We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Malina Farias. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Malina below.
Malina, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Has Covid resulted in any major changes to your business model?
When the first lockdown hit us in 2020, retail cheese sales dropped to almost nothing. As the weeks went on, I noticed that the only orders remaining steady were those food services that were delivering and offering pick-up. With nothing else to do, I began visiting restaurants, (especially those that serve pizza) with samples of my vegan mozzarella. I picked up several new customers who are still with me today. I now sell just as much mozzarella to food service clients as I do my artisan cheeses to retail shops.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
In 2015, I began fooling around with various types of vegan cheese making. I found I didn’t have the patience to ferment nut cheese. I liked using tofu as a base because it would take any flavor and the end product was super creamy. By 2017, I was marketing my product. I had no idea what I was doing, but I researched things as they came up. I am totally self-taught about food manufacturing. Peaceful Rebel started out with 4 kinds of cheese. Today, there 19 varieties which include seasonal offerings.
Based in Colorado, that’s where most of our customers are. However California, Texas and Massachusetts are now in the family, as well as a major e-commerce site, GTFO It’s Vegan!
Our cheese is niche: hand-made, nut-free (most varieties), and very bold flavors. Because it is soy-based, our customers can enjoy artisanal vegan cheese at a more reasonable price point. Restaurants can offer quality, hand-made product instead of an industrial cheese substitute.
I still maintain social media sites and I love that I know so many of my customers through it. They know that it is me, not a media person, interacting with the comments, etc. As the company grows, it is my desire to embrace this personal approach to business, even when I’m no longer able to do the social media aspect.
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience?
Unlike some vegan companies founded by food scientists with access to investors, Peaceful Rebel was founded in my kitchen, which is about 10′ x 10′. My first big investment was a commercial Vitamix. I was so excited because it allowed me to make batches so much quicker! I needed a licensed kitchen, but had no money for a commercial space, so I rented off-hours in a pizza kitchen.
I learned about sourcing ingredients. As I grew, I began ordering from as far away as China. Sourcing is a learning process that becomes easier as your business grows, because you can buy larger quantities directly from the manufacturers. It is a continual challenge, however, because sources dry up and manufacturers go out of business.
Today, I work out of a large, shared commercial kitchen space, and have much larger machine which can produce several batches of product at a time. It is still hand-made: poured into molds, cut and wrapped, and that will always be our process – no large-scale factory production!
Having said that, it is the goal to invest in larger-scale equipment, more employees, and our own dedicated kitchen in order to produce more cheese more quickly, but maintain the quality of an artisanal product.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
To be in the business of food manufacture (or any other), it requires resilience, a deep desire to get your product out there, a willingness to do whatever must be done (day after day), a stubborn embrace of your mission, and humor. You have to be able to go with the flow, but sometimes doggedly pursue things when needed.
Here’s an example (I’ve got a million, lol):
Last year, I was extremely pleased to find a local source for tofu. I had been buying from a large company in California and the quality was hit and miss. Even though I was paying more, I felt good that the quality was A+ and I was also able to support a local biz. Unfortunately, after a few months, I learned they were looking for a buyer. At the same time, the producer’s machine broke and he became ill. No tofu = no cheese production. I sat on my couch and actually contemplated if we could make it through this set back. I had searched for the particular type of product I needed before, with no luck.
So, I went back to the computer, and, loooong story short, found an even better quality of the product I needed at a fraction of the cost. Yay!
This type of thing has happened to me many times and has taught me to have faith, take a breath, and be grateful when good things happen.