Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 40 · 1 year ago

Almond Yogurt and Family Business with Matt Billings

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Matt Billings is the fourth generation of his family farm, which first started more than 100 years ago. And now, he's the founder of Ayo Yogurt, a vegan, dairy-free almond yogurt.

WELTHGOM, good people, Cool Things, thepodcast pee ring conversations with entrepreneurs, writers musicians andother creatives. I'm your host Sho, we held an today's guest, is Matt billings,the founder of Ao Yogurt, a delicious yogurt that doesn't use dairy or soitor coconut, no they're, all about almends, which they grow at theirfourth generation of family farms. In California, Sunny San Makin Valley, thebillings family has been producing organic California almends for morethan one hundred years, and we are going to talk all about the history ofMatt's farm, how he got the idea for a yogurt whatit's been like since launching the brand. Perhaps a few upcoming flavors as wellit'll all be delightful and a great time. Inds super informative aswell, and really just a good reminder to support your local brands and reallylearn the history behind the companies that you support, because they arealways very interesting and full of hard work. If you like to get in touchwith good people, cool things, you can do so. A couple different ways were onthe facebook, the twitter and the instagram at GP, CT podcast for all ofthose always feel free to drop a DM oninstagram. You can do it on twitter, two I'll see both but instagram dms forsome reason, just a little more exciting. You know I tat's like the RedArrow better than the blue little number on twitter. You can also supportthe show via the shop good people, cool thingscom shop. You look super stylishwith a shirt or grab a mugs. You can fill it up with AO yogurt. I can't imagine a better pairing, sowhy not go ahead and do it as we start this conversation with Matt, I'm sureyou've been asked to give your elevator pitch before so I'd love to hear yourelevator pitch about who you are and what you do. But I also like to hearthe elevator that were on while you're giving this pitch. For me, it probablyhave to be a really tall building and a long elevator ecause. I ramble a lotand I kind of jump all over the place, but that's that wo LD probably be theelevator well ramble away. Then I think what makes us unique from aOman Mo yogert standpoint, an a dairy alternative yogurt is that one wegrow the almonds that go into the Yoger, so we have our hands in the processfrom literally when the tree is planted through its thirty year life when it'sharvested it goes through our family facility. It's all family ownedour family facility, where we holly almonds, we process the omonds we turning into almon butter and Alon Milkand then into the the actual yogur itself, and then we're doing all the tmarketing I mean we obviously have help and people that are helping us, but butall the marketing and it's truly a product that is from our hearts and something we reallywant to make the nutritious wholesome and a product thattastes good, and I think that's what really started us and wanted us to do this.More than anything is we wanted a product that tastes good and a lot ofthe alternatives out there? There were Ama milk yogurts, they didn't tastegood, they weren't necessarily nutritious through very few amonds inthem a lot of water, fillers, flavors, sugars and an Agh Cup of our yogurs twentyalmonds. So it's almost an Ounc of almonds per cup and that's really kind of a pitch than it tastes good. We wanted to develop aproduct that tastes good and doesn't just fill a Nich, but actually tastegood and you want to eat it and come back fom more, I mean that's a, I think.That's a good...

...goal for any food product to have is totaste good, but it's also good. When you can put Yeah Twenty Omens in pack of Yogurt is pretty impressive andyeah, so you're getting a lot of good goodnutrients, and everything like that.In addition to a good taste, was that the biggest reason behind doing almondyogurt or were there therere other underlying passions to? We reallywanted something that could take our product because we're growing organicomands? We wanted to take it from a commodity because that's how wetypically sell it hem and it goes into a a bin or a product, and you never cantell it's our amonds from anyone else's th the UMAS. We grow. We Love Them. Wewant to share him what the world we wanted to become bdevelop a productthat people would love and and and really embrace. So that's probably whywe did the amonds more than anything else and almonds. I mean they're, hugely nutritious Nutran, rich for their weight. So as far as as a plant product that packs more proteinor Fita mini Ribal, Flav and I'm mean thelist kind of goes on, but it's a really nutritious product. So that's that'sthe other reason. We originally got innom and SOM meany generations ago,but yeah. Let's, let's go back to the farm as a whole because you mentionedsure forth generation now and do I have the date: INE ousand, nineTueen, nd. Thirteen is when the farm ije thir thirteen. I think it wasprobably a couple years before that, but we always just rilled one thousandnine hundred an thirteen, because we jokingly call thirteen our lecty number,so the Yeah Thoh, the original company wasfounded and I might have this wrong, but it was a Friday. The thirteen an Ithink it was in May Ne USAND, nine Tueden and thirteen, so that was aoriginal kind of predecessor company that my great grandfather started before me, but yeah, so we've alwayskind of joked hat thirteen's, our lucky number. I like that. I like that, andso obviously that's more than a hundredyears of being, I'm a very good mathematician. So, yes, a hundred sevenyears since I, since the official start Dat, even if maybe it's a hundred ninehundred ten from the UNOFFICIR, but obviously things have changed both intechnology, but also just the earth itself, with with everything that'sgoing on from a global warming. That's a whole other discussion, but I'm sure,if you looked at how things were going on the farm back then versus now. What are some of the most excitingchanges that have happened over the the course of these four generations? Themost exciting thing THAs changed over the course for generations. I'm Mer, Ion know that's kind of toughmy grandfather o tell me when he saw thefirst airplane and when he got electricity and the first car, sothere's been a lot of thin over the four generations. I think family, I think, is a as afamily company and the values I mean it's really family held values that ourcompany still holds over four generations and for that to still bearound that's probably honestly one of the more exciting things, especially I mean I'm probably going toget on a tangent now, but through Covid, I've seen so many of my friends and saythe restaurant business that have been multigenerational families and they'rehaving to close or just small businesses that have beenhit so hard. So I think, to be able to be forth. Generation still have thesame values that have really been pushed down from the founders of thecompany and to keep keep the the I mean, hopefullydevelop a retail brand that can spread that to everybody, not just be thiskind of hidden commodity brand. I think that's, probably the most excitingthing. If we can really push this yogurt outand develop a following D and Get...

...people to, I don't think you really need tobelieve it they're pretty just basic human values that I think that would be really exciting.If we can get this and keep pushing it and get it get it, you know: Nash,national and and worldwide for sure, and can you talk a little bitabout the harvest process like when you're doing it? What goes into it?Because I think that's super interesting, but probably not as wellknown as what the final product turns out, like sure, yeah, absolutely so anAlmand if most people e very familiar with peaches, because you eat a peach,so a peach, an anomenor first cousins. So if you an Ometry, most ometries are actuallygrafted on to peach rootstocks. It's almost all amons or peachamand,hybrid, so the harvest, basically I'm going to back up one. Second, I toldyou it needs to be a long elevator. So right, a peach has t at the fleshy part of thePhou et so on an Amond. That's called the hull hull and it's kind of aleathery swati consistency. Then, in a peach, if you eat all the peach, youhave a pit in the middle and that's the shell of the almon and then inside thatpit. If you crack that open, there's a little nut and that's the nut and thealmond. So when it comes to harvesting almonds it usually, we happens once a year, we have almanbloom and February marchtime frame, it's beautiful, the our whole all the fieldsturn like I beautiful, Whitish, pink color, and then they, the bloom, willkind of fall down an you know this petal fall and it covers the ground.Almost looks like fresh snow and that happens in February march and thenusually early August will start harvesting. So t the fruit or the nutgrows pretty quickly and we'll come in and the first thing we do is we have amachine that comes and shakes the tree. So it's looks like a big almost like alobster claw that grabs the tree shakes it all. The nuts fall. We let hem dry in the sun for about aweek and that dries that leathery outer hall, so the equivalent of the fleshypart of the peach and then will come in and sweep the almonds intoa row and then pick them up. And then, from that stage we truck him to an Amon, Holler Sheller,and that removes the hole. The outer leathery part. It removes the Shell andthen it just has a kernel, the not itself and will sort those get out any insect damage. Ane foreignmaterial sticks and things like that chips and scratches and just basicallysorted in and size it different sizes. And then you get ready for. If it'sgoing into the yogurt, then we'll we'll blanch it. So you take the skin off. We roast it or toast it, and then we grinded into a fine almondbutter and then mix that OMON butter, basically with water, and that's whatturns into the Amand milk that we make into the to the Aman Yogurt, that's kind of theprocess, s that you follow. All that I think so. Yeah, I'm going back a little bit to the lettingthem dry in the sun. Is that for does that just make it taste better, oris that a necessity? Because if you tried to do stuff what was wet, itwould just be disastrous. It's really that leathery outer hole. So when youshake the almonds, the nut itself is dry and it's usually ready to be so tthe nut and the whole that whole fruit is attached to a little. It's called aPe Dunkle, so it's like a little stem kind of, and it starts to the vascular tissue from the tree tothat fruit. That's the tach and causes...

...the food to grow and gives it nutritionas it starts to get close to harvest. It starts to separate and dry, and thenut will usually dry up a lot faster and that leathery outer hull will stillbe kind of moist or pliable. It's almost more likesuwade consistency and we dried in the sun till it becomes more of like theequivalent of the Hawaiian potato chip, so it snaps and that allows themachinery when we take it to take the hole in the shell off to remove it.Otherwise you can't really do it. It just kind of balls up and thit's. Just there'sreally no technology to get that off. Unless you dry it up a little bit gotITD, got it and then, as far as the turning it into almond butter,eventually OMON milk and then woman yogart. Do you also have other productsthat are almon butter, alm and milk? Or isit either amends by themselves or Yogurt? That's pretty much almonds by itself oryogurt for US occasionally, we'll do maybe a slice or a dice or somethinglike that. But the vast majority of our product is, it goes into a commodity product andyou never know where it came from really hor the history behind it. Maybe it's I've been an I've, been aVomans at a grocery store or a chocolate bar R ice cream. Somethinglike that yeah. I think that's a good distinction of keeping that history and really showinglike everything that has gone into the business so far, and hopefully for more than a hundred years to come andas far as the yogurt itself, what's thes sampling sort of testing processlike of picking the different flavors that you have put out so far and are there anyones that you can talk about that might be coming up down the line? Sure Yeah? I think we wanted to keep itwhen we started out. I me you'll go to the dairy isle, where a lot of yogurtsare sold and you'll see kind of crazy flavors, and I mean someof them are okay. What we were really pushing for is historically yogurt sales. It's vanilla,strawberry, blueberry peach. That's, I think, it's somewhere on the order ofeighty five percent of all the yogurt sold and the world are those fourflavors and plain which we don't have yet, but we'rethat's probably on we're rolling out next would be a plane, no sugar, but I think what we really want to do whenwe were developing the flavors of it as one. We wanted a consistency and ataste that was great that we didn't want to scamp. Anyway, therewere using our organic fruit and art organic commons for it, and then wewanted to really not necessarily make it a substitutefor yogurt but make it its own product in the sense, so we wanted taste likemammonds. So when you taste our yogurt you'll get the fruit and it's a mile.That's not an over the top fruit in anyway, and then you'll get thistoasted almond notes to so. You know where it's coming from we're, nottrying to hide the almonds and make it taste like a Greek Yogat, we're reallytrying to make a Aman milk yogurt that tastes like Hamons with the fruitplayers. So that's kind of was our goal in it. So probably the next one would be comingout that we're working on now is a plane and it'd be in a larger, largerformat like a sixteen ounce or something like that that people can usefor smoothies and more ingredient base stuff and then we're tossing aroundsome other other flavor ideas, but nothing really is hit yet exactly they're kind of all.Just ideas at this point. What's the...

...strangest one that you've tried, or atleast discussed we were talking about, one was like a chocolate Horchata, soror Trotat, port Chata and Spain. Typically they use almonds in Mexico. Alot of its rice based so it'd, be that'd, be more like a dessert styleyogurt. So Ito'd probably Av a little bit sweeter with the chocolate and thatreal, hard Chot of flavor to it. I can say- and I cound say it EAI, don't I don't know we go back andforth yeah. I think it's always like. I think it's fun even just toexperiment, even if it never sees the light of day like just to see what kindof that's n't, even that like that crazy. But it's certainly a littlelittle bit of a departure from what you have right now, but Attru, Oh yeah,true from I from the basic for yeah, and you would talk about how you wantit to taste like almonds- was that something that sort of balance that younailed right away, or did that take a lot of kind of testing and revampingthings a little bit to get it to how it is? I know it took a white it took awhile to get I mean, I think I'm trying to remember. I bet we'vebeen at this for at least three years, so it was probably a solid year and ahalf two years of experimenting and tasting and testing and different formulations before wefinally got what we wanted now that it took a lot longer than I thought I meanin my that's. It's is anytime you're trying to make up a recipe in your head.You have kind of in your head, your mind's eye for lack of a better turn ormind's palate. Echuse me what you kind of want, andit's always the back and forth to finally get there. I feel that waywith any kind of design work I do as well, which I'm not a designer by anystretch of the imagination, but even if I'm just kind of doodling or somethingI'm like okay, I can draw this dog and son, and that should be fine and it'sjust a lot of lines on a paper Ha doalways, more cangin, andyou thinkyeah, I'm the same way! Well, that's something that I alwayslike to ask as well is: what's the most surprising part of running yourbusiness, would it be how long things take when you think they should bequicker? Are there other elements that have surprised you I'd say just that it's a constant push to get it outthere general ar when we show it to consumers.Consumers really have been positive feedback about it. They, like the tasty,like the consistency tee like it's lower sugar and you're, trying to get throughdistributors and through chain stores and the whole process is just very,very, very slow and I am a patient person, but the same time, I'm probablya little IMPATIENC Tothan's, probably been that's probably been the hardestpart is just you get a store to accept you and then it might take six monthsto a year before you're. Finally, in the store, so you're gi, okay, let's gocome on yeah, I've already send the papers, sothat's grit, that's probabl yeahthat's probably been the biggest struggle, andthen I mean we have very little retail experience. So justit's any time you jump into something you don't have a lot of fui familiaritywith it's always a big learning curve, but we're gettingthere. Nice yeah, I think I mean I also Iamnot going to act like I have a lot of retail experience, but it seems like a world where t the moreyou get into it. The more you get to experience it, the better off you'll,be from there and have you found that you had mentioned. You have somerestaurant friends that have had to either close permanently or temporarily,at least during the covid pandemic. Have you found? Distributors are similarly feeling these kinds of pains,or were these things that you had agreed to before March and are now kindof like getting rolling now...

...yeah, we joked at the only time thatwould have been worse to roll out. A new retail brand would have been onethousand nine hundre and twenty nine Duin the beginning of Great Depression.So what we found is a lot of the smallergrocery stores. We've gone to the natural health health, food stores. They had great sales in the beginningof the year, the January February march, and then really as covid kind of change people's buying habits.I guess we notice those stores had had atendency to really take a back seat and I don't think people would go to hem asmuch. This is my assumption to a little bit of an extent it seeme people weremaybe going to the bigger chain stores and buying. Youknow their staples that they wanted and I'm sure people are financially alittle bit shorter money and they're trying to get staples and notnecessarily tryand trying new brands and going with the things they need and are more comfortable with soyeah. No. I think we definitely felt that a little bit we had really really strong sales andthey've stagnated a little bit now they're alle're starting to climb againso it's been, it's definitely been auppill battle, but we're still climbing the hill. So that's a good sing. Yeah,that's very good sign. Have you found a marketing strategy that has workedreally well that you either were expecting to, or ar kind of you know alittle a little shocks that it's working so well. I think we continuallyare pushing on on the the product, quality and flavor and just that ittastes good and there's the transparency of when you're buying a Yogur from us fromthe harvest all the way through to you, putting it on the spoon and enjoying itit's coming from us. So the transparency, I guess of the of thefood chain or the transparency of the product you're buying it from us, not major conglomerate or someone who's,making a yogurt and buying their omments from who knows who you know,maybe in a foreign country, but your the transparency of that I think andthat it is, is a family brand and we're standing behind it. A hundred percent.I think that are kind of the two big marketing pushes that we have and we seemed to get themost traction with, which is it's all the truth. I think it's just beingtransparent any time in any brand as long as you're transparent, I think that's Honestyis, always the best policy. I would agree a hundred percent andthink we've seen a lot of instances of a brand either as a whole or in many cases afounder or someone really high up on the food chain, making comments thatare less than transparent, or you know offensive in some other wayand really paying the price for it. So I think that's a really good point thatbeing transparent and communicating regularly and frequently with yourcustomers about what you're doing and what's going into what they're buyingis a really important part that hopefully most businesses are doing,but I would think based on what I've seen that not a lot are yeah ID agree good deal, so we talked alittle bit about some of the potential upcoming yogurts. Are there plans forother Almond Products to or is yogurt the main focus right now? I think, forthe foreseeable future, it's yogurt. Until till we really get a good crosssection I mean were throughout the nation but kind of spotty throughoutthe nation, and you can always go our webpage ayogrcom. We have a store locator, soyou can kind of find it, but I think until we really get throughoutthe nation and distribution and a little bit more dense in thatdistribution will probably stick with just the yogurt, but we've definitelyhad talks of...

...yeah Oman style, cheeses, dips of en aother. I mean there's allkinds of stuff that you could go to, but currently we're really the focus asYogur. We want to really focus on what we know and what we're we feel we'regood at right now and not get too many ducks in the water and lose our focus yeah. I think that's a good strategy. I know I always have twenty ideas atonce and I'm like now. Let me let me look at this one D and see see that onethrough yeah the same reason I said I need along elawesome, okay, well you're, almost off the hookere, but I alwayslike to wrap up with a top three, and I was torn a little bit on a top threehere, because I think there's a couple of good ways. We can go. So how about this? We'll go outside ofAlmens and outside of Yogurt. What are three other snacks that you, like? That's a good question. I'm trying tothink of what I snacped on ask the heart Hittin questions everhere. For sure I mean an honestly, probably eat a lot of cheese. That'sprobably, and I get that from my mother's father. He was always snackingon cheese s when e after after work o you get home, you'd always have a pieceof cheese. So probably cheese is a big one. I do like roasted nuts a lot, so I guess I'mworking Ollans or nuts back into it, but not necessarily just almonds. Ilike Paco restcons, rested amonds pistashos. This are a big one for meand snack. I don't really I'm not a bigsnacker. So that's kind of question. I'm trying to think what else I snackon anytime, we go to you, go to dinnerparty or an event and there's orders, no matter what the ORDERV is. I'm kindof bad there, so I'll eat anywhere der. That's in front of me and usually ruinmy dinner. So I guess the last oneone would be any anhy ordirve bar that theror plate that comes by I'm, usually the first one in line for it. So I guessthat's kind of the last one. It truly is magical how? Even if you don't likeit you're just like well, let's go goin Yeaho, it's horrible yeah and my yeah.My family makes fun of me because they say I'll eat anything but yeah wyi completely empathize with you thereand then follow up question based on your your nut answer of liking. Theroasted nuts have you seen the movie best in show? Oh yeah, so the scenewhere Harlam pepper is going through all of his nuts is that does that likespeak extra extra real to you there, I'm trying to remember that scene. SoI'm Goin I di, and I just watched best and show I rewatshed it with my kids, Omaybe two months ago. So what part of the movie was that in it'swhile he's driving up to the show, so it's still in the early going and he'sjust saying how he would just name yet o drive his mom crazy, yeah yeah now yeah that Yacket, I cand see thatdefinitely yeah. I tried I just randomly likethink about that scene, probably at least a couple times a month and Ishared it with some people the other day and they were less than amused. SoI guess I'm I'm alone in my Enjoymeni T. no, I thought it was a funny yeah,that's a good scene, and I I remember intivily just a great movie too. In general. Youknow everyone go see it if you're, if you haven't seen it yet go see, Bessenshow well Matt. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat and I feel likeI've learned a lot more about almonds and all that goes into making Almonyogurt. And if people want to learn more about your story or check out AoYogurt, you mentioned the website but...

...say it again: Where could people findyou instores? All that good stuff sure yeah it's Ao, AO yogurcom and we're throughout the west coast on the east coast in Texas and thenkind of little spots in between and and every week. We keep getting morestories to accept us. So hopefully, if we're not near you we'll be ead ofstornary. U Son, fantastic, not thank you again! This was a blast. I appreciate. Thank you very muchabsolutely and of course, let's end with a joke, as we always do, and it'seven not themed, so I hope you haven't heard it shoot. What did the almon say to thepeanut that tried to fight it? You got me, go cash! You outside ate ta I'll. Tell that O my kids tonight. Ilove it.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (92)