The company that makes NotMilk, a nondairy milk-like beverage designed by artificial intelligence, just landed an $85 million funding C round that includes Jeff Bezos's VC firm Bezos Expeditions. Now 49 Whole Foods stores across the U.S. are selling its milk alternative, which comes in both "whole" and 2 percent versions. NotMilk, which claims its product tastes just like the real thing, contains some surprising ingredients, including chicory root fiber, pineapple juice, cabbage juice, and coconut oil. (Amazon owns Whole Foods.)
Of course, a visit to pretty much any grocery store, including Whole Foods, will turn up dozens of plant-based milk alternatives made from everything from rice to coconuts to almonds to, of course, soy beans. In an already crowded market, what makes NotMilk special enough to warrant investment from the world's wealthiest human? According to NotCo's founders, it's all about the taste, designed by their A.I., which they've whimsically named Giuseppe.
The company claims, citing "ad hoc NotCo research," that a third of U.S. consumers who try plant-based milk alternatives switch back to milk because they just don't taste as good. (I did this myself after sampling various products during a 30-day course of antibiotics when I was avoiding calcium.)
Achieving milk-like taste, NotCo says, is all about algorithms. "A human mind would never think that a combination of pineapple and cabbage would recreate the taste of milk, but Giuseppe -- our artificial intelligence -- can and does," NotCo founder Matias Muchnick said in a statement.
Muchnick and his team don't just want NotMilk to taste like milk, they want it to behave like milk, he explained to Well + Good. They tasked Giuseppe with creating something that would be similar to milk on a molecular level, offer similar nutritional benefits, and froth the way milk does. Perfecting all this took two years, he said.
Muchnick likened NotMilk to today's popular plant-based meat replacements, such as those from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Veggie burgers had been around for decades, he noted, but consumers didn't particularly like them. Most milk alternatives focus on a single ingredient such as oats or cashews, and they're about as appealing as the soy patties of yesteryear, he said.
If the NotMilk launch goes well, there may be more to come. NotCo has been operating in Latin America since 2015, where, in addition to NotMilk, it sells NotBurger, NotIceCream, and NotMayo. Will we see all those products in U.S. grocery aisles? Unknown. But if you're aiming for world domination in the vegan category, getting into Whole Foods is a pretty good place to start.