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Exclusive: Almond milk maker Califia raises $225 million, on coattails of Beyond Meat IPO

By Nivedita Balu

By Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) - Almond milk producer Califia Farms has raised $225 million (173 million pounds) from global investors including Singapore's Temasek Holdings [TEM.UL] who are looking for the next plant-based food hit after the market debut of vegan burger maker Beyond Meat <BYND.O> last year.

The Los Angeles-based company said on Tuesday its latest funding was led by Qatar Investment Authority and included Temasek Holdings, Canada-based Calridge, Hong Kong's Green Monday Ventures and a Latin America based family with big interests in coffee and consumer products.

The investor rush into plant-based milk comes as cow milk consumption is falling, partly due to health and environmental reasons, leading to two of the largest dairy producers in the United States - Dean Foods and Borden Dairy Company - filing for bankruptcy protection in the past two months.

Annual cow milk sales fell to around $12 billion in 2019 from $15 billion in 2015, while almond milk sales have risen nearly 6% to $1.35 billion and oat milk a whopping 662% to $59.8 million in 2019, according to market research firm Nielsen.

"The total change in dietary habits of the U.S. consumer is what is driving the decline in dairy," Founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Steltenpohl told Reuters.

The company did not disclose its valuation. According to Crunchbase data, it has raised $115 million to date.

It plans to use the money raised from the latest funding to launch more plant-based milks and expand its line of oat products, a growing category in the plant-based market.

Steltenpohl said the funds will help the company develop products beyond beverages, but he did not provide details on the categories of products that it plans to enter.

Founded in 2010, Califia Farms is the third largest U.S. plant-based milk company after Danone <DANO.PA> and privately-held Blue Diamond, according to market research firm Euromonitor.

It sells bottled coffee drinks and almond, oat and cashew milk through major U.S. retailers including Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, Kroger Co <KR.N> and Amazon.com Inc's <AMZN.O> Whole Foods Market.

Califia is not the only vegan milk company benefiting from the shift in consumer tastes.

Mooala, a Texas-based banana milk maker, raised $8.3 million in November, while plant-based ice-cream maker Eclipse Foods is getting ready for a new round of funding in February, its CEO and founder Aylon Steinhart told Reuters last month.

"It's kind of 2.0 for plant-based (companies). There was 1.0 going back to soy milk and early days of almond milk. 2.0 was launched with the success of Beyond Meat," Califia's Steltenpohl said.

Beyond Meat's shares have risen nearly 370% since its IPO in May. Its shares hit a record high of $239.7 in June.



(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)