Milli Mylk Offers Convenience and Nutrition
January 18, 2023
When Maacha Le Blanc contacted the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL), she was determined to create the very best dairy alternative. She wanted to give people the ability to conveniently make fresh, delicious, and nutritious plant-based dairy alternatives. Working with Bill Aimutis, Executive Director of NCFIL, and his team of food scientists, Le Blanc and co-founder Caleb Ferguson created milli mylk, the first and only freeze-dried plant-based mylk.
Since its launch in 2022, Founder and CEO Le Blanc has been featured in Forbes and looks forward to growing her company in the coming years.
NCFIL: How did the idea for your product come into existence?
Maacha Le Blanc: The concept for the company was inspired by a true need. My son was born with a severe dairy intolerance, so I had to give him a dairy alternative. When reviewing the ingredients of existing carton options, I learned they were loaded with oils, gums, fillers and junk that I didn't want to give to my child or family.
I started to make a fresh, plant-based dairy alternative at home. It was delicious and clean but a time-consuming, cumbersome chore. Since milk is a household staple that consumers need on hand every day, it isn’t feasible to make from scratch for busy working parents.
As a plant-based eater, I witnessed the plant-based food space explode. There was innovation happening in plant proteins and functional beverages but no change or innovation in the dairy alternative space. There were new dairy alternative brands in the market, but they all had the same formulations–containing only two percent of the ingredient they claim to be made of such as soy, oat or almonds.
Caleb and I couldn't find a solution, so we decided to innovate. We wanted to provide consumers with the very best dairy alternative without compromising convenience.
Caleb’s background is in product development for specialty coffee; he launched Joe Coffee’s first freeze-dried instant coffee product. Therefore, we leveraged the same freeze-drying food technology to create our mylks. Freeze-drying utilizes lyophilization and sublimation technology to remove water and moisture from our fresh product. This suspends our mylks at their peak freshness, flavor and nutrition.
Our freeze-dried mylk is then gently milled into a fine ground mix: with just water and a shake, the mix is quickly transformed into fresh, creamy mylk - no chemicals or additives. Our freeze-dried mylk mixes do not spoil, and they’re transportable, making them perfect for home, office, food service businesses, or travel use.
NCFIL: How did you come to work with NCFIL? What services did NCFIL provide milli mylk?
ML: We were referred to NCFIL because they’re experts in the plant-based space, known for pioneering innovative products. We wanted to refine our benchtop formulas and make them ready for scaled production. We ended up tweaking our prototypes significantly because of what we learned working with NCFIL.
NCFIL had a freeze-dryer and filtration system, the critical equipment we needed to produce our mylk. The filtration system is important because we use real botanical ingredients, not nut butters like most plant-based dairy alternatives. Because we blend real ingredients, we need to filter out the ingredient solids and freeze-dry the prepared mylk.
Once our mylk formulations were finalized, NCFIL assisted with the co-manufacturing selection process. Working with NCFIL provided a certain level of credibility in the industry and opened the doors to be able to find and vet good co-manufacturers, especially during COVID. Additionally, being able to tap into Bill’s and Joe Hildebrand’s knowledge of equipment needs and production processes as we onboarded with a new manufacturer was invaluable.
NCFIL: How do you see your partnership with NCFIL continuing in the future?
ML: For any new products we conceptualize, we will come to NCFIL first. They were an important partner in helping us build this product and ensuring we did it in a way that was scalable and viable. A mylk base provides the opportunity for various product line extensions, including smoothies, coffee and functional beverages, breakfast foods, and snacks.
We look forward to working with NCFIL on all our future innovation.
NCFIL: How is your product doing in the market? Are you working on any new product lines?
ML: The reception has been fantastic. Consumers are connecting the dots that fresh and clean equals tasty and nutritious. We often joke that “sipping is believing” with milli mylk. People who try our mylks are impressed by the fresh and creamy taste, with feedback like, “Is that what plant-based mylk is supposed to taste like? You can really taste the almonds!”
Making the tastiest mylk really drove our mission. This was particularly important for our household. My son didn’t like the carton brands because they were watery, thin and flavorless, but he loved the fresh mylk. Our customers love the ability to have homemade quality without the heavy lifting.
NCFIL: What advice would you offer other food entrepreneurs?
ML: Be persistent and optimistic but budget for longer development and production timelines. We conceptualized and built milli mylk during COVID, so timelines were often longer than anticipated. It’s great to hope for the best but plan for the unexpected.
Take the time to understand your market segment, your competitors, supply chain, and your manufacturing landscape.
Your business, especially in food, relies on partnerships. It’s important to partner with people who share your standards and values. As a new company, you need partners who care about you and your business’s success. NCFIL is that type of partner. They truly care about helping each client succeed.
Work with Us
At NCFIL, we’re eager to work with entrepreneurs looking to enter the market with innovative products. We assist with everything from conceptualization to commercialization. Reach out through this online form to start a conversation.