Plant-based beverages are clearly having a moment, in which dairy cases overflowing with milks of just about every type of nut, seed, bean and grain imaginable. But for Brittany Fuisz, founder of California-based Malibu Mylk, something was missing: a dairy-free milk alternative that used clean, simple ingredients but was also nutritious and environmentally-sustainable, and actually tasted good.
A graduate of both Georgetown University and Le Cordon Bleu (and a former Food Network employee), Brittany was put on a strict autoimmune diet by a functional medicine doctor. Unable to find a milk alternative that met her unique needs and tastes, she pulled out her blender and started to develop and test recipes using flax.
Foodboro spoke with Brittany about Malibu Mylk’s early days of business and where she hopes to take the company in the next few years.
What was the inspiration for Malibu Mylk?
Two years ago I went to see a functional medicine doctor and was told I would benefit from an autoimmune-focused diet, so the list of foods I was able to eat was very limited. After searching for a plant-based milk I was surprised to find that the brands on the market either had a laundry list of junk ingredients or tasted terrible. This was my light bulb moment.
So, why flax?
I have always been very into health and nutrition, and have been an advocate of flaxseed for its health benefits. It’s a great source of omega 3 fats, fiber and antioxidants and, as it turns out, when blended with water it has an ultra-creamy texture. And unlike other nuts and seeds, flax requires very little resources so it is a sustainable energy source.
And what drew you to milk?
As a kid I was a big fan of dairy milk, but as an adult I grew away from it as my diet changed. But really, milk has so many applications! I asked myself why it wasn’t a part of my diet and it came down to ingredients and flavor.
What were the early days of business like?
After hearing that there was a need for an allergen-friendly milk and getting positive feedback from friends, I decided to make it a business. We are still a very early-stage company, founded in summer of 2018, so are definitely still learning and growing. I just recently brought on a team to help with sales and marketing, but in the start it was just me. From recipe development and production to sales and getting the product on shelves.
What were your first retail accounts?
In November 2018 I reached out to Whole Foods to meet with the Southern California buyer. I almost cancelled the meeting, because I was unsure about my product. But within 5 minutes they said they wanted to bring on the product. At this time I didn’t have a manufacturer or packaging, so this was very encouraging! We launched in February 2019 in California and will be growing int he Northwest Whole Foods region soon.
How is your product differentiated from other alternative dairy products?
The plant-based milk industry is a 16 billion dollar industry. But most of the products on the market are not organic and are made using unsustainable ingredients. Our product is different in that it checks every box. Organic, nutritious, high-quality ingredients, great texture and great taste!
How have you overcome hardship as a founder?
One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome was a botched production run. We were faced with the decision to either keep or toss the product, and ultimately chose to throw it out. Thousands of dollars quite literally down the drain. But what helped me through this was knowing that, as an emerging company, we couldn’t take the risk of having a product that was the wrong representation of our brand.
Own your story. Own your brand.
How do you manage your social media look and feel?
For inspiration, I turn to other brands that I’m a fan of. Also, I think it is important to have some rules/best practices in place. For example, every third picture on our feed should include the Malibu Mylk bottle. But we don’t want to be too brand-focused or salesy, so put emphasis on having a mix of content like recipes and quotes.
As a founder, what do you do to “turn off” the daily grind?
This is one of the hardest things as an entrepreneur, but I know how important it is. Being eight months pregnant I need to force myself to slow down and step away. I use the the Calm meditation app daily and take time to exercise. You can’t compromise that!
What has been your proudest moment thus far?
I will never get tired of seeing my product on shelves! Going into a store and watching people purchase is just so fulfilling.
What advice do you have for other early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs?
Know that there are different levels of risk. Growing the business takes time, but stick to it. Own your values.
When you’re uncomfortable, you’re learning and growing. Believe in your product, be patient, trust the journey and HUSTLE hard.
Any line extensions in the future?
Oh for sure! There are so many ideas and opportunities for flax-based products, which is very exciting.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
The Malibu Mylk team has always worked primarily remote, so we are accustomed to virtual meetings. We’ve been very transparent on our social platform, sharing recipes and other types of relevant content. Shoppers have been stocking up on essential items, and this includes mylk. So far we have been able to meet production demands.