Ripple Effect: 5 Questions With Co-Founder Adam Lowry

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Ripple yogurt

Adam Lowry is trying to do for plant-based milks what he already helped do for sustainabe household cleaning products: bring them into the mainstream and consumers’ refrigerators.

As the co-founder and co-CEO of Ripple Foods, whose first product is pea milk (more on that below), Lowry is well on his way. In addition to raising $44 million in funding from Google and Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Ripple’s plant-based milk has generated more than $20 million in revenue since launching in early 2016.

Ripple Foods Milk

A mainstay in the refrigerated grocery section at Target stores, the next stage is happening now—expanding its product line beyond milk while expanding distribution and brand awareness.

Adam LowryLowry (right) co-founded Method Home cleaning products, which was generating $100 million in annual sales by 2012, when it was sold to Belgian CPG company Ecover. In addition to a design-led brand that made replacement pouches for its curvy bottles the norm, Method built a factory on Chicago’s South Side to create jobs while adhering to exemplary environmental standards.

Those lessons are with him today as he helps build Ripple. With its clean taste and ample protein—8 grams per serving, the same as dairy milk and comparable to soy milk while higher than almond milk—Ripple is touting a unique value proposition and product offering versus non-dairy milks and other competitive brands. Hence its bold tagline: “Dairy free. As it should be.”

Sustainability is at the heart of the brand. Each 48-ounce bottle of Ripple saves 3.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and 925 gallons of water versus dairy milk, the company says. Getting the same amount of protein from almond milk would require 66 billion additional gallons of agricultural water.

“Plant-based milks are a $2 billion market that’s forecast to go to $4 billion in a short period of time,” Lowry, a climate scientist turned entrepreneur, told brandchannel. “There’s a profound shift going on for a variety of reasons, ranging from health desires to sustainability benefits.”

As for its core ingredient, Ripple protein comes from yellow peas, the same raw material that goes into Hampton Creek’s faux mayonnaise, Just Mayo. Ripple has taken the extra step of concocting a patent-pending process that strips out the flavor of plant material and leaves almost pure protein, so it doesn’t taste like peas. This gives the product the advantage of a neutral taste, unlike soy or almond milks.

Ripple is working on making more products from its proprietary protein, which it calls Ripptein, including a Greek yogurt alternative that it launched on December 1st in beta. It’s taking customers’ feedback (and criticisms) on-board, announcing on December 12th on Facebook that it’s still refining the product and looking to make the non-dairy yogurt creamier and more pleasing.

It’s also looking beyond peas for other sources of plant protein which could be derived from the same process and potentially cost less to produce while still maintaining a low-impact environmental footprint.

For more insights from the former Method man who’s looking to make a Ripple with consumers’ nutritional and grocery buying habits, we spoke with Lowry about his second major CPG startup.

Adam, what do you think will be the tipping point for making Ripple and other plant-based milks mainstream? 

The way I think is, this is our reason for being. Before Ripple came along, dairy alternatives were really terrible alternatives to dairy. Almond milk is thin and watery and chalky. Same with other milks, and 90% of those that are sold have one-eighth the protein of milk—or less—so they’re missing the enjoyment and the nutritional benefits of milk.

As more mainstream consumers want to drink plant-based, that  means more people who don’t have to drink plant-based. What will make it go mainstream is to have a dairy alternative that can stand up to dairy milk in terms of taste and nutrition, and that’s what we’re trying to create. Ripple’s got the same protein level as milk and is creamy and delicious.

Ripple milk

Is “pea milk” a hard sell, especially as people might assume it tastes like peas?

Yes, you can say “pea milk” and people kind of chuckle. But at the end of the day, it hasn’t been a huge barrier for us. We’re the first people to make a milk from peas. You want to be 100% transparent about what the milk is made from because that’s the first thing people want to know.

The brand architecture we use, what we really talk about, is Ripptein, and being the purest plant protein on earth. What that’s meant to do is help people understand that what makes Ripple unique is Ripptein, and that comes from peas, but it’s not peas themselves that make Ripple unique. In the future, that might come from something else.

Ripple milk

How are you marketing Ripple? Is it all digital/social?

A lot of our marketing, nearly all of it, is digital in nature. That’s a function of who we’re talking to. The average age of a Ripple consumer is 33, much younger than the average age of other brands and consumers in the space. These are people who consume digital media primarily. We are doing a little bit of traditional media on top of that—a broad awareness play, region by region—as we build out our distribution.

And much like my previous business, Method, what we really rely on is storytelling. The media we earn (is) by having a really distinctive product proposition and an interesting brand where there aren’t really a lot of interesting brands and products. It’s supported by our own social media efforts, but we don’t have as many followers as Ellen [DeGeneres] yet. But we’re building that.

Ripple blueberry yogurt

You’ve got an unusual logo—with fading letters—and brand name. What can you share about Ripple’s identity?

It’s about the little things we do each day and those adding up to major acts—about ripples, if you will. If you think about other brands in this space, it’s all about the ingredients they came from. The second-biggest brand in the space is Almond Breeze, and it’s clearly about almonds.

The biggest brand is Silk, a contraction of “soy” and “milk.” Ingredients go in and out of fashion, and almond nuts are a terrible thing to make milk out of—it doesn’t have any protein, isn’t any good, and uses insane amounts of water. Cashew milk is even worse. Coconut milk is terrible from that respect; it has no protein at all.

You don’t want to build a brand around a single ingredient because that’s not a very distinctive or enduring brand proposition. We want Ripple to be a brand across the whole non-dairy space that is one way that you create a little ripple effect in your life.

Ripple Foods

As for the branding, we wanted to create a logo treatment that’s visually interesting. Brand logo treatments have gotten too similar-looking: modern, lower-case approachable things. The Method logo treatment is a lot like that. But we really wanted something more distinctive. So the big innovation there was to create our own font that we thought not only was distinctive but also a visual reminder of what Ripple the word and brand represent, with the swirliness of the font.

How does sustainability inspire and define what you call the Ripple Effect?

I used to be a climate scientist and I went straight out of college wanting to dedicate my career to environmental issues. I worked on the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for instance. My frustrations there led me to create my first business, Method. The frustrations were feeling like I was preaching to the converted in my science job. The science was really clear but wasn’t leading to policy change, and still isn’t.

Second, realizing as a green consumer at the time, I was always frustrated because all the products frankly sucked. There were sacrifices: they were brown and ugly and too expensive and you had to go to a different store to buy them and they didn’t work.

That was the original idea behind Method: using business to create social and environmental good. We kind of turned the whole green product model on its head. We created a better product and put it in mainstream stores. That’s exactly what we’re doing with Ripple—and it’s also the most sustainable.


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