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‘Alt milk fatigue has become a thing’: Táche founder Roxana Saidi on growing a pistachio milk business in the age of Oatly

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Pistachio milk startup Táche has big plans to take on Oatly and its ilk. Founder and CEO Roxana Saidi joined the Modern Retail Podcast and explained how.

Táche has been on the market for a little less than two years, but it has already begun making a real dent. The company has sold over 1 million units and has expanded its retail and coffee shop footprint nationally. According to Saidi, things are just getting started.

The first hurdle, according to Saidi, was making sure she could build a viable business. She knew that she had a good idea with pistachio milk, as it was made in a more sustainable process than other milk alternatives like almond milk. “In 2015, [California was] experiencing our worst drought on record,” she said. “At the same time, 99% of almonds that are consumed in this country are grown in California, where the almond trees require and soak up more water for the state than the inhabitants of California.”

Conversely, pistachios, she said, “require 75% less water than almond trees.” And thanks to her family’s connections to pistachio farms in the Middle East, she was able to have a direct source to the main ingredient.

But even with all this, pistachio milk was expensive to produce, especially for a startup making a small initial order. Saidi realized she had to make something many people could afford. “I knew that if Táche was going to be priced at $10 or above, it actually wasn’t a product I was going to pursue,” Saidi said. “That was my threshold.”

Ultimately, Saidi was able to get it down to $7.99, which meant the idea had legs. The next step was figuring out production. It’s easy to have an idea, but you actually need people to buy it. So for four years, Saidi made inroads with food professionals in the hopes that she would gin up enough demand to land an initial purchase. As Saidi described it, she saw the success of cult alt-milk favorites like Oatly and realized she too could create buzz by getting hip coffeeshop pick-up.

Pre-2020, Saidi was able to get many cafés interested. But then the pandemic hit and everything changed. This pushed Táche’s launch to November 2020. And with many cafés still shut at the time, the Táche team had to reconsider ways to get more people to try the product.

“So we had to get really creative through various channels to drive trial — marketing opportunities, donating a little bit of product to shops, anything and everything,” she said.”

Now that most stores are back open, Táche is seeing much of its growth in the food service space. Saidi said that the plan for this year is to continue to focus on that; currently, the company gets about 50% of its sales online direct-to-consumer and 50% through its retail and café partners. But next year is when Saidi is going to focus more on bigger retail expansion — Táche has plans to launch with some national players in the fourth quarter of this year.

Once that really gets going, Saidi has big plans for scale. “I think food service will be our primary revenue driver this year,” she said. “Next year, it probably will actually turn into retail. And then retail will continue to be the primary revenue driver from there.”

All this being said, the alt milk space is not what it was five years ago. “There’s no denying that alt milk fatigue has become a thing because of how many options [there are],” she said. “But I think what has worked really well for us is two primary differentiating factors: one is on the health side, and one is on the sustainability side.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

On making a pistachio milk MVP
“What we’re able to do with Táche, that no one else has been able to do, is create a pure pistachio milk. And what I mean by pure is that we don’t use other nuts or other filler ingredients like rice, for example, or almonds or almond extracts. To bring our costs down, we do a pure pistachio milk. And we’re able to do that because of my father who’s from the [Middle East] region. We have family connections with farmers in the region who have been doing this for four or five generations. And through those relationships, we were able to establish the supply chain to create Táche at the price point that we want.… One of the first exercises I did was establish our costs because I knew that if Táche was going to be priced at $10 or above, it actually wasn’t a product I was going to pursue. That was my threshold. So when we came in at $7.99, then it was really a green light.”

Taking cues from the Oatly effect
“I remember distinctly [in 2016] when Oatly started to roll out through coffee shops, creating those relationships with the baristas. And I remember distinctly, in some shops, signage would go up on the windows that said, ‘We’re sold out of Oatly — don’t ask.’ And it was just profound to me. I thought to myself: This market was already compelling in a lot of ways — alt-milk. I knew it was going to continue to grow. But it really took on a new dimension with the advent of Oatly coming to the U.S. So yes, [my growth strategy] was really building a lot of relationships at the food service level. So we were talking about specialty and third-wave coffee throughout those years.”

Pandemic launch woes
“I had spent pretty much 2018 [and] 2019 building those [professional food service] relationships. And I had verbal yeses from many coffee chains in the New York City area and in California. Some of them were quite large — 15 doors, 20 doors, even larger partners. As soon as March rolled around, a lot — if not 90% — didn’t even know how they were going to open their doors. So all of those yeses went out the window seemingly overnight. All we could really do at that point was lean harder into the direct-to-consumer channel we had already been working so diligently on. Really, the big question at the time was: How do you drive sampling? And, for us, that was incredibly challenging because we’re a 32-ounce multi-serve container; it’s heavy, it’s a liquid. Luckily, it’s not cold-chain, but it’s not a small ready-to-drink [beverage]. It’s not sample-size. So we had to get really creative through various channels to drive trial — marketing opportunities, donating a little bit of product to shops, anything and everything. We had to get creative, and it was ever-evolving. Week over week, there were new opportunities, which was great. But luckily, as shops started to open up, that really started to drive trial for us.”