Enter Slate - ultra-filtered, high-protein, lactose-free chocolate milk - which delivers the unique nutrition and taste of dairy, “a naturally protein-rich drink brimming with vitamins and electrolytes,” in sleek, shelf-stable cans that “a millennial won't be embarrassed to carry around.”
“We wanted to give chocolate milk a clean slate [hence the brand name],” Lubin told FoodNavigator-USA.
“It’s known as a kids’ drink that’s high in sugar in a carton, but if we can reposition it as a functional beverage that’s high in protein and tastes great, we think we can bring it to an entirely new audience.”
Pockets of opportunity in the fluid milk market
While fluid milk has been on a downward trajectory for decades, flavored milk continues to grow, along with lactose-free milk, while ultra-filtered products such as fairlife (more protein, less sugar) have brought something new to the category, said Lubin.
“There’s been a ton of innovation in the alternative milk space, but we just love the taste of real chocolate milk, and we talked to a ton of consumers that told us the same thing, so we [Lubin and co-founder Josh Belinsky – a fellow chocolate milk aficionado Lubin met at college] came together to address the problems we had with it.
"We literally sat in a room and listed all the reasons why adults don’t still drink chocolate milk and we crossed them off, one by one. Too much [added] sugar, lactose [naturally occurring sugar in milk that both Lubin and Belinsky don’t tolerate] and the [kid-focused] packaging.
“We wanted to reboot chocolate milk, and create something with less sugar, more protein, but without adding protein powders, and in a container that you can ship online and throw in your gym bag; chocolate milk is a great post workout drink."
‘We wanted to create something you can just throw in your gym bag’
Slate uses ultrafiltration on its milk (sourced from 30 family-owned dairy farms in upstate New York) to concentrate the protein, eliminate the lactose/milk sugar (it also adds the lactase enzyme that breaks down any residual lactose) and remove some water. It then adds back 9g of cane sugar and some monk fruit for sweetness, delivering 50% more protein and 75% less sugar than regular chocolate milk.
In order to create a shelf-stable product, the cans go through the retort process (think a large pressure cooker), which presented challenges for a startup, said Lubin, who co-founded marketing firm, Reppr, a job board offering millennials and Gen Z-ers brand ambassador and influencer opportunities.
“We think we’re the the first to combine the ultrafiltration process and the retort process for a real milk product marketed and sold as milk, so it was very difficult to find a manufacturer that could do this, but we found someone that believed in our vision. They have seen the success of ultrafiltered milk, and they see that retailers want cans because they have a much higher recycling rate.”
The go-to-market strategy
They will hit stores including Whole Foods (North Atlantic region), Harris Teeter, and Roche Bros in Boston by the year end (250-350 stores), said Lubin, who has raised around $700k from angel investors to date.
One early investor is Stu Klane, a food broker who helped put dairy brands from Chobani to Yasso in front of the nation’s leading food retailers.
“Stu came on the team early and has been helping to spearhead our grocery strategy," said Lubin. "Another one of our advisors is [Whole Foods Market regional president] Laura Derba, who has also been instrumental in helping us develop a grocery strategy, and Art Drogue, who was a VP at Unilever.”
As for merchandising in bricks & mortar stores, it depends on the retailer, with prices anywhere from $2.99-3.99/can, said Lubin.
“We want to be in what we call the ‘Millennial cooler’ [next to functional beverages such as cold brew coffee or protein shakes]. It’s less about the products than who is going to the case. A mother that’s buying a gallon of whole organic milk for her children is not necessarily our buyer.”
Slate ultra-filtered, high-protein, lactose-free chocolate milk comes in three flavors: Classic chocolate, Dark chocolate, and Espresso. Each 330ml can has 17-19g protein, 9g sugar and 130-140 calories.
The cans are sold via the Slate website at in 12 packs for $35.99 with a subscribe and save option for $29.99 and are available at selected retailers including Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Roche Bros for $2.99-$3.99/can.