The plant-based movement has seen a steady upward climb in recent years, with a new Bloomberg Intelligence report predicting a $162 billion growth spurt for the market in the next decade. Irrespective of whether Misha’s Kind Foods’ co-founders Aaron Bullock and Ian Martin were privy to that information when entering the plant-based food business space, they appear primed to be one of the major players in the non-dairy section.
The Black-owned Los Angeles-based company makes plant-based cheeses from a cashew and almond milk base blended with herbs, spices and vegetables, and devoid of any soy, fillers, starches or yeast. In fact, the lactose-free, paleo, keto, kosher pareve and 100% vegan product won a New Hope Network 2021 Expo East NEXTY Award for outstanding new products in the natural products industry.
Flavors include familiar options such as Smoked Cheddar, Black Truffle, and French Connection along with Joi and Seven Point Five created specifically by Martin, who has a background in raw vegan foods.
Other flavors are Lox, using salt-roasted carrots as the salmon, and Sari, named after his now 10-year-old goddaughter who suggested using sundried tomatoes, garlic and cilantro. And the ricotta has become a social media sensation thanks to singer Lizzo’s TikTok video sharing her ricotta toast recipe with followers.
“The ricotta had to be worked on. That took most of our brainpower and energy to get right,” says Martin, who studied and worked with two of the well-known names in the raw vegan space— Juliano’s Planet Raw and Matthew Kenny’s M.A.K.E.—before venturing on his own. He is also a bass player, having worked with the likes of Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand.
It’s the music industry experience he shares with Bullock that first brought them together, across common friends and events over the years. Bullock’s background began in radio and retail, then promotions at Motown, and eventually film and television.
But his passion was medicine, and he opened a health care clinic with a concierge service zeroing in on preventative health care from a naturopathic perspective but also utilizing allopathic or western medicines in the mix.
Working with the mindset that food is the first medicine, they collaborated such that Martin was the food coach that visited patients’ homes, teaching them to make healthy, simple and cost-effective meals. Though successful, that company had a lifespan.
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Meanwhile, Martin had been working on some food ideas on the side and talked to Bullock about non-dairy cheese as a business. That was 2015.
Misha’s Kind Foods was established in 2018, named after Martin’s son Misha.
“There is something to be said about who we are as a company, who Martin and I are as founders,” says Bullock. “There is this whole concept of socialist capitalism, about being responsible. We were also older fathers—I have a daughter, he has a son. What we are doing now we are doing for legacy; for our children’s futures.”
With that intention, they’ve forged ahead and created a brand that found interest from none other than Marcy Venture Partners where Jay-Z is a co-founder. Misha’s received $3 million in seed funding in 2021 that has helped them grow and expand into more locations and cities and bring on new products and flavors. With the business being entirely self-funded thus far, this new infusion of monies has afforded Misha’s new opportunities.
“I have run, operated and built many businesses but never had to raise money for them and raising the initial seed round was a big milestone,” says Bullock. “We hadn’t expected to do it, we ran into challenges but that round went faster than we thought, we came out with better partners than we could have imagined. For the trajectory of our business, it has been life-changing and a huge validation.”
With the funding, Misha’s has accomplished rebranding, getting SQF (Safe Quality Food) certified, hiring consultants and hiring more staff. Even when COVID hit, Misha’s grew—they were approached by the first big retail store to feature them.
“What happened during the pandemic with George Floyd, people were starting to look for ways they could support businesses of color, specifically African American or Black businesses, and that helped. We had a product that people already loved,” says Martin.
Products are now available on their website, 13 farmers markets and growing, and in around 400 locations nationally, including Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, Erewhon, Sprouts and Sam’s Club starting January 2022.
Upcoming plans include new products such as milk, dessert, butter and yogurt, potential acquisitions, and blockchain interests.
Misha’s is also a Certified B Corporation, so how they source ingredients includes conversations with producers about their businesses, why they do what they do, how they treat their employees, and how what they are doing impacts their combined futures.
“It’s important to us as people,” says Bullock. “Businesses are not walls or products, they are groups of people who agree every day to come together and work with each other. We feel responsible and if I wasn’t doing this, that still would be true.”
That do-good intention stretches beyond the organization and into the community. Misha’s Kindness Inc is a nonprofit they created to execute social impact programs in underserved communities.
Feed Our Family was one of their initiatives during the pandemic, collecting food from various producers and serving families in the community every week. They are also working on an urban gardening program where they will be delivering gardening boxes to children and teaching them the values of growing things on the land that they live on.
Both Bullock and Martin are excited for the future growth of the company. They credit everyone from the assistants to anyone attached to the business in any way for the success Misha’s is experiencing.
“It’s my job to maintain a certain vision for the company and make sure that we have buy-in to keep everybody in the same direction. But we have the best management team, so what would be hard in most cases is much easier,” says Bullock. “As wonderful as the cheese is, as good as our strategy may be, nothing exists without the infrastructure, without the engine that is the team that drives it.”