The beverage aisle is easily one of the most dynamic parts of the store, with new energy drinks, teas, waters and fruit drinks entering - and exiting - almost daily. But when it comes to flavored milks, why is there just chocolate, strawberry and vanilla?
One man on a mission to find out if there’s room for something else is Chris Pouy, the LA-based former advertising exec behind Cow Wow Cereal Milk, organic milk that tastes like what’s left in the bowl after you’ve eaten the cereal.
I got a call from a friend saying, ‘You’re on Jimmy Kimmel!’
And early signs suggest he might be onto a winner, having just secured national listings at Kroger - and inspired a one-minute monologue devoted to Cow Wow on Jimmy Kimmel Live - all within a year of setting up shop.
“A minute of advertising on Jimmy Kimmel would probably cost around $87,000” Pouy tells FoodNavigator-USA. “And we got it for free! I was in a bar watching a basketball game in April and I got a call from a friend saying, ‘You’re on Jimmy Kimmel!’ My phone started ringing off the hook!
“A month or so later we were featured in Cosmo, and you know how much even a quarter-page ad in there costs.”
The best part of the bowl…
The idea for Cereal Milk first came to Pouy many years ago, but was filed away as he pursued a career in advertising.
“My grandmother is from Russia and if you didn’t eat your milks, eggs and bread, martial law was declared when I was a child”, he says.
“But I only used to like the taste of milk after eating cereal, so she had this giant bowl of cereal, poured it into a bowl, added milk and stirred it and then poured the milk back in the jug. It always stuck with me.”
I became tired of selling people things they don’t want
Several years passed, and Pouy entered the advertising industry, working on campaigns for some of the nation’s biggest CPG brands.
But after about a decade, he started to lose his passion, and took his cereal milk idea out of storage: “I became tired of selling people things they don’t want. I started to think why there are all these different flavors of ice cream and frozen yogurt and only three flavors of milk?”
I didn’t want to take someone else’s characters, I wanted to create my own
So how did he go from concept to launch?
“When my father died he had left me some money and I thought I would use it to try and get cereal milk off the ground”, says Pouy.
A couple of other companies have entered the market over the years with something similar but no one has taken a cereal-milk mass market - yet - he says. "If you can't be the first, be the best.
“My father was my angel investor if you like, although he’d probably be turning in his grave if he knew I’d spent his money on 9,000 cases of Cereal Milk.
“But I’ve always loved brands, and I thought why not create one of my own? It’s what I’ve been doing for years. When I was a kid I would make up my own baseball teams and create a brand for them.
“I knew cereal milk would be for kids, but I didn’t want to take someone else’s characters, I wanted to create my own. So I came up with this story of cows eating cereal and the milk that comes out is in the flavor of their favorite cereals, so you could have a whole herd of cows that all have different favorites.
“So I designed the original packaging and the name - and then got some people on board who improved on it and did the website until it was something I was really happy with.”
They would say, can you make this many cases, and I would say ‘Yes’ - and I had no idea if I could
But when it came to formulating the product and getting it manufactured, Pouy combed over his contacts book from years of working for CPG clients and realized that he didn’t know anyone that specialized in milk.
Unsure where to begin, he spent weeks leaving voicemail messages and emails until he finally found someone who could help, ”which led to another contact, who had a contact, and so on”.
Once he’d got the formulation right and samples in hand, he started pounding the streets, dressing up as a cow and doing what he does best - creating a buzz around a brand.
The message was simple, he says: Cow Wow tastes great, it's at the lower end of the sugar spectrum vs other flavored milks, with 6g of added organic cane sugar per 8-oz pack, and it contains only natural flavors: “I wanted to create something unique and different that would appeal to kids but Moms would approve of it.
“They are also slightly higher in protein than many other flavored milks because they use Clover Stornetta milk.”
The first varieties are Fruity Trudy (like milk that’s had Fruit Loops in) and Chocolate Chip Cathy (like milk that’s had cocoa puffs in), with several more to follow.
I want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of flavored milk
As any entrepreneur will appreciate, however, the biggest challenge when you launch a new product is “creating the illusion of being this well-established, professional operation”, says Pouy.
“They would say, can you make this many cases, and I would say ‘Yes’ - and I had no idea if I could. But I was lucky, I got into three Albertsons stores and then people liked the product and I got into 170 stores, and it started from there.
“I was at the Natural Foods Expo and a broker that dealt with Kroger came up to my booth and started talking and that’s how I got into Kroger. I’m also talking to Walgreen’s now.”
And his ultimate aim?
“I want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of flavored milk”, says Pouy.