The Billings family farm has proudly and sustainably tended premium, heart-healthy almonds in California’s San Joaquin Valley for over a century. Fourth generation family farmer Matt Billings is taking what he calls “nature’s perfect treat” to the masses through its AYO Almondmilk Yogurt.
Each serving of the yogurt is made using only plant-based ingredients, including 20 whole organic almonds and organic fruit for a 100% vegan and vegetarian-friendly treat. In flavors featuring all-natural vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, or peach, it’s not just farm-to-table — it’s farm-to-spoon.
What led you to create AYO Almondmilk Yogurt?
About four years ago we embarked on a journey with the goal of adding value to our incredible almonds so that we could share more of them with consumers and allowing generations of work to build upon each other. First and foremost, we wanted an almond-based product that would taste great and which consumers would love. We looked at several different products and finally chose yogurt. We believed in the dietary goodness of almonds and knew we could do more with ours. It was time to take a big chance. For the Billings family, that meant creating AYO Almond-based Yogurt.
We were convinced that we could make an amazing yogurt with the organic almonds that we grow in our orchards. Consumers have told us that we have succeeded and they love the taste and texture of AYO yogurt. We currently make our yogurt in blueberry, peach, strawberry, and vanilla. And this spring we’re also adding a Plain flavor in a larger tub to our line, as we’ve been receiving requests for this too.
Your official title is founder and farmer. How is your background as a fourth-generation almond farmer reflected in the company’s practices today?
The land has always been an integral part of my family’s life. It is in my blood. My great-grandfather started our farm in 1913, so we have been farming in California for over 100 years and it’s been a true labor of love. Sustainability is the key and our family is driven by the desire to pass on healthy living soil to the next generation.
I earned a B.S. in Agriculture from the University of California – Davis, have served as an alternate on the Almond Board of California’s Board of Directors and as chairman of the board’s Production Research Committee. Farming has been my passion and I love being a lifetime learner and looking for ways to innovate and support the farming community. And of course, we Billings love what we think is a pretty much perfect food: almonds.
Walking the orchard is always the best part of my day. Our almond trees live up to about 30 years and watching their seasonal process is beautiful and grounding. The bare branches of the winter bloom gloriously in the spring and summer and are harvested in the fall when the tree is shaken to let each almond loose. The cycle of nature, as well as its challenges, stay true. Like any farmer, there is so much appreciation for the earth and a strong desire to take care of it. One of the guiding tenets for our farm – and family – is “Leave the earth a better place than when you started.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome to bring your product to market?
Every day I am reminded of my forefathers’ challenges with running an almond farm: water supply, the challenges of mother nature, you name it. But jumping into the retail food market is a whole new learning curve. First, I wouldn’t recommend launching a new product in the midst of a pandemic. I can say that with a smile, but it has been a challenge to market something with incredible taste when you can’t have store tastings. We’ve just had to work harder on other fronts – just like in farming – you have to surround yourself with trustworthy people who share your vision and work hard for a common goal. I love farming. I love creating wholesome food that our customers enjoy. We’ve had the joy of creating a product our family is proud of in a tough time. Just like the generations before me, I truly believe with a commitment to quality and core values, you’ll find success.
How is AYO Almondmilk Yogurt produced and what sets it apart from its competitors?
We are the first fully vertical integrated yogurt brand and we control every step of the process, from growing organic almonds to blanching them in boiling water to remove the outer skin. They are then roasted and ground into almond butter, which is the pure nut butter almond base used to make AYO. We are not trying to be an alternative to any other product. Our goal was to make a great tasting yogurt from our organic almonds and we did just that. Each cup of AYO contains 20 organic almonds per cup!
What’s ahead for AYO Almondmilk Yogurt in 2022?
We’re excited to be expanding our line to include a Plain flavor in a large tub. We have received numerous requests for this over the past year and will be launching this spring. AYO will also be more readily available in the California area with the addition of all Stater Brothers and Pavilions grocery stores to our lineup of retail partners. Be sure to follow us on @ayoyogurt and check out our store locator on our website because we’re adding more distribution each week.