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Milksta Mommy Brew, a coffee alternative that aids in milk production, went from a passion project to a profit project
A St. John's businesswoman's coffee alternative that breastfeeding moms can drink to help them produce more milk is catching on quickly with customers.
Judging from Lian Delos Reyes' recent appearance on a Canadian reality show, venture capitalists are also on board with Milksta Mommy Brew. Delos Reyes, who is originally from the Philippines but started her business since moving to Newfoundland and Labrador two years ago, has just finished a successful pitch on CBC's "Dragon's Den.”
She landed a $120,000 investment in exchange for 20 per cent of the company, which produces coffee and tea alternatives containing moringa.
Delos Reyes came up with the business idea after giving birth to her second child four years ago in her husband's home country of Brazil. She had no trouble breastfeeding her first son, born in 2010.
"I told myself, I need to breastfeed, because my son needs to be healthy," she told The Telegram, seated in a conference room of the Memorial University innovation hub Genesis, a program she joined earlier this year. "Everybody knows that it's fact-based science that breastmilk has all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes that a baby needs for them to be healthy."
With her second son, Delos Reyes' milk was not coming easily compared to her first breastfeeding experience. She tried a prescription medication to boost production, but found the side effects tiresome. She stopped taking it and switched to using formula in addition to breastfeeding.
A year and half later, the family returned to the Phillipines, and Delos Reyes' mom immediately started feeding her lots of moringa.
"In the Philippines, we consider it like spinach," she said, noting it can commonly be found growing in backyards throughout the country. "We eat it every day. We put it in soups, salads, bread, even desserts, just because of the nutritional value it gives."
Additionally, it's used in a variety of cultures to help new mothers boost their milk supply for breastfeeding. This experience got Delos Reyes thinking about the potential to start a business based around moringa-infused beverages. She started experimenting with powdered moringa.
"I bought different ingredients, just measure it at home and try different variations of it, until I had a taste and said ... 'This tastes good. I could definitely drink this every day.'"
A job for her husband in the oil and gas sector brought Delos Reyes' family to Canada. Delos Reyes got Milksta Mommy Brew up and running early in 2019, reaching out to suppliers and working with some personal savings and money borrowed from her husband.
She had 1,000 bags of nursing coffee to start with and sold them online through Amazon in the United States and her own website. That inventory sold out in a month.
"I wasn't anticipating it would sell out," she said. "I was thinking, this 1,000 units, I intended to sell it for five to six months."
Quick to get the ball rolling on producing more units, Delos Reyes started hearing from wholesalers interested in selling her products.
"I think the reason why it sold out was because I was able to hit a lucky market," she said. "In the U.S., there was no lactation coffee. Most mothers, at least in the U.S., that I've talked to, they told me, 'My doctor is telling me to drink one coffee a day only,' because of the caffeine they can dehydrate and that can affect their milk supply. With my coffee, they say, 'I've been drinking it three times a day.'"
Word of mouth helped other mothers learn about Milksta Mommy Brew, whose products are organic and vegan. The company's teas are also dairy-free. She has six products, all of which can be mixed with hot water.
By late August of 2020, when Delos Reyes taped her television appearance, Milksta Mommy Brew had achieved sales of $600,000 in a year-and-a-half. She submitted a video audition and was eventually selected to appear in the show's 15th season.
Her goal heading into meeting the potential investors was to keep them at ease and have fun, while also representing her business to the best of her ability. She has television work experience in the Phillipines, so she knew it would be important to project a good image on camera.
"Coming from TV myself, I know exactly how you are able to make it TV-friendly," she said. "That's why I made it funny. I made it entertaining because I don't want to bore them, and I don't want to bore the viewers."
Her 45-minute appearance was edited down to about seven, but judging from those few minutes that made it to air, Delos Reyes made a great impression. She ultimately received three offers. Choosing between identical ones from Arlene Dickinson and Manjit Minhas, Delos Reyes went with the latter's offer. Minhas, who has experience as a breastfeeding mom, at one point in the episode said to her, "You need to be a household name."
"I wasn't really expecting to get those offers," Delos Reyes said. "I was very happy."
Following her appearance on Dragon's Den, she received a lot of encouraging messages, including from retailers and investors across Canada curious about her products. To grow the business further, she plans to produce non-alcoholic wine and beer with moringa for breastfeeding moms. She is working with a food science lab in Nova Scotia to realize that vision.
Delos Reyes was accepted into Genesis in June and is grateful to be a part of the program and to learn more about what it takes to have a successful business.
"Last year, it was a passion project. Now, it's a profit project," said Delos Reyes, who is welcoming her first employee this Monday.
"It's kind of scary, but I'm so excited," she said.
While she is passionate about her product, Delos Reyes wants to emphasize the fact she in no way wants pass judgement on women who do not breastfeed.
"My brand is not about shaming other mothers who didn't breastfeed," she said. "My brand is to support mothers who want to breastfeed, because I believe in the power of breastfeeding."
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John's.