Mainers like me who drink plant-based milks now have three locally made options. Two startup almond milk makers have set up shop in Portland, and the state’s Rockport-based tofu maker is relaunching its bottled soy milk. Another such enterprise, from Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy, has been suspended, but the company has expressed interest in getting back into the market.

These ventures are a sign of the times. Here in Maine and across the country, many shoppers are skipping cow’s milk while opting for milks made from things like almonds, soybeans, cashews, coconuts and hemp seeds.

“Consumers in Maine and northern New England would like to have a local branded almond milk option,” said Jim Lesser, vice president of marketing at Oakhurst Dairy in Portland. “Anybody that has a (plant-based milk) startup has a good opportunity.”

In 2014, Oakhurst responded to this demand by contracting with a co-packing company to produce a line of refrigerated almond milks. But early this year the largest retailer stocking the Oakhurst almond milk discontinued it “because it didn’t sell as well as a national brand,” Lesser said.

This caused Oakhurst’s almond milk sales volume to fall below the co-packer’s minimum order, and Oakhurst was forced to discontinue the line. Lesser said the dairy can’t make almond milk at its Forest Avenue bottling plant because production spaces for dairy and almonds need to be rigorously separated. But Oakhurst is interested in re-entering the plant-based milk business, he said, if it finds a suitable partner or production space.



The Heiwa Soy Beanery soy milk also first launched in 2014, but soon after, the Belfast production facility where the tofu maker was located abruptly closed. Heiwa had to scramble to keep up with customer orders and was forced to drop the soy milk and devote all its time to supplying customers with tofu.

“We get so many people asking about (the milk),” Heiwa owner Jeff Wolovitz said. “There were a lot of loyal and dedicated Heiwa soy milk drinkers out there.”

This month, Heiwa opened a new production facility in Rockport and now has the capacity to relaunch its soy milk. Wolovitz said the milk will be in stores later this fall. The company will switch to glass jugs from plastic in order to extend the shelf life of its soy milk. In glass, the milk, which is organic, has a shelf life of 75 days, Wolovitz said.

“We don’t add any thickeners or questionable flavoring agents,” Wolovitz said. “It’s just soybeans and water. We make it thick naturally.”


Headquartered in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, The Whole Almond is the newest entrant into Maine’s plant-based milk market.


Owner Myranda McGowan said her business launched in September, and she’s working on lining up contracts with coffee shops, smoothie shops, restaurants and cafeterias.

She makes her almond milk from sprouted organic almonds and water.

“Because I sprout it, it removes all the harmful enzymes that make almonds hard to digest, and it increases the nutrient value,” McGowan said.

McGowan started making almond milk because she was disappointed with the plant-based milks at the supermarket and their often long list of ingredients. McGowan says national brands use as few as three almonds per quart, while she uses 84 per quart.

“As part of my process, I’m left with a almond pulp,” McGowan said. “I’m dehydrating it and it makes a nice almond meal. I’ll sell that as well.”

The Whole Almond milk is raw and unpasteurized, with a shelf life of just seven days.


During the recent grand opening party at the Fork Food Lab, where the business is located, McGowan said many people who claimed not to like almond milk tried hers, “and you could see the surprise on their faces when they realized how different it was from the store brands.”

For the moment, the only way to buy The Whole Almond milk is to stop by the Fork Food Lab during limited hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.


It’s easier to score a bottle of almond milk from Blake Orchard Juicery on Exchange Street, which is open Tuesday through Sunday and also offers cold-pressed juices and smoothie bowls.

Called Blake Orchard Mylk, the almond milk comes in vanilla and chocolate. Both are made from organic almonds soaked overnight, to which the vanilla recipe adds vanilla beans, cinnamon and dates, while the chocolate adds raw cacao powder, local raw honey and dates.

“The best thing about getting a local nut milk is that you’re going to get all of the nutrition from it,” said Alexandra Blake Messenger, who launched Blake Orchard two years ago. It tastes better too, she added.


Messenger, a recent college grad, grew up in western Massachusetts and until she opened her basement level take-out spot on Exchange Street in June, she was selling her juices and milks at farmers markets in Connecticut and Massachusetts. She explored opening a shop in the Boston area but quickly realized she couldn’t afford the rent.

Blake visited Portland, “and I fell in love with it.” She opened the shop after raising $18,000 on Kickstarter. Sold in 8-ounce and 16-ounce glass bottles, Blake Orchard Mylk has a shelf life of three days.


According to a 2016 report from global market research firm Mintel, sales of dairy milk in the U.S. declined 7 percent in 2015. Mintel projects that cow’s milk sales will drop another 11 percent by 2020. In contrast, sales of non-dairy milk in the United States rose 9 percent last year.

Maine doesn’t maintain figures on either cow’s milk or nondairy milk sales, but we do know that though the state has seen a recent uptick in farms selling more specialized dairy products, such as artisanal cheese and raw milk, those haven’t boosted state milk production figures.

One thing both dairy products and plant-based milks share is the customer desire to buy locally.


“People want to know where their product comes from,” McGowan said. “People don’t want to buy big company products. They want local, small companies.”

Luckily for Mainers seeking plant-based milks, we now have three good options.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: