The week of Father's Day is the perfect time to meet Matt Billings, farmer, father and founder of Ayo Yogurt. Billings has spent his life growing up on his family’s farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley and brings a passion for innovation, healthy living and sustainability to his role as founder of Ayo Almond Yogurt.
The legacy of the Billings farm started back in 1913. As a boy, Billings says his favorite memories include driving around in a pickup with his Dad and grandfather exploring the fields. His forefathers taught him that it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and one bad mistake can take that away. He says he was taught to live your life well, work hard, be curious, be honest, live with integrity and treat everyone with respect.
His family’s farms are all located in the Central Valley of California, in and around the city of Delano. “The overwhelming majority of the almonds grown in California are in this general area,” he says. “The soil and weather in this area of California create the ideal growing conditions for our almonds.”
Billings says that growing up in Ag has given him an appreciation of nature, the seasonal rhythm of life, healthy nutritious food and lifelong friendships. The ability to expand on the almond fields with new technology is such a gift, he says, as he knows his children have the ability to grow with the times as well.
The Billings' hulling and shelling facility is located directly adjacent to one of their orchards, all of which are in close proximity to the plant, where the almonds are hulled, shelled and then lightly roasted. “The roasting adds a wonderful round rich flavor to our almonds,” Billings says. “From there, our almonds are simply ground into a paste, which is the base of our Ayo almond milk yogurt. An interesting fact is that there are approximately 20 almonds in every cup of Ayo yogurt. The ground almonds are made into yogurt at a facility in Southern California,” he says.
Regarding their yogurt recipes, Billings says that they started working with a great team of developers that had years of experience in making yogurts. “We relied on experts in the field for the development work and we made sure that every organic almond put into every cup of Ayo was of the highest quality,” he says.
Why did Billings delve into the realm of yogurt with their almonds? “A couple of 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,” he says. “The plant-based revolution was, and still is, in its infancy. First and foremost, we wanted an almond-based product that would taste great and consumers would love,” he says.
They looked at several different products and finally chose 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,” he says. “We currently make our Ayo yogurt in blueberry, peach, strawberry, and vanilla. We are working on adding to our lineup with a plain version and others to come in the future.”
Billings has three children— two sons, 17 and 15, and a 12-year-old daughter. “My father and grandfather instilled in me an appreciation for the land that we farm on. They wanted to leave our orchards better than when they started,” he says. “Hard work and persistence are traits all farmers share coupled with an overall love for agriculture and the wonders of Mother Nature. [My three children] have all worked in our orchards. My oldest son is going into college this year and has expressed an interest in farming, and it is my hope that all of my children follow their dreams that one day could lead them back to our family farm.”