Amy Colville of aMYLK: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand
An Interview With Vicky Colas
A Need. Understand why your product is needed. Know what problem exists and how your product solves that problem for the world. I couldn’t find a plant-based milk on the market that tasted good and didn’t have gums, thickeners, oils or other additives in it. The longer that I have been in the Food Industry, the more I realize that consumer health has taken second place to corporate profitability. America is sick and getting sicker by the day and I think it’s because of the foods that we are eating. aMYLK will always produce the very highest quality product possible because people need real, nutrient dense foods to survive.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Colville.
Amy Colville is the founder and “Chief Joy Officer” at aMYLK, a small batch plant mylk company in Portland, Oregon. Amy entered the world of food entrepreneurship by necessity at first, when Amy was going through some health issues she found that so many of the “healthy” alternatives like nut mylks were packed full of gums, additives and filler that weren’t helping her body heal. She set out to make a better version and quickly realized that other people loved it too. She began to sell it at a local farmer’s market and now is at farmer’s markets all over the city and launched national shipping this year to get aMYLK into more people’s hands. And that is only the beginning of the goals for aMYLK over the next few years. Amy believes that food is medicine and aMYLK wants to help people feel their best ever.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon before it was cool. My father was a doctor and a master gardener and my mother was a TWA flight attendant. Both of my parents were world travelers, but when they had my brother and me they settled down. Family time was always centered around food, much of which we grew on our 1.25 acre property. My mom baked bread weekly and my dad grew everything under the sun.
Food was a big deal growing up and making it from scratch was normal. For me, food was also fuel. I played soccer competitively growing up and went on to play for a top 5 NCAA Division I school. Early on I understood that what I put in my body made a huge impact on how I performed on the field (and in life). My experience as a high level athlete also taught me how to push myself past my breaking point.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I started aMYLK after being diagnosed with a digestive problem called SIBO in 2016. As part of my healing protocol, I had to eliminate a wide variety of “inflammatory foods”, including dairy. While I had switched out dairy for almond milk, I noticed that I wasn’t getting better. I started to suspect that there were ingredients in the almond milk that I was drinking that were also inflammatory. And sure enough, when I looked at the label that was the case. I wondered why there were so many additives in almond milk to begin with. One day, I bought a nut milk bag and made my own. Within a couple of weeks, I had formed a company and I was starting to feel much better!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t say that I have any “funny” mistakes but I’ve certainly made a few. Once I ordered labels in entirely the wrong color. Our labels are clear, but somehow I ordered them with a white background. It just so happened that the ones I ordered in white were all part of my super aMYLK line, which contain special superfoods or adaptogens and are typically brightly colored. I liked the way the white made the colors pop, so I have stuck with the white labels to help differentiate my super aMYLKs from our other mylks. I learned from this experience that mistakes are often opportunities and to just go with it!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I sometimes worry about my friends who try to scale too fast. Slow is Fast is one of our favorite sayings at aMYLK. I’ve had friends who have tried to go to retail/grocery really early and realized that they needed to supply more than they were capable of making, which led to lots of mistakes and a lot of physical and mental stress. There is a pressure in the beginning to say YES, but I have found the most success when I ask myself, does this work for my life? What feels good to me? What’s manageable for me and my team? It’s hard to say no, but in the end I think it has saved me. It has certainly helped me build my business in a way that feels sustainable for me and it has prevented me from going into debt or burnout. I like to say that I’m building aMYLK one bottle at a time.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I think starting in a licensed home kitchen and marketing and selling at local area farmers markets is a great low-cost way to see if there is a market for your product. There are a lot of online resources and even workshops that you can take in many cities to help you determine whether or not you have a viable product. There’s so much to figure out in the beginning: packaging, food safety, shelf stability, how to determine your margins and distribution. It’s important to take the time to research these issues before you launch.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
I have found that a lot of people are looking for the instruction manual from other founders when they decide that they want to take their idea to market. What they don’t know is that each of us had to write our own manual to get where we are. There’s no easy path. There’s no blueprint. If you aren’t excited by hurdles, then this may not be the right path for you.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
That’s a great question! It can be very costly to hire a consultant, but the right consultant can end up saving you money, too. I think it really depends. If cost is an issue, it might be a good idea to approach another founder first, and ask them if they would be willing to spend an hour a week with you over 4–6 weeks or so for a reasonable fee. Most of my founder friends enjoy helping other founders.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I’m cautious when it comes to considering talking on outside investment capital. I advocate for bootstrapping. I’ve heard too many horror stories about venture capital and I’ve been told that I have a very strong vision for what I’m building and to “Stay out of the corral — run free.” I don’t want to compromise the quality of my product for the sake of profit. I’m pretty sure that the path I’ve chosen is the long and hard way. Typical. The best way to decide is to talk to people and to trust your gut.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
I manufacture my own products and I sell almost exclusively direct to consumer and self distribute. As for the sourcing of raw ingredients, that is something that can be a highly guarded secret among founders. When I was starting out, I’d ask other founders in the wellness space where they got their cacao or where they sourced their superfoods and I found that no one would tell me! I ended up doing a ton of research and finding them myself. The quality of your ingredients is what really sets you apart. Take the time to find the one that’s best for your product and fits your company standards for quality and integrity.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why?
- A Vision. You have to have a dream! If you can’t dream it, you can’t build it. Know what the big picture looks like. For me, I know that I want aMYLK to be known as the Gucci or Porsche of the Plant-Based Food world. aMYLK isn’t just a beverage company, it’s a lifestyle company. I want to be the best.
- A Need. Understand why your product is needed. Know what problem exists and how your product solves that problem for the world. I couldn’t find a plant-based milk on the market that tasted good and didn’t have gums, thickeners, oils or other additives in it. The longer that I have been in the Food Industry, the more I realize that consumer health has taken second place to corporate profitability. America is sick and getting sicker by the day and I think it’s because of the foods that we are eating. aMYLK will always produce the very highest quality product possible because people need real, nutrient dense foods to survive.
- A Passion. There will be days that you want to quit. It’s that fire in your belly that will sustain you when you are running on fumes. As a small business owner, you will be wearing most if not all of the hats for the first several years. That means you’ll be running production, finance, marketing and sales with little to no help. Passion is what sustains you when you don’t think you can go on. Passion is your WHY. I think about my why almost every day. Why do I do this? Why is it important to me? How am I being of service to others? My passion is the fire that keeps aMYLK going.
- A Mentor. One of my best friends helped launch Dave’s Killer Bread. While I don’t always listen to his advice, I honestly do not know where I would be without his kindness, guidance and support. I run almost all of my big decisions past him and I rely on him to offer his candid opinions.
- Love. In the end, if Love isn’t part of your business plan, it’s probably not going to survive. Love is my brand. It starts with self Love. What I do to nurture myself and feel my best is the experience that I want to give to my customers. It’s what lights me up inside. I’m not just building a business, I’m building a community. I’m helping build healthier, happier humans. This business isn’t just a business, this is my passion, my mission and my joy. This is how I play, create and practice self care. I’d be doing it anyway, even if I wasn’t getting paid for it.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Let your Love lead. Figure out what you Love and what you need and make it! I like to say that I’m aMYLK’s biggest fan. If you are excited about your product, your enthusiasm will be contagious and other people will be excited about it, too! If it’s a food product, get it in people’s mouths any way you can. Give it away. Give it to influencers to try with no obligation to post. Let people get excited about it too.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As the Chief Joy Seeker of the aMYLK community, I hope to inspire others to live their healthiest, happiest lives. One way that I do this is through my posts on lifestyle, nutrition and what I call the philosophical musings of a mylkmaid. I hope to help people make the connection between what they eat and how they feel and to encourage consumers to research ingredients and to ask more questions about how their food is produced.
Every decision that is made at aMYLK is made with the health of the planet, our team members and our customers in mind. We only bottle in reusable glass, so there is no leaching of chemicals into the product. We work with farmers who have bee friendly practices and who use regenerative farming techniques. Our imported raw ingredients are all fair trade and ethically sourced. We have a bottle return program, which means we are keeping our bottles out of the landfills and recycling centers. We have an almost zero waste workplace and we give our premium organic pulp byproduct to farms and other food businesses to use.
I want aMYLK to be like a flower that attracts conscious consumers who will pollinate the world with our ideas.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d like to bring the concept of “fresh” back. aMYLK is not a shelf stable product. It can’t sit at room temperature in a box on a shelf for months on end and to me, that’s a good thing. Food should spoil. Food is medicine! aMYLK is proving that concept that people want and NEED real food and they are willing to pay for it. If I could inspire other Food companies to rethink creating or using ingredients that are designed for shelf stability and to start thinking in terms of what is best for human and environmental health, regardless of the cost I would feel extremely proud.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I think Oprah and I would have a BIG time together. I’d love to connect with her because I think she’d get me and what I”m trying to do.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.