Laura Howard's story reads like a lactose-free " Eat, Pray, Love," if you add 350 goats frolicking on the rolling hills of Sonoma County. Unfulfilled by what Hollywood would color a hugely successful career producing movies and commercials (big time: Think Budweiser frogs and Nike), Howard took off on a year-long spiritual journey, traveling, studying yoga and Sanskrit and following a diet designed by her yoga teacher. The only dairy allowed was from goats.
She found the grueling quest for enlightenment less daunting than her ice cream withdrawal, and so, armed with her grandmother's old hand-crank ice cream maker and a 1942 copy of the Southern Living Cookbook, she set out to make her own. Friends—especially lactose-intolerant ones—loved it, but the creation of Laloo's Goat's Milk Ice Cream Co. didn't crystallize until a fateful trip to Tuscany, where she found her husband as well as her calling. There, while producing a small indie film, she fell in love with the project's writer, who was also working on another documentary about the Slow Food movement. " I got to spend time with artisan cheese and wine makers," she says, " and thought, ‘That's such a great way to live your life.' Of course, they don't call it ‘slow food,' they just call it ‘living in Italy.' "
She left Hollywood, bought a farm in Petaluma, hunted for inspiration in local farmers' markets and food journals she kept while traveling, and created flavors like Chocolate Cabernet and Strawberry Darling, featuring a swirl of balsamic vinegar. Building the company wasn't all taste-testing chocolate and cabernet, however. It was a lot of schlepping heavy 20-gallon glass milk jugs. And a lot of sticky fingers. After Howard discovered an omission on the labels on the first 10,000-pint batch bound for Whole Foods, she plastered each one by hand with a sticker bearing a correction as she delivered the crates to stores from a used ice-cream truck she bought off eBay.
Today, Howard brings gourmet ice cream to the lactose intolerant and stability to co-ops like the one that provides milk for her products. Laloo's is working to be a leader in the goat-milk-production industry by supporting these small operations to make sure goats don't get industrialized like their dairy-cow counterparts, she says. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from every specially marked pint this summer will be donated to Waterkeeper Alliance's cleanfarmcleanwater.org campaign.
What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? In my little niche, it's the battle for artisan makers to get the products to the right people. For example, for us, distribution's our biggest issue because we're frozen. By the time it gets to the store, it's been marked up so many times already. The battle is not so much getting the cost down, but educating people about the value of what they're buying.
The one natural product you can't live without? Uncle Eddie's Peanut Butter Chocolate cookies.
What was your inspiration? The Slow Food movement.
What keeps you going on a tough day? Those cookies—and my 2-year-old daughter. There's really nothing that a jolt of her energy can't fix.
What are you afraid of? Accounting.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 24