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Plant-based   |   Organics

Rooting for plant milks

Imagine the founders of a new plant-based milk company and you might not be too far off the mark with Rich Eckersley and Dan Dawson.

The duo behind ReRooted, the Totnes-based plant-milk company, could easily be mistaken for east London hipsters, with the requisite ‘man buns’, plaid shirt and ethical outlook not out of place on Shoreditch High Street.

The pair (Dawson a former chef, Eckersley the founder of Totnes’ much-loved zero waste shop and former professional footballer) set up ReRooted in response to two frustrations with the burgeoning plant milk offering.

As a consumer of plant milks with an interest in provenance, Eckersley called up the mainstream brands to ask where it was made, only to find they were mass produced in factories in Europe, with no link back to the supply chain at all.

Secondly, the Tetrapak casing for many of these milks is complex, made with various different materials. While they are ostensibly designed for recycling, the pair realised these bottles were more likely to end up in landfill, than successfully passing through the fragmented and unfit-for-purpose UK recycling system.  

Dan and Rich ReRooted
Rich Eckersley and Dan Dawson set up ReRooted, to make organic plant-based milk.

Fast-forward six months and ReRooted was in business: organic plant milks made by hand out of a unit on an industrial estate just outside Totnes, and sold in reusable glass bottles, which the company collects when empty, sterilises and then re-uses up to 20 times.

Thanks to a new supply contract with organic veg box company Riverford, which had been searching for an organic and ethical plant milk supplier for months, ReRooted is poised for expansion, having already began delivering locally via an electric van-turned-milk wagon.

One criticism often levelled at plant milks involves their reliance on monoculture crops, and huge demand on water, particularly the almond orchards of California – a very different farming system to the small-scale organic almond orchards in the southern Mediterranean.

As such, provenance is a huge part of the story at ReRooted, and the pair say they “know where everything comes from, all of the time”.

Ingredients are sourced from ethical wholesaler Infinity Foods, and the ReRooted range of two plant milks so far includes almonds (from Italy and Spain), coconut (from Sri Lanka or the Philippines), and sweetened by dates from Turkey. An oat milk (organic oats sourced from Europe) is in testing stages and due for release shortly.

Plant milk ReRooted
Milks are mixed, pasteurised and delivered from the ReRooted unit in Totnes. 

The inside of their tiny unit looks almost like a mini food laboratory. On the whiteboard are lists of intricate recipes, calculations and combinations that make up the secret formulas to ReRooted’s milks.

Shiny, gleaming kitchen machinery, funnels, pipes and blenders line the walls, where ingredients are roasted, blitzed, pressed, mixed again, adjusted for flavour, then pumped through pipes and pasteurised.

“We bottle it first and then the milk is raised to 72 degrees and held there for 30 minutes,” explains Dawson. “We do a lower level of pasteurisation than other manufacturers to retain nutrients and flavour,” he says, adding that they are currently making up to 300 litres of plant milk a week.

It comes at a time when the message around dairy, and other ruminant animal products like beef, are intense, and often conflicting.

Eat less dairy and meat to reduce carbon footprint, proclaims one camp, including many eminent scientists, while the farming industry fights to demonstrate the value of mixed farming systems, with livestock, particularly in the UK, playing an important role in fertilisation.

“We don’t feel that the effect conventional dairy farming practices have on cows and their young is justified by the production of, what we see as, foods which can easily be replaced by more ethical alternatives,” says Dawson, who calls himself an ‘conscious consumer’, while Eckersley himself is a vegan.

Plant-based milk ReRooted
Ingredients are sourced from ethical wholesaler Infinity Foods.

In ReRooted’s home county, Devon, where small mixed farms are the only ones flexible enough to deal with the rolling landscape and wet soils, the debate and role of livestock is particularly pertinent. How do farmers fit within their vision of a plant-based future?

“We believe that the role of farmers needs to be one that prioritises low impact, organic methods of food production, which invigorate (rather than diminish) biodiversity and soil health, and respect the habitats of wild animals,” continues Dawson.

“Our perspective is strongly in support of the vegan movement, as it is clear to us that a drastic overall reduction in meat and dairy consumption is essential. However for those of us who do choose to eat meat and dairy, we feel that it is important to redress the balance and implement a mostly plant-based diet, with the animal products taking their place as high quality, high welfare luxuries, in order to take the pressure off meat and dairy farmers to produce ever larger quantities of ever cheaper food.”

Diversification around what food is produced, and an openness to embrace regenerative farming methods and changing consumer trends, could also help this sustainable transition, he adds.  

The reasons around eating no, or fewer, animal products are of course manifold, and Dawson and Eckersley are quick to point out that they’re not aiming to solve all problems.

The nutrient capacity, for example, is one of the strongest arguments for the intake of traditional dairy products, especially when it comes to children.

Plant-based milk calcium
Taste tests are conducted on the ReRooted founders' discerning toddlers. 

“The major nutrient people talk about in cow’s milk is calcium,” says Eckersley. “But we have the perspective that you don’t really need to source calcium from our milk.”

Dawson adds: “It’s a mineral that cows get from the ground, so you can go straight to the source, with things like leafy greens.

“We haven’t focused on these milks being nutritional supplements, and it wasn’t about putting health claims on there.

“They serve an ecological purpose. We wanted to make milks with things you can find in the kitchen, so things like dates, whole foods that have nutritional benefits, and keeping the processing levels down.”

There are big plans for the future – the pair have already been approached by investors, but say if, and when, they accept funding, they will continue to make their own milks, and would ultimately like to expand into a ‘factory’ in the south west.

“Once established, we want to become involved in regenerative projects, such as rewilding and permaculture,” says Dawson. “It’s not just a plant-based business, it’s more of a movement.”

Comments

anthony roper

1 Month 2 Weeks

I like the idea of plant milks in bottles as I have never been a big fan of tetrapaks as has been said the complicated nature of their construction makes recycling difficult. What I would like to see is the oat milk as I think this would be a more sustainable ingredient. Would anyone disagree with this. I would appreciate others input.

1 Reply

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LizB

1 Month 2 Weeks

Me too.

Don't we grow a surplus of oats in the UK, so wouldn't need to source from the EU?

0 Reply

kelly@ngmoloney.co.uk

1 Month 2 Weeks

I agree Anthony glass bottles preferable to tetrapak as some people don’t have access to recycling facilities for them & I guess a lot do end up in landfill unfortunately
Also again yes oat more sustainable as it’s grown in UK & Northern Europe & therefore transportation has less impact environmentally & it’s delicious 😄

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Walrus

1 Month 2 Weeks

I certainly agree on the glass bottle side of the coin - the original (and still the best) recycling/reusing container bar non! At the moment I'm getting the coconut milk from Rerooted via Riverford but am still not sure if I like it or not! Tis OK at the start of the week but closer to the end of the weekend it tends to become lumpy dispite much "shake rattle and roll". a Pity, I just love coconut in most of it's forms, but not so with the almond stuff - not me I'm afraid that one.

As for the oats? I'm having problems waiting for this to come out! That's going to be an interesting one! Lets see what they produce!

The Walrus

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Cazbot

1 Month 2 Weeks

Can't wait until the oat milk is ready via Riverford - I HATE getting tetra packs

0 Reply

adam42

1 Month 2 Weeks

Please please please make an oat milk that will foam - I am sure I currently use unsustainable quantities of Oatley Barrista and have been dreaming of a milkman who delivers it in glass bottles.

1 Reply

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Comments Editor

1 Month 1 Week

ReRooted are working on more recipes - Oat drink should be the next available for doorstep drops locally to them in Devon or via Riverford home delivery. You can find out more here https://www.rerootedorganic.co.uk/

0 Reply

BarbaraDibley

1 Month 2 Weeks

I understand the issues with milk but there are so many pf us on the planet if we swap from anything to something else we are still going to cause environmental problems because of the sheer volume we will consume. For instance almond production is causing problems with bees and coconuts have to be transported. Then it all has to be processed and. It's the same with cars. Swap diesel/petrol for electric - but what about the lithium and we will still get pollution from the brake linings and tyre dust. Would it not be better to reduce milk consumption drastically or give it up altogether. We have to change what we do not swap one thing for another and carry on the same because we will run into the same situation but with different problems.

1 Reply

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Comments Editor

1 Month 1 Week

Hi Barbara, ReRooted use European grown organic almonds that are from trees that have wildflowers amongst them. This pesticide free and bio-diverse environment helps bees stay healthy (very different to US almond production) and is a great option if you want to buy a lower impact dairy alternative.

0 Reply

Gerry

1 Month 2 Weeks

I would also like to buy UK grown organic oat milk please. I believe this is the best sustainable and environmentally friendly plant milk.

1 Reply

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Marion

1 Month 2 Weeks

I agree with Gerry in that I think it should be possible to source UK-grown organic oats. But perhaps ReRooted's " Europe" is meant to include Great Britain?

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Jenny_G

1 Month 2 Weeks

Having given up cow's milk in order to reduce my dairy intake, I really don't want to substitute soy, coconut or almond milk, all of which seem problematic also. I'm really looking forward to buying oat milk in glass bottles. How about oat milk yogurt too?

0 Reply

Inga

1 Month 1 Week

I am very excited to see plant-based milks in glass bottles. When, as a family, we started moving towards a plant-based diet, I looked into where all the widely available plant-based milks came from and was disappointed to discover they come from Europe somewhere and not locally. I also dislike having to use tetrapaks. So it was a choice between organic dairy milk delivered in reusable glass bottles by our local milkman sourced from farms around Southampton (where the diary is based) or plant based milk in tetrapaks from somewhere in Europe. I'm not sure the plant-based ones would win that environmental argument. Also, there's taste. After trying quite a few, the one we like best is Rude Health organic almond drink, which is sweetened by the addition of rice milk. I struggle with the taste of plain almond milk and am not a big fan of coconut. And my teenagers complained that oat milk (which tastes ok) gave them excessive flatulence when they switched over in bulk - did anyone else experience that?

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