Miyoko Schinner is a true pioneer. Her cutting-edge plant milk fermentation process creates melty butter and phenomenal cheeses, enjoyed by chefs and home cooks alike. Everything is sustainable, cruelty-free, and made right here in California. Today, this groundbreaking company has backing from A-list celebs, but founder Miyoko is a culinary star in her own right.
01 Why did you start Miyoko’s Creamery?
I wrote a book called Artisan Vegan Cheese in 2012 that became a bestseller. My goal was to empower folks to make their own vegan cheese. But, a funny thing happened – readers kept telling me they’d rather buy it. With encouragement from friends, fans, and old colleagues from the natural food industry, I launched my company in 2014.
Since becoming vegan in the mid-1980s, I’ve worked to encourage people to adopt a more compassionate diet through my vegan foods, businesses, and cookbooks. Food has always been a form of quiet activism for me. I believed, as the old adage goes, that the way to their hearts — their compassion for all living beings and the planet – was through their stomach.
By the time I started Miyoko’s, I was already in my mid-50s, an age when many people begin to “wind down.” However, my sense of urgency to change the food system grew stronger and stronger over the years. I realized that the most effective way to make an impact was by providing alternatives to dairy that could help people transition to a more compassionate and sustainable diet. This became a focal point of my life.
02 What obstacles did you face along the way?
In many ways, I have received more blessings than challenges. But, the obstacles have still been there. Initially, I was my own biggest obstacle. My prior business failures left me overly concerned about protecting myself from another letdown. I was afraid to dream or think big — I did not believe that I could take this company beyond a small, regional player. I did not believe I had what it took. I had to overcome my fear and dip my toes deeper into the water. Over time, I learned that my intuition and ideas were usually solid.
Apart from myself, I’ve also had to balance our fast growth with meeting retailer demand. Demand has mostly outpaced our ability to produce, which means empty shelves from time to time. Keeping distributors, stores, and consumers happy while leaving shelves empty has been a huge challenge we’ve faced over and over again. Luckily, we’re now led by an amazing VP of Ops and we’re beginning to overcome that challenge and scale to meet demand.
03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Perseverance. This is the age-old edict that remains true for all. Most of my forays into business over the last 30 years have been only mildly successful. I’ve given up on myself multiple times, only to find my passion reignited, enabling me to rise again and work even harder.
In addition to perseverance, entrepreneurs need to continually develop and refine their vision. You will meet “experts” along the way who don’t understand, believe in, or share your vision — they’ll tell you that you are just wrong. At times, they may be right. Other times, they’re wrong. People practically laughed in my face when I told them what I wanted to do years ago. There is usually something that can be learned from everyone, so you must remain open-minded. Always work to refine and develop that vision. What is the long-term growth plan? Don’t just have a product or an idea – figure out all of the details, down to channel strategy.
04 What’s on the horizon for Miyoko’s?
We’re focusing on developing an in-depth knowledge of the functionality of various plant milks in cheese and butter. That includes learning how to coax different flavors and textures through microbiological processes like fermentation. We feel we are in uncharted grounds.
In addition to launching cheddar sticks for kids and line extensions for our cream cheese, we will be launching a first-to-market product in the cheese category this fall. It’s packed with protein and made from a unique plant. We are super excited about that launch, but I can’t disclose what it is right now! We’re also expanding our operational network to scale further and meet consumer demand.
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
I do this by mucking stalls, shoveling manure, and hanging out with all my animal friends at the farmed animal sanctuary I co-founded — Rancho Compasión. Right now, as I write this, I am “babysitting” a lamb who is grazing nearby. I find peace in connecting with various species and learning more about their internal lives. Cows, sheep, pigs, and even chickens and geese are deeply emotional beings with the capacity to love each other and even us — the humans who typically commodify them. That inspires me each day to help create a world and food system based on love and compassion for all.