Almond ascension: How Linda Monique rode the new-age milk wave before it was cool
Thursday, October 24, 2019/
Almo Milk’s founder Linda Monique tells SmartCompany her global experience in both food and business allowed her to foresee Australia’s demand for almond milk even before it reached our shores.
“Generally, there is a trend rule,” she says.
“If something starts in the US and becomes mainstream, it will eventually trickle down into Australia about three to five years later.”
Almo Milk was launched in 2014 with the goal of becoming entirely Australian grown, owned and operated. Monique is also uncompromising on the quality and standard of operation within the business model itself.
But living up to these lofty standards didn’t come easily.
“What we truly believe is we are one of the world’s best almond milk companies,” she says.
The new soy
Starting Almo Milk as her third business, Monique says the experience has shaped the way she considers potential and opportunity.
As a university student in Melbourne, Monique says she “watched the rise of Bonsoy”, a popular soy milk alternative, which sparked “a huge level of curiosity”.
“I observed what their strengths were and it was fundamentally quality, integrity and taste,” she says.
“Originally, as we were launching, we were meant to be ‘the Bonsoy of almond milk’.”
After graduation, Monique worked as a high-end food professional across Europe, where she noticed the international food scene trend away from soy milk and towards almond milk.
“What I saw in the US in the space of five years, almond milk had completely taken over the non-dairy beverage industry where soy milk used to have 90% market share,” she says.
“So I saw it as a tsunami.”
Adding to the viability of plant-based beverages in Australia, Monique notes the growing local market for veganism, specialised diets such as paleo, lactose intolerance and “the highest rates of autoimmune diseases and allergies”.
She also credits “the influx of Asian population — up to 90% of the Asian population are lactose intolerant and that continues to grow”.
“So there was this unspoken need for both almond milk and premium health foods,” she adds.
Having lived with an autoimmune disease for the past 15 years, Monique also has a personal investment in the health food industry.
The need for healthy alternatives has given rise to what Monique dubs the team’s “number one priority, which is health”.
On the surface, Almo markets itself as a homegrown, delicious alternative to dairy milk.
Driving the engine, however, is its key value: meliorism, which according to Monique, “summarises the belief that the world can be made better simply through human effort”.
“It’s so fundamental to everything we do, from the people we hire through to the business relationships,” she explains.
Without prompting, Monique also lists health, integrity, simplicity and valour as core to the way she operates Almo Milk.
These values are manifested in Almo Milk’s commitment to being sustainable, local and nutritious, she says.
From the outside, the most tangible proof is in Almo’s supply chain — from materials to operation, everything is done entirely in Australia.
It’s a simple sentence but, according to Monique, it took “grit” and “doorknocking” to establish the current supply chain.
Fortunately, Monique’s first business, Melbourne Macaron, had given her a working relationship with a co-op in South Australia making up 85% of all Australian almond growers. Having them on board from day one gave them one less worry, Monique says.
“I spent a year begging and pleading for companies to manufacture our almond milk,” Monique says.
“Sometimes, out of value, they didn’t want to. Sometimes, they didn’t have the right equipment. And generally, because almonds are an allergen and many companies didn’t want the risk.”
So, out of necessity, when the business launched in 2014, it did its processing in New Zealand.
It wasn’t until just last year that Monique’s goal of a 100% Aussie product was achieved, when a new manufacturer opened its doors just 30 kilometres away from the co-op where the almonds are grown.
Doing it differently
Although Monique attributes the rise of almond milk’s popularity to the United States, where the majority of the world’s almonds are farmed, she is determined not to follow in their footsteps in terms of practices and standards.
Her insistence starts at the farming phase, where she says Australia’s irrigation and fumigation regulations are superior.
For nutritional purposes, Monique also balked against the standard process of making ‘activated’ almond milk, which involves soaking almonds and discarding the solids either as waste or as pig feed.
Monique says the process wastes valuable proteins, so Almo Milk liquifies whole almonds instead.
Even Almo Milk’s business model follows the beat of Monique’s drum, each year picking a specific goal to strive towards.
The first year, Almo Milk focused on distribution. The second year, it was determined to bring manufacturing back to Australia. This year, a new line of products was released.
Next year, Almo Milk will focus on marketing, while paying particular attention to packaging.
With all this in mind, it can be easy to forget Monique juggles three businesses — but she says the secret lies in enjoying the process every day.
“Find what it is that brings you energy and incorporate that into your day-to-day, even if that doesn’t relate to your company,” she says.
“It will give you the drive to get through the mundane.”
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