Ever feel like you have your best ideas in the shower?
Well, according to science, it’s because you do—the combination of a monotonous task and a relaxing environment leads to creative epiphanies. For most of us, those revelations are along the lines of how to fix that spreadsheet problem at work or where to take your picky mother-in-law for dinner.
But for entrepreneur Bella Lam, a shower musing last January became Coconut Whisk Baking Co., a line of vegan and gluten-free baking mixes that's hitting Twin Cities shelves.
The shower-based inspiration to create a plant-based, gluten-free baking mix built on Lam’s background as a vegan health and wellness blogger and her love of baking with her partner, Myles Olson. At the time, the couple were time-strapped students at Minnesota State University Mankato, and they appreciated the convenience baking mixes provided.
However, “There are not a lot of vegan and gluten-free baking options,” says Lam. “And in my opinion, what there was wasn’t very good.”
So Lam and Olson began testing recipes in their studio apartment and entered the resulting product in their college’s Big Ideas Challenge, an entrepreneurship competition. They won the food and beverage division in April, which came with a $3,000 prize to invest in their brand-new company.
“We bootstrapped everything,” says Lam. “We did our own marketing, sales, branding, social media.” Most of the prize money was used to stock up on ingredients to build an inventory of baking mixes, which the couple made in a borrowed commercial kitchen space.
Currently, Coconut Whisk offers five products: chocolate chip cookie mix, snickerdoodle cookie mix, chocolate muffin mix, classic pancake mix, and a sugar-free pancake and waffle mix. “We knew that we wanted to do products that were well-known,” says Lam. “Sometimes, you look at [vegan and gluten-free] products and go ‘Huh, what is a quinoa puff?’ We want to be as approachable and consumer-friendly as possible.”
In addition to being vegan and gluten-free, the mixes are free from common allergens like soy and nuts. The base is a blend of chickpea and brown rice flours, and depending on the specific mix, other ingredients may include coconut sugar, cocoa powder, and dairy-free chocolate chips. Consumers add the wet ingredients, like non-dairy milk, vanilla extract, coconut oil, and agave or maple syrup.
“Everyone who’s sampled our stuff has been really happy,” says Lam. “We’ve really tried to make it healthy and accommodating to everybody and anybody.”
Coconut Whisk mixes are currently available at Hy-Vee locations in Lakeville and Mankato, as well as online. (Nationwide shipping will be available starting September 19.) The mixes will be stocked at local vegan purveyors Herbivorous Butcher and Eureka Compass Vegan Foods later this fall, and efforts are underway to get into the baking aisles of Twin Cities co-ops.
Eventually, Lam would like to find a co-packer that aligns with Coconut Whisk’s values in order to take production tasks off her and Olson’s hands so that they can focus on community-facing work. “We want to build Coconut Whisk into something sustainable and impactful,” she explains.
To that end, five percent of profits are donated to organizations that help animals and children in need. Current beneficiaries include Farmaste Animal Sanctuary, the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society (BENCHS), and Last Hope K9 Rescue. “It helps me to stay motivated,” says Lam of the donations. “Having these partnerships makes it all worthwhile.”
In only nine months, Lam and Olson have transformed Coconut Whisk from a eureka moment in the shower to a product on grocery store shelves. “If you have an idea that feels right, take the jump, say yes, start today and trust yourself. That’s how dreams manifest,” Lam says. “Do it one step at a time, and you can grow something you never thought was possible.”