Gone are the days when milk made from nuts was something sought out only by those who were seeking a vegan option or those suffering with dairy allergies. In fact, according to Nielsen research, in the past five years, sales of almond milk alone have grown 250%.
From her background in business development for the Clean Tech industry, Houston entrepreneur August Vega found her passion via the dairy allergies that afflicted her and her young son. Faced with the prospect of making high-quality, organic nut milk for her family on a regular basis, her journey led her to create and bring to market MALK – an incredible line of nut milk products (almond, pecan and cashew nut milks, coffee and cacao varieties) from her family-owned business. With manufacturing based in Houston near Meyerland and with 14 employees, the company grew 800% last year. MALK is now carried in 11 states and poised for more. We sat down with August to learn about her inspiring story.
Jodie: When and how did you start selling MALK?
August: In June 2014, my family and I began selling it at the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market at Eastside. I remember handing a bottle to a customer and telling him we would be in stores by the end of the year, though I had no idea how at the time – but we made it happen.
Jodie: What makes the product unique?
August: I’ve been a fanatic about organic foods and eating clean for a long time so I knew I wanted to create a really pure, high-quality, minimally processed organic product made from real food. From the beginning, I knew we didn’t want to include fillers to thicken or binders for viscosity. By choosing to work only with certified organic ingredients and the painstaking cold-pressed process we use to extract the milk, we wouldn’t need to fortify with synthetic vitamins or minerals. Anything that you’re getting comes straight from real food, and the result is a truly delicious product with amazing texture that is very different from everything else out there.
Jodie: Why do the specific organic ingredients you’re using make such a difference?
August: For nuts, people should know that you get seepage within the shell, so as trees are sprayed, those chemicals can pass through the shell. For almonds in particular, in the U.S. there are two methods of pasteurizing – one via steam and one via a chemical method; not only are you getting the pesticides from when the trees were sprayed but you could also be getting chemicals that come from pasteurization process. We use imported, certified organic, unpasteurized nuts for our almond milk; and at this point in our growth have a broker who understands how important our standards are for sourcing our nuts, the Himalayan salt and other ingredients we use. For example, we use a specific grower in Vermont for our maple syrup (Grade B, which is less processed) and our vanilla beans are from Madagascar – where they re-invest in local watersheds. Telling the story of the ingredients is something we haven’t done enough of.
Jodie: Talk to me about the challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them.
August: A big challenge has been the pace of our growth. Execution and daily adoption of new ways to make it all work have been critical. The fast growth has been such a blessing that we have to keep ourselves really grounded. We don’t always have the answers but we quickly adapt and have pivoted several times to make crucial differences in our businesses. There have also been significant challenges in the form of competitors and the shock of realizing some will try to take the intricacies of your ideas and implement them as their own. You have to have the skin of ten lizards!
The biggest challenge has been the pace of our growth. A blessing, but we keep ourselves grounded. There is competition now, and some shock over what that can mean. You have to have the skin of ten lizards! We overcome challenges by our steadfast commitment to a clean product with a clean and simple message. We are on a mission to get people to understand that you can eat food without additives. We pour our hearts into every bottle; from the very first bottle, we have done that. And it’s been an amazing experience