Elmhurst 1925 seeks to stir up plant-based milk

The legacy brand from New York brings a prestige approach to its Canadian launch.

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Non-dairy and traditional milk sales have been trending in opposite directions, but now Elmhurst 1925, a brand with deep roots in dairy, wants to battle market leaders Silk and Earth’s Own in the plant-based category by taking a more premium approach.

The U.S. producer launched in 1925 but completely shuttered its traditional dairy operation in 2016, only to do an on-trend plant reboot the following year to adapt to new consumer demand. The brand boasts about having high nutritional value and nut content, a milling process to make its nut-based products creamier, a big portfolio that includes an unsweetened line, flavoured plant milks, oat creamers and the “Barista” series of plant-based milks for coffee for food service (a large part of its business), and also fancy on-the-go packaging.

The brand brought its milk and creamers to Ontario in 2019 under select specialty grocers like Ambrosia and Organic Garage. It’s now in Farm Boy, Whole Foods, Pusateri’s, Eataly and Longo’s to tap a “premium space”, before hitting large mass market banners like Sobey’s, Metro and Loblaw thereafter, according to Brett Sardo, VP of business development.

Sardo tells strategy that as a point of differentiation, the brand’s packaging is in a stylish tall bottle rather than a carton favoured by Silk and Earth’s Own. This, he says, gives the brand a “prestige feel” and premium packaging that is all about being “cool, stylish and elegant.” He adds that the ready-to-drink, oat-based lattes it sells in the U.S. are “high-class items,” likening it to the first time Starbucks entered the Canadian market and people wanting to be seen with products bearing its logo.

On pack, the typography and nostalgic aesthetic is meant to evoke the luxury of high-end cosmetics, says Megan Reddish, the brand’s creative lead. The simple ingredient and nut is made from are the most prominent things on the bottle, though; Reddish says that’s important, as the largest delineation between plant-based milks is it’s source ingredient, such as whether it’s made from almonds or hazelnuts. And, according to Sabina Evangelista, Elmhurst’s marketing manager, Elmhurst isn’t necessarily trying to convert dairy drinkers, but rather health-conscious consumers to whom something with a “clean” ingredient list would appeal.

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Elmhurt’s growth since its relaunch is, in part, attributed to a strong sampling program it has run in the U.S.

“It’s one thing to read about the nutrition, but we are a more premium product, so being able to taste it for yourself and understand that you can actually taste the almonds, something you cannot do with some of the other brands out there, is important,” Evangelista says.

Unfortunately, that’s not an option anymore, so the brand has shifted to more digital programming for its Canadian launch, with messaging that touts the holistic benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. It’s also going to bring the endcaps and shelf danglers that have worked for it in the U.S. north of the border, helping it stand out from both the market leaders and other new entrants to plant-based milk.

“As we move into Canada, we have to stress that even though we are no longer a dairy company, we are still supporting farmers,” Evangelista says. “Our oats and hemp are sourced from Canada and wanted to get that messaging out there.”

Mahmoud says it has an ice cream SKU coming following the milk launch, a soft serve that was initially developed for food service initially and is completely shelf stable. “We are giving people the ability to experiment and make it at home themselves, and customize it and experience it outside of the traditional ice cream shop,” she says.