Disrupting the plant-based industry with pistachio milk, with Táche Co-Founder Roxana Saidi

Joining me today is Roxana Saidi, Co-Founder of a company called Táche.

Táche is a female, minority founded and family-run brand that launched recently on November 18th and is the first true pistachio milk in the U.S. It’s healthier than oat milk and tastier than almond milk as can be regularly consumed alone, with no added oils, low in carbs/sugar, steams and foams extremely well, and has a smaller water footprint this is something I cannot wait to try myself. Distinctly delicious, Táche is answering today’s evolving consumer demand for a more healthy, socially impactful and sustainable plant-based milk option.

In this episode we cover the blueprint that Roxana took to launch the brand along with a step by step process of what she needed to do first, why she realised early on she wouldn’t be able to bootstrap this company and her advice for entrepreneurs with a big idea.

Táche is proud to advocate for change through its non-profit partnership with The Lower Eastside Girls Club of NYC as part of its mission to foster girls’ education and provide them with the mentorship, tools, and support they need to become healthy, successful women

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Yes, absolutely. So I'm Roxana Saidi and I'm the founder and CEO of Cash Táche, launched four weeks ago here in the US. And Táche is the first true pistachio milk in the US. And what we mean by true is that cash is a purely pistachio milk. It's not blended with any other nuts which are usually referred to as spillar nuts. So you're getting honest to goodness pistachio milk that's really healthy and distinctly delicious.

It sounds so delicious. This might be a really obvious question, but can you describe what it tastes like?

Of course. So most people, upon tasting for the first time, say, wow, this reminds me of pistachio gelato, which is true because they're both made from pistachios. But the difference, of course, is that you're not getting as much sweetness as you would with the gelato or an ice cream. So it's a little nutty. It's got a little natural hint of sweetness. We have two flavors. There's unsweetened and then there is the original that has six grams of added sugar. So it's a little nutty, a little sweet. It has a beautiful, creamy consistency, very velvety. And it works really well with coffee and moccia without overpowering your coffee moccia. It's very subtle and complimentary, but also works really well in baking, especially now around the holidays, baking any kind of loaf's or cookies. It's great. And smoothies and protein shakes and it's also particularly good on its own. So one of our key sort of value props is that Tasch, we believe, is the first plant based milk, but is delicious enough to drink entirely on its own. So I'm jumping ahead just slightly. But if you think about it, typically all sorts of plant based melts are vehicles for other things. Most consumers aren't reaching into their refrigerators, reaching for their almond or, oh, what have you, and just pouring themselves a nice tall glass and enjoying it for pure pleasure. It's always alongside other things. So what we found with Tache and we're going to get way more into this, but in the years that it took to build Tasch, hundreds of people tasted it along the way and over 90 percent said something to the effect of wow, almost incredulous look on their face.

I would drink this all by itself. And so that's really one of the key attributes of Tasch that we're most proud of.

Gosh, it sounds so, so yummy. I can't wait for the day that you are in London and the UK in general.

I want to go back to life before Tosh and what was happening for you, what you were up to and when that light bulb moment really struck you for this business idea.

Sure. So the year was twenty fifteen and I was actually in Paris on a family vacation and we had a nice typical Parisian long lunch. And at that time I had completely phased dairy milk out of my diet and I was drinking copious amounts of almond milk. I was eating tons of almond butter. And at the end of this long lunch, I was really longing for an almond milk latte. But because I was twenty fifteen, almond milk hadn't quite made its way over to Europe just yet. So at that moment I just had the very clichéd light bulb moment where it was almost like the world came to a halt. And I thought, wait a minute, I'm Iranian in my family. Pistachios have been in my household my whole life. If you ask any Middle Eastern immigrant, they will tell you that they grew up with pistachios in their house. And so I just thought, hold on a second, I don't have to wait to get back to the US. I could literally go back to my uncle's house and I could blend up pistachios and make a pistachio milk. And what would that be, more delicious or more sort of have this dynamic taste profile that I'm not exactly getting with my almond milk. And so that's exactly what I did. And I looked up blogs on the Internet in twenty fifteen on how you make almond milk.

And I adapted that to pistachio milk. And I thought, oh my God, why doesn't this already exist? It's so obvious. It's delicious. At that point I got back to New York and I started making my little studio kitchen, having friends and friends and friends. I wanted unbiased opinions, I even sort of went out and tried to find people who weren't plant based milk drinkers, people who are ambivalent or skeptical or whatever, because I wanted to understand really like what what do people think of us? And I was really blown away by how many folks were just like, this is something that should be out there. I would buy it. It's very, very delicious and very healthy. And so the reason was actually quite obvious. It didn't exist because of supply chain. So pistachios for generations and generations have been a premium, not at a premium price point. So it's not exactly an easy supply chain issue to find high quality pistachios at approachable price. So that was the reason that it didn't exist in the market in twenty fifteen. But it was at that lunch in Paris with my family just wanting all the milk latte where it all sort of came together for me.

Gosh, that is just so incredible that it's it's the definition of a true light bulb moment. Something went off for you and you alike. But why doesn't this exist? Oh, I love that.

So you come back to the US, you're starting to validate the idea with your friends and friends of friends and you understand why it doesn't already exist in the market. What are the next steps to you being like? OK, well, I'm actually going to do this. I'm going to build this brand and be the person to bring this to market.

Yes. So at this point, to back up a little bit, I grew up in Menlo Park, I was born in San Francisco and we moved to Memmo Park pre Facebook. At this point, this was not on the map. It wasn't a place that people were talking about the media. And the reason we did that was because my dad was an engineer. He was working in Silicon Valley. And so in high school and growing up, the jargon in my household was VXI startup funding round. That's what I grew up with. So when I realized that this was a huge opportunity and something that I was going to pursue, I first went to my dad and I sort of pitched him on it and I said, Will you join me and co-found this company with me? Because your expertise lends so well to building this business. You know exactly the trajectory, how you go about this, what kind of outcomes you should be building towards all these things that I've learned and gleaned from him growing up at this point. My dad was retired. He had already founded and exited three startups. So I really had to pitch him and say, do you want to come out of retirement?

Let's go again, round four.

And I'm so lucky that he said yes, because I don't think many dads would say, like, yeah, let's go start this thing that you and I both really don't know anything about the KPG or the food and beverage, but let's do it. And he did that because I'd already started one company before I started a social media agency before. And truthfully, he kind of doubted that that was going to be a successful business. And at the time it was 2011, social media agencies did not exist really at all. And so I said, I want to build this thing with you. Are you on board? And he said, I'm in. I'm a hundred percent. And so our very first step was I knew that I wasn't going to pivot into this entirely new career to create a product that was at a price point that was inaccessible to most people. So what I mean by that is I had no desire to make a ten dollar pistachio milk. So the very first thing we did is we found a consultant who was a 30 year veteran in the industry of she's actually the buyer of North America for 7-Eleven. So she had this very incredible career of understanding cost of goods and margins and all that.

So we brought her on to do a project for us and to cost tache and see what our suggested retail price would be and what our margin would be. And so when she came back to us and said, you know, you can do this at a fair price, that's far below that ten dollar threshold, that to us was like, OK, great. It's been validated from a price perspective. And we can move this forward at around a seven dollar price point. And this is a thirty two ounce multi serve container. So that was sort of step one. Step two was finding a formulation agency. Actually, that's not true. Before even finding the analyst to do our pricing, I wanted to start on the trademark of a name because being a marketer, I understood that trademarking a name was essential. You know, a lot of founders I talked to, the first sort of thing that crosses their mind is, oh, I have a name that I like. Let's jump on Instagram and see if we can get the handle. For me, it was let's jump on the US website and search the database and find out if the name I like is available. And so the first name that I wanted was actually Stasch, and that was not available.

So I did a lot of thinking. And at the same time I was reading books about how to start a food business. And one of these books recommended that if you don't have the capital to bring on a patent trademark attorney, you should go to a law school and see if the law clinic at the university will take on your case pro bono. So that's what I did. The UCLA Law Clinic took on Tasch, which was soon to be tache, and they did all of my legal work for free. It was such an amazing experience because it took three semesters of work to get to to a name. A lot of the names that are derivatives of the word pistachio are already taken in the food category. So it took a really long time. But I'm off on a tangent, but I always suggested to founders who don't have their bootstrapping and they don't have a ton of capital to put towards attorney fees, around trademarks to go that path. I had a lot of success with that. So we did the trademark. We did the cost analysis and then we did the formulation. So we found a team that only did beverages and we started on the formulation work with them.

Did you have to find the pistachios, like independently to the formulative?

Yes, yes, we did so fortuitously, my father was born and raised in Tehran, he moved to Michigan when he was 18, which was before the revolution, and he went to the University of Michigan. So fortuitously, we had family back in Iran and they were. We actually knew several farmers in the area and in neighboring countries who are all like third and fourth generation pistachio farmers, which came together quite nicely because we later tried doing many side by side comparisons of pistachios grown in different parts of the world. And some of them that we tested were ones grown in California. And, you know, on the surface, I think a lot of people assume that, you know, nuts or nuts, they should all kind of taste and function and look relatively the same in terms of specific pistachios. And truly, they're not too different from grapes in that, you know, on the surface, they may appear to look the same, but they're very complex. And just like wine, you get very different results. So the soil, the climate, the farming techniques, all of that really plays into the end result of the pistachio milk. So when we did all these trials in our R&D process for the pistachios grown in California, it tasted entirely different as a milk than the pistachios grown in the Middle East. So that sort of was another layer of how are we going to build this? How is it going to be different? Why is supply chain important to us? And in the end, we we definitely were much, much happier with the taste and the mouth feel of the Middle Eastern pistachios versus the state side.

And it's also just so special to be able to take this brand and this company that you're building back to your roots and be like, hey, we're supporting people who are connected to us and oh, gosh, I really love that. That's so cool. Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about the manufacturing piece of the puzzle. Obviously, there's lots of learning curves there, potentially lots of stumbles to go through. How did you find your manufacturer and what were you doing to convince them to work with you? I'm aware, you know, they don't just manufacturers won't just take on any new client and work with anyone. So I'm interested to know what your pitch was to them.

Sure, so our industry is very atypical in that. So when I say our industry, what I mean by that is plant based milks that are shelf stable. So generally, when you go to most coffee shops and you see what baristas are working with them, they have their milks and these paper containers, which are usually tetra pack. And so what that means is that they're going through a manufacturing process that's called aseptic and that's what produces shelf stable products. So North America has actually been a little bit behind on picking up on aseptic manufacturing. So unlike Europe, we don't have them everywhere. There aren't dozens and dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of options to choose from this kind of a few main players. And they have the luxury of commanding enormous minimum order, minimum order quantity. So we're talking about, on average, about two hundred, two hundred and fifty thousand units to be produced on your very first production run. Wow. Which is enough to really just make you terrified when you're a young entrepreneur trying to start a business and you have a plan, you have a great supply chain and there's a lot of just early market validation happening. And then truly, I was cold calling these these manufacturers and pitching them on my idea. And most of them said, sure, I'll come back to us when you're ready to do to the two hundred thousand, we'd love to take your product on.

So then you have the chicken and the egg thing where nobody is willing to do a small run with you. So I finally got through two to one owner of one plant and he said, you know, I really do love the idea. I'm not going to tell you that you can't do it, but it's going to take a minimum of a million dollars, probably closer to two million dollars to do what you want to do. So when you have the capital, come back and I'll take your product on and we can do a trial run for just under one hundred thousand units. And that, as crazy as it sounds, was a huge win because at that point, nobody was willing to wiggle at all with me. So I went I came back, got got got with my dad and mapped out how we were going to start a friends and family around which we grew in more than that. And so there was no there was no option to just bootstrap it and self fund with that. You knew you had to raise around. And so I had a full circle moment when we did our very first production line with that same manufacturer who I called, called and said he was willing to do a smaller run with me. And when we did our first production run over the summer, which was just a tremendous feeling of.

It took two years, but but we've done it.

So it took two years from when you killed him to when you got your full batch back.

It took a little more than a year and a half. It feels like five. And it was a little over a year and a half. And of course, the pandemic then came, which layered on some more delays. But I was just about a year and a half.

Wow. I want to talk about the playbook that you've used to raise that one point one in precede that I read that you you raised one point one and precede obviously you had your dad there who had significant learnings and significant experience.

Can you share a little bit about what it was looking like and and what he brought to the table in those meetings and that kind of thing?

Sure. So my dad's experience was raising hundreds of millions in. It was kind of the the heyday of it all was what his companies did was made the main chip and cell phones. So we're talking about like Sequoia's Norwest of the world far, far beyond where we were at with Tache. So while all of his experience was invaluable, a lot of his connections and a lot of those relationships that he had, we weren't ready for them at all. So we had to do is we had to and this is so now this is the very beginning of twenty twenty do friends and family around and sort of start there, see how far along we can get. And it started pretty well. And we started fundraising in February and then came March twenty twenty and the world came to a grinding halt. And many of those conversations and diligence processes that we were in with some investors, everybody hit the pause button and rightfully so. Nobody knew what was going to happen. So at that moment, there was certainly a level of what's the next step? What are we going to do? We need to cast a much wider net. It can no longer just be friends and family. It needs to go we have to go to institutional investors because we need to have a much wider net. And so that's what we did. And a big turning point was when I got a phone call from the distributor who had already signed on to do our food service distribution.

So in New York City for us, our food services, specialty coffee bars, high end bodega cafes. And he called me and he said, hey, Rukshana, I don't know if you're fundraising or really what's going on on that side, but if if you are, do can I invest? And I said we are fundraising and. Sure. Like, what did you have in mind? Let me know. And so we I did the pitch. We did the whole thing. And he came on as at our time at that time, our lead investor. And from there things just really started falling into place. I did like a digital shark tank style pitch competition. And the person who puts that on his name is Gary Hirshberg, and he's a legend in the industry. He was the co-founder and CEO of Stonyfield Farms. Stonyfield Yogurt is the largest organic yogurt company in the US. And so everything really fell into place. But we were lucky because we I think that it was looking to me at that point, the apex of the pandemic that we were going to have to have this season around. And luckily, we we did it. We ended up having just these angels come in. And as of now, we've raised one point two five.

Wow. Goodness, that's so exciting. And did that money primarily go towards that first order or was that money for manufacturing the inventory plus a runway for marketing and things like that?

Yeah, absolutely. A runway for marketing, several production rounds, the inventory, some sales.

It will go towards probably several more rounds of productions actually well into next year.

How exciting.

I want to talk about getting into the marketing side of things and leading up to the launch that you had four weeks ago. You mentioned you had was it under one hundred thousand units that you had to order? So around one hundred thousand dollar. So you had to obviously have a plan of how you were going to sell or start to sell these once you launched. What did that plan look like and what have you been doing to get the word out there and acquire your first customers?