Oregon Startup: Canvas Barley Milk

Sarah Pool of Canvas Barley Milk
Sarah Pool of Canvas Barley Milk

Sarah Pool pushes the envelope as an entrepreneur

written by Mackenzie Wilson | photos by Jenn Redd

Early retirement—it’s the dream that keeps most entrepreneurs slogging through the late nights and early mornings of hustle, and it was at Sarah Pool’s fingertips. After selling her company, Pacific Superfoods Snacks, in 2014, the 33-year-old could have booked a one-way ticket to a tropical destination far from her home in Bend. Pool did consider a permanent vacation from entrepreneurship, but passion pushed her in a different direction. “At the end of the day, I think I’m driven,” Pool said, “and what everybody in the world is driven by is using the most out of this life we have and the opportunity to make an impact.”

Pool stayed on for three years as CEO with Made in Nature, the company that bought Pacific Superfood Snacks. She successfully bridged the perilous gap of bringing her original product, kale chips, into a highly saturated market. Pool still remembers the instant rejection she received when she first asked retailers to carry her product. “We couldn’t have predicted that two other local kale chip companies launched the week before ours. Not only were they the first to gain shelf space in a very small set, but they also had better packaging and significantly more capital behind them,” Pool said. “But we had already quit our ‘day jobs’ so our only option was to find a way. It stoked our fire like never before.”

Canvas’s barley milk breakthrough

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Pool is leading a new charge as the founder of Canvas, a beverage company producing what she calls a one-of-a-kind product—barley milk. “There’s no barley milk that exists,” she said. “It’s so funny because for us in food, we want to be super disruptive and come out with a brand-new product that’s never existed before. … But people are like, ‘Barley milk? We don’t get it at all.’” Similar to other non-dairy milk substitutes like rice milk, soy milk or almond milk, Pool believes it won’t take long for barley milk to find its place on the shelf. “We’re very data driven, we’ve done a ton of interviews and surveys with customers directly and in terms of the liquid itself, people love it,” she said.

Canvas produces barley milk from spent grain from breweries. “In the beer-brewing process the barley grain goes into the lauter tun and all of the starch is extracted to go into making the beer,” Pool said. “What’s left over is the nutrient-rich fiber and protein and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Pool says spent grain isn’t used in the final beer product because of its fibrous and dense properties. Traditionally, it either goes to waste or brewers sell it as livestock feed. “Eight billion pounds of spent grain are produced all across the globe annually,” Pool said. That number convinced her to take action. She and a team of food scientists and engineers in New York and Belgium created a process that preserves the grain, upcycling it and giving it a second life as “saved grain.” “We developed a proprietary lactic acid fermentation process that basically unlocks the nutritional goodness and preserves the grain to keep it from going to waste,” Pool said.

Canvas brings barley milk to the bigger picture

Canvas is partnering with Anheuser Busch to transform its spent grain into barley milk. “AB InBev produces approximately 3 billion pounds of spent grain annually, so the partnership made perfect sense from a supply and resources perspective, but most importantly, we’re aligned in our dream of creating a better future on a global scale,” Pool said.

Canvas is 100 percent plant-based, dairy-free and contains no refined sugars or artificial ingredients. The barley milk comes in artisanal flavors like Cold Brew Latte, Matcha, Cocoa, Original and Turmeric Chai. “I think of it as the perfect breakfast because you’re getting 13 grams of fiber and about 10 grams of complete plant protein,” Pool said. She and her team are “pretty fanatical” about plant-based food in general, but they don’t expect everyone to adopt an entirely plant-based diet—they’re striving to provide people with more options. Ultimately, Canvas hopes to make a global impact. “In the core of who we are as a company, we believe adopting more of a plant-based diet and upcycling food waste are really important in terms of long-term solutions to address climate change and global warming,” Pool said.

Canvas currently has a team of fewer than five people. Pool said Canvas plans to go national with the brand and significantly grow its team in 2018. Although she’s been named Entrepreneur of the Year in Bend and has one successful acquisition under her belt, Pool said her new company is a fresh start, a blank canvas. “It’s starting all over from the ground up and having to prove ourselves again,” she said. “But we thrive on that type of pressure and there’s no greater feeling than taking something from ideation to reality that can positively impact others’ lives.” 

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