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Making plant-based creamers a ‘culinary Swiss army knife’

Food Entrepreneur MIAMI  —  JOI, which stands for just one ingredient, is a maker of plant-based creamer concentrates and powders. The company’s product line features oat milk powder, almond milk concentrate, cashew milk concentrate, hemp milk concentrate, coconut cream concentrate, and instant oat coffee creamer packs.

Nuts, seeds and grains are the main crops the company focuses on because of  opportunities its management team sees for innovation in the applications.

“Oat is becoming a foundational product (with) a lot of diversification opportunities,” said Hector Gutierrez, chief executive officer at JOI. “Oat has a neutral flavor profile, and we can put it in a position for acceleration with innovation in terms of how we’re thinking about product formulation and product format.

“Almonds are a fantastic raw material and very nutrient dense. They’re ubiquitous in terms of approachability and general knowledge in the market and they’re tasty and naturally sweet. We thought almonds was a great product to start with (and) is still a foundational product for us.”

The concentrates and powders offer consumers convenience and may be ready within seconds by adding them to water, blending it and adding it to coffee, tea or the morning beverage of choice. After being mixed with water, the product may last in the fridge for up to seven days.

Gutierrez calls the company’s plant-based creamers a “culinary Swiss-army knife.” Not only is it used in beverages, consumers are using the concentrate as spreads on their morning toast and as a pasta sauce for added protein, he said.

“We decided to pursue this path of plant milk concentrate because it’s multi-layered,” he said. “One aspect of this is sustainability but also the clean label approach. By being able to put our products in a format of a concentrate, we don’t have to include additives or preservatives. So, brands that use water to create liquid formulations sometimes need to incorporate those in order to preserve and make the product shelf stable. By preventing that, we can offer a more nutrient dense and clean label product.

JOI oatmilk creamerPhoto: JOI

“It really serves a variety of different purposes. You can repeatedly use it without the fear that it’s going to go bad on you. You’re already worried about your kale, lettuce and spinach going bad, this is one less thing to worry about and we want to service that need.”

The company began targeting its brand toward foodservice when it launched in 2018 and later offered a direct-to-consumer line in 2019.

“We viewed foodservice as an opportunity to test our products and get feedback from chefs and smoothie makers and iterate on their feedback,” Gutierrez said. “From there we launched our direct-to-consumer business in 2019. The path forward is to play in retail.”

Gutierrez said the company will launch in Whole Foods Market in Florida before expanding into other regions and retailers.

“At the end of the day, we want to be where our customers are,” he said. “Over 90% of groceries are still purchased inside of a store. It only made sense for us to expand into retail. We’re focused on Florida because that’s where we feel we can make the biggest impact with this launch. Our goal is to over deliver on the customer experience and really dig deep into what success on the shelf looks like for these products before expanding into new regions.”

By focusing on a three-pronged approach, Gutierrez said the company wants to be accessible to as many consumers as possible.

“We have ongoing outreach to restaurants, cafes, hotels and cruise lines where we’re partnering with them to power their needs in the back of house kitchen spaces to produce milk and plant-based food products,” Gutierrez said.  “We’re continuing to create awareness on social media advertisings as well as influencer partnerships and co-brand partnerships. Now with our retail expansion, we want to work with the right retailers first.”

 The product also is a fit in the outdoor and recreational retail outlets. Additional outlets include airports and airlines, and other non-traditional spaces.

“You can take one of our powder pouches and throw it in a travel bag,” he said. “Wherever there’s coffee or a coffee station whether it’s self-serve or light service of coffee, we think there’s an opportunity. We want to speak to consumers who are on-the-go and provide on-the-go options. You already have on-the-go hydration solutions, what about on-the go-coffee creamers?”

While most brands focus on plant-based milks and liquids, JOI focuses on plant-based concentrates to be on the next level of convenience for consumers.

“We’re going for simplicity of ingredients,” Gutierrez said. “We want fewer ingredients and if we include ingredients, those ingredients need to be purposeful. We’re plant milk, but we’re not liquid. Being able to compete in a differentiated product format is an exciting opportunity because we stand out. We’re more versatile and we last longer in terms of shelf-life.”

By pushing on all fronts in retail, foodservice, and direct-to-consumer, JOI hopes to yield positive returns in the coming years.

“We’re making smart investments where the investments yield positive returns,” Gutierrez said. “We’re really excited about innovation in our coffee creamer formulation. As we get into retail and the non-traditional spaces and push into natural grocers, the opportunities of the outdoor retailers of hotels and coffee spaces is an exciting and unique opportunity.” 

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