When it comes to non-dairy milk alternatives, consumers nowadays have options. People are familiar with coconut, almond and rice milk, but may be less familiar with milk made from macadamia nuts. Most associate the tropical nut with an indulgent dessert, but a local startup is trying to change that perception.

Burr Ridge-based startup Milkadamia makes milk from macadamia nuts, creating a non-dairy, gluten-free and vegan alternative to cow or soy milk. But entering an already crowded market of non-dairy milks wasn’t easy, said the company’s CEO Jim Richards. In 2014, 21 percent of Americans reported buying more cow’s milk alternatives, and in 2016, the number of plant-based beverages in U.S. households increased to 33 percent.

Milkadamia products can be found on Amazon and in select Whole Foods stores, and the startup just landed a deal with Walmart in January. Milkadamia makes four versions of its milk: an original flavor, an unsweetened flavor, an unsweetened vanilla flavor and a barista product designed for coffee. On average, one 32 fl oz. carton sells for about $4-5.

Milkadamia’s original milk flavor (Photo via Milkadamia)

The bootstrapped startup is just one of the many food and beverage companies in Chicago that are selling their products in major grocery retailers. Vital Proteins, a maker of collagen supplements, sells their products in Target and Whole Foods, and Chomps, which has created an all-natural beef jerky, has deals with Trader Joe’s and select 7/11 stores.

Milkadamia originally tried to launch in Australia, close to the regenerative farm where the company still sources its nuts from today. But manufacturers in the area were wary of adding nut products to their facilities, and some even feared there would be no market for a macadamia milk, Richards said. In response, he launched the company’s headquarters in Chicagoland in 2016 and manufactures the product in Buffalo, N.Y. Now, the company is expected to make $5 million in sales this year, Richards said.

“If you can make a macadamia milk that people enjoy, they’re going to consume it every day,” said Richards, who is a vegetarian and exclusively drinks Milkadamia. “We wanted to get macadamias known for their wellness benefits, not just as an occasional treat. Macadamias are extremely anti-inflammatory. That’s their little superpower.”

However, macadamias are expensive to harvest, which explains their hefty retail price, Richards said. But even with the cost, he’s confident there’s a market for Milkadamia products.

“There are people who believe [cow’s] milk is costing the planet too much,” Richards said. “They’re not just looking for the cheapest thing that they can give to their family. People are often seeking the best thing they can give to their family. Once you switch from what’s cheapest to what’s best, price becomes less and less of a concern.”

Later this year, Milkadamia will launch other products, one being a non-dairy coffee creamer. Richards wouldn’t disclose how many cartons of milk they sell every month or year, but said that business has increased 50 percent year over year. In addition to selling their products in the U.S., they also export them to Australia, Iceland, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

“There’s such interest in non-dairy and plant-based foods,” Richards said. “And Milkadamia is growing as a result of it.”