Elmhurst 1925 has gone from 2,000 to 7,000 stores in two years. That’s just the beginning.

By Dan Miner
Buffalo Business First

When the Elmhurst brand re-emerged in 2017, it was essentially a startup.

The name had long been associated with dairy products, but owner Henry Schwartz looked at consumer habits in the United States and decided to place a bet on the future: a line of tasty plant-based beverages that didn’t have the gums or oils that preserve other nut-based milks.

Elmhurst 1925 has grown quickly since. Its products are now in 7,000 retail locations across the world, compared to 2,000 about two years ago. It has deepening relationships with major corporate chains, such as Kroger, which agreed in July to place Unsweetened Milked Almonds, Unsweetened Milked Oats and Unsweetened Milked Cashews drinks in 1,855 stores.

And that is just the beginning of the growth envisioned by the Elmhurst team, who say they have a unique niche, compelling story and plenty of untapped marketshare.

The result is one of the most potent consumer-facing businesses in Western New York, with a chance to develop a recognizable brand on an international level.

“We are a very competitive brand that goes up against the bigger guys in the industry with large marketing budgets and big marketing teams,” said Richie Betancourt, who was recruited to become the company’s general manager in March. “We bring a very loyal, high-end and educated customer base of folks who are looking for simpler, better products.”

A two-pack of 32-ounce cartons of unsweetened Elmhurst almond milk sells for $13.98, according to the company website.

Elmhurst has about 50 employees, compared to more than 600 workers at Steuben Foods, which manufactures Elmhurst products. The companies have common ownership in Schwartz.

This February, Steuben filed for plans to build a 92,600-square-foot expansion of its Maple Road plant in Elma to accommodate the expanding Elmhurst business. Heba Mahmoud, company vice president of marketing, said those plans remain alive but haven’t been finalized.

“We’re expanding the business every day and just trying to plan for future growth,” she said. “It’s in progress, but it will be in later 2021 before we have an accurate read on when that expansion takes place.”

Mahmoud was a Steuben Foods employee who started working for Elmhurst in January 2017 as a product innovation master. She watched as a small team with a grassroots marketing strategy won over retail stores and customers across the United States.

“Whether they be drinking milk or smoothies or what’s in your coffee, we have been on this mission to bring as many high-quality products to market,” Mahmoud said.

Elmhurst uses a high-tech HydroRelease milling process to separate the natural components of a grain, nut or seed before reassembling them, according to its website. The result are smooth and creamy beverages accomplished without the additives of many of its competitors.

While Elmhurst occupies the higher end of quality and price, Bethancourt pointed out that educated consumers are drawn by a label that includes two ingredients, rather than more than 10 from competitors.

Early brand evangelists “took it home and tried it, and found that it really wasn’t watery, and that it worked for baking and cooking applications and coffee,” he said. “They came back, again and again.”

Like many food and beverage manufacturers, Elmhurst’s business experience has varied during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its food service segment has suffered, while retail and online sales have seen significant increases.

In all, its leaders’ long-term goals have remained the same. They think Elmhurst products deserve a primary place in front of retail customers across the country, whether that’s web-based subscriptions, grocery corporations or convenience chains. International markets are also in sight.

New products are a major focus as well, as Elmhurst seeks to expand its presence within environments that have already accepted its brand. In one recent example, the company launched a dairy-free soft-serve ice cream mix in September, allowing customers to make “a creamy, sweet, frozen treat for the whole family” at home.

“We have a great message and a great brand,” Betancourt said. “We want to generate that in a way that can be scaled across the U.S. and internationally.”

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Business First.