YUMi Organics (originally YUMitrition) was founded by School of Human Nutrition former student Zoey Li (above left) and PhD candidate Mengyin Hong as a diabetes support program for the Montreal Community. It began as an interactive project aimed to integrate the talent and knowledge of dietetics and nutrition students at McGill to raise awareness and provide support for the growing diabetic community in Montreal using three platforms – social media, blogs and workshops. With encouragement and financial support from the FAES and McGill, and a lot of perseverance and hard work on the parts of Zoey and Mengyin, the idea took root and grew into the company it is today.
“We never imagined just a small idea of creating a more supportive community for people living with diabetes from a nutrition perspective turned out to receive more recognition than we anticipated. The journey was hard, and took a lot of twists and turns—who knew we would be starting our own company! With the [initial] support from Student Experience Enhancement Fund (SEEF), we were able to experience a new world and be a part of the entrepreneurship community that was fairly new to us. Our goal to create better support for diabetes will not be deterred.”
We asked Zoey Li to share her experience into entrepreneurship…
- Tell us a bit about yourself – your background, your training, and what drives you.
I’m a Dietitian and completed my degree from McGill in December 2016. [Together with fellow student Mengyin Hong], I started YUMi while still a full time student and was motivated to learn and build a business through McGill’s Dobson Cup. Luckily, we were the winners of the SME track 2016 and received the Food and Agribusiness Convergent Innovation Prize to help us with our seed money to start things off!
I wanted to do a degree in nutrition/dietetics because I understood firsthand the importance of food and nutrition when my mom was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009. Near the end of my degree, I knew I wanted to create something that could help consumers make better choices and hopefully fill the store shelves with some good products.
- Briefly describe your business
We are the first Canadian Overnight Oats company. Instead of heating up your oatmeal, you let it soak in the milk of your choice overnight. We are a clean label, vegan, low sugar product that features organic oats from Quebec. We launched our new brand in August 2018 with 4 flavours – Blueberry Coconut, Matcha Green Apple, Dark Chocolate, and Apple Cinnamon. We were very fortunate to have received the DUX prize for “Eat Better, Live Better” 2019 Judge’s Favourite product. The key to our launch was to create a product that would facilitate an easy breakfast with our unique mason jars that have the measurements pre-printed on each jar. This way, it’s a 2-step process to make breakfast the night before, and we have allowed consumers to have an easy ‘grab-and-go’ breakfast that is both healthy and yummy.
- How did you get started as an entrepreneur? What attracted you to the idea?
I’ve always liked the idea of creating a business. At first I thought I would have my own private practice clinic. Soon, I realized that I wanted to create something that could have a bigger impact on more than just the people who would walk through a clinic. I wanted to make it easy for the average consumer to make a healthy choice without all the food marketing myths and junk that’s out there.
- What was it that turned a “project” into a business idea?
We started off as a whole grains subscription box, called YumiBox. What a great learning experience—we learned, cried and laughed through a tough part of the entrepreneurship journey while we were learning the ins and outs of business. Then, we reached a plateau in sales and realized we had to pivot the business. We saw an opportunity to brand our products as “overnight oats” to launch into the market. We pivoted our company two to three times before we rebranded with our new launch. It’s hard to find what people call “product market fit” (PMF). I think after you find PMF, you’ve turned your project into a real business. That’s when things get fun, it’s easy to sell the product or service, and people are knocking on your door to buy product from you!
- What impact did the SEEF funding that you received in 2015 have on moving forward? Does it still have an impact today?
The SEEF fund was the first funding we ever received—for the concept, before we even had a physical product. We just started off as two students who wanted to create and curate a good nutrition blog, a platform for other nutrition students to learn to write, get their name out there, build their reputation…while at the same time bringing value to consumers. Through it, we learned to basics of blogging, learned how to build and design a website, and starting a fun little network. To this day, we have built and incorporated the “nutrition academy” as a part of our existing brand and we have a handful of McGill student involved in curating good content!
- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Hopefully have our products in all major retailers across Canada. And to be a well-recognized brand that consumers trust.