Chocolate milk is a drink for kids, right? Two Northeastern University alumni want to change that perception.
Manny Lubin and Josh Belinsky launched their company, Slate, to modernize the classic beverage and make it more appealing to adults, particularly people in their 20s and 30s. They say their chocolate milk is low in sugar and lactose-free, comes in a can, contains no artificial ingredients, and can be purchased online.
“We’re giving milk a clean slate,” says Lubin, who graduated from Northeastern in 2015.
Lubin and Belinsky, who founded Slate in June 2018, say they loved drinking chocolate milk growing up. Their taste for the sweet beverage continued into adulthood, but they weren’t satisfied with their options: Chocolate milk is high in sugar and comes in packaging that is primarily targeted to children. (Think rabbits and cows on the milk cartons.) They are also among the approximately 65 percent of people whose bodies have difficulty digesting a sugar called lactose that is found in milk.
They say these factors added up to a business opportunity in the dairy market, an idea that was backed by consumer trends. Research has found that 77 percent of American consumers are trying to limit or avoid sugars in their diets; that sales of flavored milk and lactose-free milk in the United States are on the rise; and that online grocery sales are projected to more than quadruple by 2023.
“Every field needs innovation, and we just saw an opportunity in a field that we are both passionate about,” says Lubin.
The company uses a process called ultrafiltration to remove some of the natural sugars and water in milk without cutting the protein. Lubin and Belinsky said this method enables them to make a product that has 50 percent less sugar than skim milk and 50 percent more protein than whole milk.
Lubin and Belinsky first met in the fall of 2015 while working at different startups in the tech industry in Boston. They kept in touch, and Lubin pitched Belinsky on the idea of chocolate milk for adults in 2017. Belinsky, who, unbeknownst to Lubin, was also a chocolate milk fanatic, was intrigued.
“I loved the idea because I still drank lactose-free chocolate milk all the time, like after I worked out, almost as a guilty pleasure,” says Belinsky, who graduated from Northeastern in December 2017.
Lubin and Belinsky launched a Kickstarter campaign last week to fund an initial production run of their chocolate milk, which will come in three flavors: classic chocolate, dark chocolate, and mocha flip. The company is using a $10,000 grant from IDEA, the student-run business accelerator at Northeastern, to fund marketing and social media campaigns that are designed to help increase awareness of the company and the fundraising effort.
Lubin and Belinsky have also turned to other Northeastern students to help the business grow. A student-led design studio, called Scout, is helping the company refine its logo, packaging, and website.
Another 25 students are conducting market research for Slate this semester as part of a course taught by Keith Smith, an assistant professor of marketing in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. The students will lead focus groups, conduct interviews, and administer online surveys to learn more about how consumers feel about chocolate milk, buying milk online, and different types of packaging. At the end the semester, they will deliver a report to Lubin and Belinsky that outlines their findings.
“They are studying our potential consumers and trying to help fill in the blanks in a variety of ways,” Belinsky says.
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