lark toronto

The milkman returns to Toronto and this time he's bringing oat milk and colourful water

Oat milk in Toronto is more popular than ever, and now it has its own local milkman, with a closed-loop sustainable delivery system to boot.

Lark Drink Food & Flora bills itself as a minimalist "modern milkman/person." They make, sustainably package and sell oat milk and Ontario spring water that's sparkling, still or augmented with florals, as well as all natural ginger ale and even table wines. 

Their products come with slick names like "Air Oats," "Bubba" (sparkling Ontario spring water with Newfoundland sea salt), "Bestill" (still Ontario spring water), "Inside Job" (made with bluebelle vine and herbs) and "Forever Endeavor" (made with roselle, elderflower and citrus).

"We use local water that is never stored in plastic," Lark founder Michelle Donnelly tells blogTO. "It goes from the spring to the stainless steel tanker it's stored in at our facility and goes into our glass bottles. We brew our florals on demand so there is no food waste due to expiration."

They say they make their ginger ale to order, as well. Prices start around $15 for six packs of water, and range up to around $68 for packs of wine and water, which typically sell out. There's a delivery charge of $5.75 and no deposit, but you will be billed for unreturned crates and bottles or broken bottles.

Donnelly, who is also a creative director, runs the company with her husband Mark Puchala. Both have a background in advertising and met at an ad agency working on a beer pitch together 16 years ago, though Puchala left advertising a decade ago to pursue his passion for painting.

The original intention behind Lark actually wasn't to be direct-to-consumer at all. Launched in March 2020, the brand was conceived as a service for hotels and restaurants, but obviously COVID-19 had other plans.

Lark was forced to pivot to becoming an e-commerce and home delivery brand "with a more approachable vibe on social media," according to Donnelly.

"The first few weeks were small because we did not have a website, or really plan on doing social media," Donnelly says. "The restaurants and hotels basically just needed a homepage and to try us out."   

 "The bulk drops are really what our biz was designed for."

As such, they've converted their bulk drop model to a slightly smaller scale, doing daily deliveries as well as subscriptions. That means you can subscribe and get packs of beverages dropped off to you monthly, or you can make one-off purchases that will be delivered within 48 hours on weekdays.

The pivot worked, and the brand exploded, selling about 50,000 beverages since their launch, and selling out of their daily drops regularly over the past few months. The best part is, they only actually bought 10,000 bottles, so each bottle has been used about five times by now.

Lark returns to pick up the bottles after you're finished with them, sterilizing them and refilling them at their facility on Judge Road near Kipling station.

"We pick up empties when we drop new," Donnelly says. "It is also not an option to not return… we will find you, we know where you live."

Donnelly and Puchala work with full-time facility manager Carlos Fernandes, but other than that only have two part-time employees.

"We started Lark to change the mindset around throw-away culture and single-use packaging," says Donnelly.

"Why do businesses make and use billions of things that are used once that are a major resource drain and contaminate our soil and waterways?"

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