This month’s member spotlight is with longtime PBFA Member and industry leader Califia Farms. With unlikely origins producing upcycled citrus juice from imperfect Cuties® tangerines, Califia Farms, a pioneer of sustainability in food tech, has grown to be one of the leading dairy-free, plant-based beverage brands in the U.S. with on-the-ground operations in the U.K., Australia, and Canada. In this spotlight, CEO Dave Ritterbush discusses Califia’s mission, brand story, exciting new launches, and provides helpful advice for emerging plant-based companies.
1. Tell us a bit about the history of Califia and the inspiration behind its founding.
Califia was founded in 2010 by Greg Steltenpohl and a farmer’s co-op based in the San Joaquin Valley in California. Greg was a pioneer in the plant-based and premium fresh juiced sector, having also co-founded Odwalla in the 1980s. Califia was born out of his desire to introduce more delicious and sustainable food and beverage products. The company actually started out making citrus juice, first by producing juice from “imperfect” Cuties® tangerines. We then moved into the world of plant-based dairy with almond milk.
The innovative spirit of Califia Farms quickly expanded our portfolio into a variety of plant-based milks, including oat and coconut as well as some delicious blends. Califia also offers plant-curious consumers plant-based creamers, culinary products, and a line of coffee products. Today we’re one of the leading dairy-free, plant-based beverage brands in the U.S. with on-the-ground operations in the U.K., Australia, and Canada.
2. What do people need to know about Califia’s mission, values, and objectives?
Our mission is to “create a future where plants replace dairy, without compromise.” To us, “no compromise” means we are committed to delivering products that are as good as, or even better than, their dairy counterparts when it comes to taste, texture, and nutrition.
If we remain committed to that, we believe we will inspire people to eat more plant-based foods, which will be better for both people and the planet. At Califia, we believe it’s important to offer a variety of plant-based options so that consumers can continually experiment, explore, and indulge in what’s possible. In other words, we celebrate all types of plants and look for the best options to meet the needs of each usage occasion, whether it’s surprisingly creamy oat milk to pair with coffee or versatile almond milk for cereal and smoothies. Ultimately, delivering variety and breadth helps us deliver on “no compromise” and enables Califia to meet people wherever they are on their own personal plant-based journeys.
3. How have the circumstances of the past few years impacted the work that you do every day, and how has Califia navigated these challenging times?
Our first priority over the last couple of years has been to keep our employees safe, while still supplying the demand for our products. Like most companies, we experienced challenges with our supply chain, but we quickly adapted, responding to those disruptions and shifting product and marketing plans as needed. We have had to find new ways to stay agile while facing a number of challenges in making and distributing our products. To keep up our service levels we relied on collaboration across our team and with our key suppliers. In 2022, with supply chain issues still a reality, we continue to identify new and better ways of moving our product from our manufacturing facilities to our retail partners.
4. What about your work at Califia motivates you, inspires you, or makes you optimistic about the future?
There are so many things that motivate and inspire me at Califia. First and foremost, working for a mission-driven company that makes a positive impact in the world is a key motivator. We also have a terrific brand, a strong spirit of innovation, passionate consumers, and limitless growth potential. I’m inspired by our team and also by our passionate consumers who are affecting change and driving the adoption of plant-based eating. I see this reflected in my own kids, and their friends, who would rather consume oat milk and almond milk than traditional dairy. They share a concern for the planet, they care about their own health, and they simply prefer the taste of dairy-free, plant-based milk. It’s been exciting to witness this change, and I am thrilled to play a role.
5. Can you give us a sneak peek into any notable news or exciting product launches in the pipeline for 2022?
We recently launched several new products that we also sampled at our Expo West booth this year: Cinnamon Roll Oat Creamer, Cookie Butter Almondmilk Creamer, Zero Sugar Oatmilk, and Oat + Almond Plantmilk Blend. We are about to introduce our limited-edition Mint Chip Oat Creamer in just a couple of weeks and we’re excited to debut our Iced Café Mixers in June. As I mentioned before, Califia’s product variety is central to who we are and how we engage the plant-curious consumer–by encouraging plant-based experimentation. These additions to our portfolio demonstrate our commitment to ongoing innovation while meeting the needs of different consumers.
Finally, while I can’t disclose specifics, I can share that we will be introducing a dairy-free culinary product later this year. We’re very excited about that–stay tuned!
6. What has been the most rewarding moment or pivotal milestone you’ve witnessed during your time at Califia?
It is difficult for me to identify just one moment since I have joined Califia Farms. As I reflect on my time with the company, one of the most rewarding things I have witnessed is the passion and dedication of our team. It feels like every day a new challenge emerges and the team rallies together to overcome the challenge. The proof of this teamwork is our service levels over the last year to our customers, while continuing to innovate and launch exciting products for our consumers.
7. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to those aspiring to start their own plant-based company, expand into the plant-based arena, or generally make waves in the sector?
My advice for those aspiring to start their own plant-based company is to surround yourself with experience and expertise, ask lots of questions, and find a partner(s) that shares your same values and passion for your mission. In this crowded space, more than ever it will be important to bring true product differentiation that meets unfulfilled consumer needs. Constant innovation is critical as is the ability to learn from feedback and quickly pivot. Flexibility is so important in today’s world where trends and consumer tastes change rapidly.
8. Where can people learn more about Califia and find you online?
Visit us at califiafarms.com where you can also find our blog, The Bounty–we share recipes and inspiration featuring our wide variety of dairy-free products. We also invite you to follow us on IG, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter at @CalifiaFarms.