Why Would A Big Dairy Company Go Totally Vegan?

From big dairy to completely plant-based vegan nut milks, Elmhurst Milked has done a total 180°.

For 90 years, Elmhurst Dairy, owned by brothers Max and Arthur Schwartz, processed dairy from local farms and delivered milk to New Yorkers. Fast-forward to 2016, CEO Henry Schwartz, son of Max, changed the company's name and flipped facilities that once pasteurized milk and made yogurt into a home for mills. They grind cashews, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts with water, then press and filter it. The final product is bottled up and shipped as Elmhurst's cold-milled nut milk. We sat down with Henry to talk about the dramatic change of plans.

What prompted the change to plant-based milk alternatives?

I have personally been following a plant-based diet for several years now for health reasons. I decided to switch Elmhurst's focus to plant-based beverages because I wanted to improve upon the plant-based beverages that existed on the market, and because I recognized the enormous potential that exists in the plant-based beverage industry from the perspective of delivering high-quality, sustainable nutrition to consumers.

What kind of research did you do to learn to formulating nut milks?

I surveyed the products offered by existing plant-based beverage brands and then recruited Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, a lifelong innovator in the vegan food space, to help me launch Elmhurst Milked. Dr. Mitchell has devoted her career to finding a way to extract nutrition from nuts, grains and seeds in a manner that delivers a delicious, appealing product to consumers without damaging the plants' inherent nutritional value. She is a true expert on plant-based beverages, and we now proudly utilize her patented cold-milling technology to produce Elmhurst Milked's line.

What did revamping the business look like? What changes went into the facilities?

The revamping process was fairly seamless, as our sister company has a great processing and aseptic packaging facility in Elma, New York from our yogurt processing days. This facility was a great match for the state-of-the-art equipment required to launch Elmhurst Milked, so we moved production from Jamaica, New York to Elma, invested in the equipment required for Dr. Mitchell's cold-milling technology and recruited a fantastic team of food scientists and quality assurance professionals.

Did you find any trouble rebranding the name Elmhurst? Were any consumers confused at first?

Fortunately, we did not run into any branding issues when launching Elmhurst Milked. We have not seen any customer confusion, and in fact have seen many former Elmhurst Dairy customers embrace our new beverages as they trust our brand name and recognize that we are still delivering a delicious product that happens to be made from plants instead of dairy.

Where are you sourcing the nuts from?

We source our walnuts and almonds from California farmers, our hazelnuts from Oregon farmers and our cashews from Brazil.

How has making the switch to nuts helped on the sustainability front?

Generally speaking, plant-based beverages deliver nutrients from primary sources such as nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, which require fewer agricultural inputs than secondary sources, like cows.  In the case of our products, the result is a more environmentally friendly beverage with a nutrient content on par with the highest quality dairy milk.

Dr. Mitchell's milking technology has also enabled us to approach primary foods from a new perspective so that there is essentially no waste. Every part of the plant is used, from the fats, proteins and micronutrients that make it into our plant-based milks to the fiber that our sister company upcycles for use in protein bars and other products.

Other than health and environmental benefits, what other great things come with nut milk? (I know soy milk makes a great cappuccino since it foams up much better than traditional dairy.)

Plant-based milks are versatile — they taste great and can be enjoyed on their own as a high-protein, low-sugar beverage or used in cereal, coffee, tea and smoothies. They can also be used as a replacement for milk in cooking and baking, and their high protein content and foaming properties make them excellent for lattés and cappuccinos.