‘People think we’re insane!’ UK coconut mylk brand Rebel Kitchen braves US 'beast'

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Rebel Kitchen brings its chocolate and coffee 'mylk' to Natural Products Expo West
Rebel Kitchen brings its chocolate and coffee 'mylk' to Natural Products Expo West

Related tags: Milk

Sometimes entrepreneurs have to take a ‘leap of faith’, says Rebel Kitchen founder Tamara Arbib, as she takes her coconut ‘mylks’ to the US just over a year after an initial UK launch.

The brand – which produces organic, dairy-free coconut mylks sweetened with date nectar – is launching its ‘health mission’ in California this week.

Founder Tamara Arbib told the prospect of taking on the US market may be daunting, but believes the time is right for the brand to shake up the US dairy alternatives section.

Small brand, big world

Rebel Kitchen launched its organic coconut ‘mylk’ drinks (spelt with a ‘y’ to distinguish it from cows’ milk) in the UK, with a children’s range in January and adult range in June.

Arbib says the company is on a “mission to ensure everything we’re stuffing into our mouths is fresh and good for us.”

Having initially set up the A Team Foundation (an organization focusing on food and food-related health), Arbib launched Rebel Kitchen​ to approach food and nutrition from a commercial perspective.

The brand’s UK listings now include Waitrose, Ocado, and Tesco. It has also dipped its toes into international waters, with stockists springing up in Australia and China among others.

But now Rebel Kitchen is taking on the US market, launching its coffee and chocolate 11oz (312ml) coconut mylk drinks at organic trade show Natural Products Expo West (March 5-8). It will target California first, then expand state-by-state across the country.

Arbib told the US launch is not an expansion as such: it’s a fundamental part of the company’s original game plan.

“The US has been a goal and vision since the beginning of time,” ​she said. “The vision has always been to be global, so the dream of launching in the States launched this time last year.”

“It’s going to be an incredible step for the brand, it’s that global reach we’ve been looking for. It’s about making health as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Rebel Kitchen coffee mylk

Shaking up the dairy alternative section

Rebel Kitchen’s drinks are dairy free, sweetened with organic date nectar, and made without GMOs, refined sugar, additives or preservatives. Its chocolate mylk is made with cacao from Peru, while coffee mylk is made from fairtrade Columbian coffee.

“Right now the [US]  dairy-free section, typically, has the usual players on the ambient shelf, not doing anything particularly exciting, not with authentic health at the core,” ​said Arbib. “We’re looking at shaking up the dairy alternatives section.”

Arbib says Rebel Kitchen’s entry into the US will take a step-by-step approach and admits the brand is taking a leap of faith. But she says the most important issue is that the time is right and the opportunity for the brand is there.

“People will think we’re insane to do the US in year two,” ​she said. “But we’ve got the bandwidth and the support – the time feels right.

“No one else is doing what we’re doing, there is a demand, and we’re having the right conversations.

“For us, it’s new territory. This is an ongoing, every changing beast, and we’ll do a week-by-week evaluation.”

Two countries separated by a common language

“We’ve got our ‘rebels’ on the ground, so we have a US team supporting us in the launch. We’re approaching it in a similar way as the UK, but it’s a different country, so it’s not a cookie-cutter formula. How are we doing it? – with very little sleep!

“But it’s not completely blind, it’s been a year in the making. This has been an extensive year of planning and analyzing. It’s always scary – there’s the prospect that it could be phenomenal, but it’s also daunting and massive and not for one minute should anyone expect it to be seamless.

“There’s a very different demographic, and a very different language, even though they’re both English speaking countries.”

Arbib says the key to launching in new territories is good local partnerships, and hopes that its launch at Natural Products Expo West will help the brand build up more good relationships with local companies.

“We considered [launching in] either California or New York, the two states most forward thinking in terms of health products,” ​she said. “California was the best place, taking into account logistics and Expo West.

“People look to the show for where trends start, so we’re excited about launching there.”

Rebel Kitchen’s chocolate and coffee mylks will be available in the US in 11oz Tetra Pak cartons, retailing at $3.29. 

Related topics: Business, Beverage

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