than soy milk drinkers. The palate weight of almond milk’s closer to skim milk, and most skim milk drinkers don’t want to have full fat or soy, but they never had another option other than skim. That’s when I realised there’s a much larger market for this than I first thought there was.”
The steadily growing demand in his product caused Earl to quit his job and produce almond milk full-time, partnering with Little Ox owners to assist with production and delivery. Earl’s partners invested in a stall at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, which Earl says cemented his determination to grow his business.
“It was just crazy,” he says. “People didn’t only want the product, they were willing to search for our little stall [at the expo] just to try it. It made me more passionate about what I was doing, if at all possible. We went though about 300 litres of almond milk in four days, and since then, business has just exploded and is showing no signs of slowing down.”
Earl’s exuberance for his product is hard not to get caught up in. This, combined with high quality experience in the hospitality industry, a strong connection to his customers, and a determination to get his product right before he went commercial has certainly played a part in his success.
“I guess you could say I come from the fine-dining version of coffee world – St Ali and Auction Rooms are right up there, and would always buy the best regardless of how much it cost because they knew the best quality product would always sell better than a cheap version. So when I started, I was like, this milk needs to taste the best, it needs to work the best with coffee. So that was my whole focus from the very beginning.”
It’s not just the finished product Earl is focused on. He is completely across his business, from the handmade production of the product, through to handpicking his customers and educating them on how to work with the product.
“As the business is now, we’ve got a 20,000 litre capacity, which is the most we can deliver while keeping a personal relationship with our customer base. We’re still an evolving, new product, and require a lot of education. You can’t just drop the almond milk off to a café and be like, sweet, so, good luck with that. They’re asking, ‘how does it work? How do you steam it? Do I have to keep it in the fridge?’ I need to be part of that.”
Earl’s belief in his product, his emotional connection with it sets him apart from other providers in the burgeoning almond milk industry.
“For me it was about getting a product out there that people can affiliate with, you know? The UHT almond milk companies, they don’t really have an emotional connection with their product. It’s more a financial one. So I never want to get to that level with Almond Milk Co. I want to keep it local, and if we expand to another city, we’ll want to make another 20, 000 litres locally for that city.”
Expanding the business, Earl says, is very much on the horizon for Almond Milk Co – from retail distribution, through to an almond milk ice cream and iced chai and chocolate products. But Earl says Almond Milk Co is more focused on its reach rather than expanding its product line in the immediate future.
“There’s been quite a few [businesses approaching Almond Milk co] but the minute you spread your scope too far, you stop moving forward and you dilute your focus,” Earl says. “What we’re trying to do is get this product to as many people as possible. I’d much rather see raw almond milk in Queensland than chocolate almond milk in Melbourne.
“The whole idea is that I couldn’t stand the uht product, I found a way to make almond milk that I enjoy, and I found out other people enjoy it. So it’s getting that product to as many people that want it as I can.”