Swedish alternative milk Sproud has four SKUs selling in 17 countries spanning North America, Europe and Asia. Its co-founders speak with NutritionInvestor about taste, sustainability and organic growth
By Murielle Gonzalez
In the market since 2018, pea milk alternative Sproud has grown from being a Swedish vegan brand to securing international sales with distribution in 17 countries, including the Nordics, the Netherlands, the US, Canada, the UK, and Taiwan. Maria Tegman and Christopher Robertson partnered with Malmö-based family-owned investment group Findeln – the parent company of nutrition products wholesaler Be Good Sweden, and logistics specialist WeMake – and formed Sproud to become a global brand with health, taste and sustainability at its core.
“I used to work for one of the biggest vegan brands in the Nordics and saw a lot of the trends coming and going – one of the big trends was high protein drinks,” says Robertson, Sproud’s R&D and supply director. “We realised that alternatives to milk in the market were high in sugar, additives and preservatives – we thought there must be another way to make a better product, and so Sproud was born.”
Turning the idea into a product took four months. The team chose to use European yellow split peas, taking advantage of its nutritional profile while guaranteeing a low carbon footprint across its supply chain.
“We extract the protein from the peas, and use the ingredient in powder form,” says Robertson. “In the pea, you have about 20% of protein. The rest is starch and fibre,” he explains.
Robertson says Sproud trades direct with suppliers, going deep into detail to double-check their sustainability credentials. “We know what drives the carbon numbers up, and can control that,” he says.
Robertson explains that Sproud’s production process uses about 10% less water than the water required for making almond milk, and less land needed for making oat or soy milk. “Making pea milk is far more sustainable than other alternatives,” he says.
Sproud is also naturally sweetened. “We use agave,” says Robertson. “It has a low GI, and we chose it because we wanted to have an organic product,” he adds, noting that water, calcium and vitamins are also added to the mix.
Another feature of Sproud, which Robertson argues is yet another proof of its sustainability approach, is that it’s manufactured to be sold in the ambient aisle. “Products that required a chill distribution chain consume a lot of energy, so we decided to use Tetra Pack aseptic packaging, which gives Sproud a shelf life of 12 months,” he says.
Robertson says that brands in the alternative milk category don’t talk much about this area as many people are used to buying milk in the chilled aisle. “Even in the US, roughly 90% of milk alternatives are sold chilled. So, it will take time for the consumer to appreciate the difference. Shoppers are more and more interested in eco-friendly brands, and I see this as an opportunity for Sproud to win consumers in the long run.”
Work on product development led the team to expand its range to four versions – the original was followed by a chocolate flavour, an alternative for baristas, and the original unsweetened.
“From the beginning, we knew we wanted to have a chocolate flavour,” says Tegman, Sproud’s head of brand. “Then we launched Barista, which was developed in collaboration with well-known baristas in Sweden and formulated to get the perfect foam for the coffee,” she adds. “This summer, we launched the unsweetened version. All four SKUs’ are available in the UK, the US and Canada – we’re launching these in the rest of Europe, too.”
Tegman recognises that launching Sproud Barista amid the Covid-19 lockdown was challenging. “We knew we had the perfect product for foodservice, cafes and restaurants, and we put a lot of effort into this segment – the Covid-19 lockdown was a blow to our plans, but even at the beginning, we had a fantastic response from clients. For example, Expresso House, the biggest cafe chain in the Nordics, chose our Barista milk for its vegan cappuccino.”
In August, the uptake of Sproud Barista continued with Swedish coffee chain Fogarolli and in October Löfbergs, one of Sweden’s biggest coffee makers, also partner with Sproud to use its Barista on the menu.
“All the cafes we have talked to in Germany and the Netherlands, for example, are really eager to work with us,” says Tegman. “These cafes know that they have to look for vegan and sustainable brands because their customers want it.”
Tegman has overseen the development of Sproud’s brand identity, building on her longstanding career at Orkla Foods in Sweden. She knew that launching a food brand in 2018 would not be easy and that entering the dairy category would be even more challenging.
“We had to find a way of not to camouflage ourselves but to stand out among the other players in the market,” says Tegman. “We wanted to show that we took a stand for a sustainable plant-based future. These reasons led us to design the branding with black-and-white straps.”
Feedback on the design, however, was negative at first. “People didn’t get it,” says Tegman. “They wondered why did we chose black-and-white, and even questioned why we put it in the ambient aisle – that’s part of the game,” she adds, noting many times the team thought about changing it for a more traditional design.
“We stayed true to our branding because we realised this is the way we are, and we believe in achieving market share by being different,” says Tegman.
Sales are a testimony of Sproud’s traction in the market. The company registered a turnover of $7 million Swedish krona (roughly $800,000) in 2019. “Sales are picking up now that we have launched in nine countries. We would probably reach $25 million Swedish krona (roughly £2.8 million) this year, including all markets,” says Tegman.
The Sproud team knows that competition is tough in the alternative milk space, and that the success of fellow Swedish brand Oatly puts pressure on them. Tegman and Robertson argue, however, what Sproud offers is beyond comparison.
“We have a hero product that contains 50% less the amount of sugar oat milk has, and more compared with dairy milk. We have double the amount of protein, and we know we foam better, we have a more neutral taste, and we are more sustainable. We beat oat milk in every single benefit,” says Tegman.
Tegman and Robertson congratulate Oatly for having done one of the biggest marketing cases in the alternative milk space, and argue creating brand awareness takes time. Tegman says: “We’re a start-up, growing step-by-step, organically. I know we’re going to win customers in the long run.”
“We have people telling us how great Sproud tastes, and that’s what keeps us going every day,” Robertson concludes.
Date published: 28 October 2020