Beyond organic: Once Upon a Farm's brand expansion reimagines milk for a new generation

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Once Upon A Farm
Source: Once Upon A Farm

Related tags Dairy farming Dairy Once Upon a Farm

Once Upon a Farm’s A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes and Smoothies launch leverages the company’s established presence in plant-based children’s nutrition and responsible ingredient sourcing, the company’s C-suite team explained to FoodNavigator-USA during the Natural Products Expo West.

In January, Once Upon a Farm made its debut into the dairy category​ with the launch of A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes and Smoothies. Sourced from Alexandre Family Farms’ grass-fed cows, the farm received regenerative certified dairy status in 2021 for its carbon sequestering practices via rotational grazing, which allows for plants to develop deeper roots, grow organic matter (biomass) in the soil and pull carbon from the air.

Partnering with Alexandre Family Farms for its dairy line was an opportunity for Once Upon a Farm to implement responsible and nutritious dairy products that align with consumer preferences and values, most notably with its choice to use A2/A2 organic milk, which is structurally similar to human milk and more easily absorbed in the body.

Katie Marston, chief marketing officer for Once Upon a Farm, said that the whole milk shakes and smoothies focus on taste (with no added sugar), texture and its farm standards for organic, regenerative dairy, complementing the brand’s established organic fruit and vegetable portfolio (which also includes three new SKUs that were launched this month – Baby & Toddler Pantry Snacks featuring fruit and vegetable puffs, coconut melts and soft-baked bars).

Of its partnership with Alexandre Family Farms and other organic dairy farms, John Foraker, co-founder and CEO, Once Upon a Farm, explained that the farm’s regenerative farming practices align with Once Upon a Farm’s nutritional standards and contributions to environmental stewardship by sourcing from suppliers that implement responsible farming.

“We want to work with the best possible partners who are very much aligned with us in terms of the positive impact that we have to make not just on nutrition, but also on the planet. Organic dairy does dairy way better than conventional and … Alexandre Family Farms is one we have been very public with and have a lot of story there around A2 and regenerative agriculture and regenerative organic-certified. Our organic dairy that we are sourcing from also comes from an extremely high-quality, long-standing source in the industry,” Foraker said.

Leveraging existing nutrition and environmental standards into the dairy category

Making the transition to dairy was a natural step as the brand’s audience already consisted of dairy consumers, which helped leverage Once Upon a Farm’s standards around clean children’s nutrition for testing its dairy products, Foraker explained.

The company undergoes consumer concept testing two to four times a year, assessing current portfolio trends, market trends and discussions with consumers to determine which products align with the brand’s lineup and its pricing structure.

“We’ve concept tested dairy products over the years and then we have the conversation internally of when it becomes right. It was really looking at our mission as well, which is to create systemic improvements in children’s nutrition. We knew that dairy played a large role that we had not been addressing and especially with a no sugar added take. So, the timing ended up being right with our last concept testing where it was so overwhelming for us to enter this space that it would have felt like we were not the parents’ ally if we chose not to go down this route,” Marston elaborated.

The company’s DTC business allows for direct feedback from consumers through ongoing surveys and questions which helped shape some of its consumer testing, while simultaneously building consumer trust.

“We have a robust DTC business. We control that. It’s a strong opportunity for us to have a lot of empathy with our consumers, communicate directly with them … We get a lot of feedback from them … and lots of great ideas bubble up that we’re able to bring into testing,” Foraker said.

Marsten added, “The number one thing when looking at some of the new areas is would this enhance consumer trust? Or would this alter it and if anything is other than enhancing, then it's not worth it.”

For its whole milk smoothies and milk shakes, the brand focused on delivering a taste and texture that “kids absolutely love,” while catering to parents seeking clean, nutritious ingredients, Marston said.

“To get kids to eat fruits and vegetables, sometimes you have got to play these tricks that parents appreciate. And then it was looking at things like protein or calcium or vitamin B that you can get through fruits and vegetables and other types of milk. … There is a perception of what milk products bring that if we were to do it in our way, we have been able to deliver in an obvious format,” she added.

Looking to the future, the company intends to expand its dairy formats and product functionality with areas like protein as well, Marston added. She forecasts that within dairy, trends will revolve around balancing taste and clean nutrition without added sugar.

“We’re going to see more of the attention to sugar and sugar in dairy products. I think you’re going to see more brands doing what we’re doing which is how do you get the taste and the benefits without added sugars, so going the no added sugar, cleaner dairy product route. Dairy as an ingredient is something that we continue to look at in across all our formats, as well as a protein source,” Marston said.

Additionally, the company is looking to decrease and broaden price point and increase accessibility for its fresh baby food within the WIC program in the 15 states the company participates in, with more states coming soon, Marston said.

Communicating certification claims carefully

Within dairy farming, Marston added that regenerative agriculture and even the regenivore​ movement (a conscious consumption of sustainably produced foods) will continue to gain momentum as consumers become more aware of its impact.

CPG companies that partner with regenerative suppliers or invest in certifications have a leg up in communicating environmental responsibility (and reducing risks of greenwashing), and have a strength in numbers approach as there is no current standardization for regenerative agriculture. Foraker explained that while Alexandre Family Farm’s Regenerative Organic-Certified stamp adds validation to Once Upon a Farm’s quality standards, “we are also very careful about how we communicate about it.”

The company currently features USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and Clean Label Project certifications on its Whole Milk Shakes and Smoothies products.

“If you look at our message, we are not overstating regenerative, organic and its impact on our business because it is such a small part of what we are doing – but it is a start and it is on dairy. We are also acknowledging that we think that is important and that is where the future is going… but we do not want to lead people to an incorrect conclusion about where that is in our business either,” Foraker explained.

Once Upon a Farm is also looking at processes from the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), which ensures that retailers’ supply chains support fair labor, particularly for farmers, within the produce industry, to implement into their own supply chain, Marston explained.

“We are one of the first, if not the first brand, that’s actually starting to work on building that into our supply chain, so that we can have the same assurances about parts of our supply chain, or how labor is being treated there. It takes a while, we’re just beginning, but it’s a sizable part of our supply chain right now,” she said.




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