A fluorescent-lit commercial kitchen near a busy Santa Monica intersection is not a location one assumes would be conducive to relaxation. A yoga studio, beach, or hiking trail might seem more appealing, but several times a week, Almond Milk LA founders Yael Green and Nicola Behrman spend focused, meditative hours squeezing every bottle of milk by hand in hopes of sharing this transformative process with their customers.
It started when Yael sought respite from studying for a demanding PhD in physical therapy and retreated to the kitchen. “I remember the moment she was making it,” Nicola says. “Yael had been studying for a really long time, and while experiencing this meditative process, said ‘I think I’d like to make and deliver almond milk.’ It came from nowhere, but I knew it was the best idea.”
Yael didn’t hesitate. “The best ideas that manifest themselves don’t come from business plans. It channels through you. We made almond milk at home, and it was just going to be a side project.” Soon, they marched into Bed Bath and Beyond to buy blenders, and in one whirlwind year have built a thriving local community that’s rallied behind them.
Contrary to many first-time entrepreneurs, Yael and Nicola don’t measure success in profits, but in their commitment to making a product filled with the highest quality ingredients. Almond Milk LA offers three flavors—Pure, Honey, and Cacao—and seasonal specialties like turmeric also make appearances throughout the year.
Pure’s ingredient list is astonishingly short: raw organic almonds, filtered alkaline mineral water, and a pinch of pink himalayan sea salt. But it’s the ingredients you don’t see that truly encapsulate what Almond Milk LA stands for, because every bottle contains an experience that the founders believe can be transformative. “We recognize when we put stuff inside that’s good for us, a wave of relief comes when we’re finally treating our bodies with respect and kindness. That’s the feeling we’re after,” Nicola says. “You can’t lie to your senses.”
This belief is what drives Almond Milk LA every morning when the repetition of squeezing, bottling, and labeling is undertaken, a rhythm they hope will affect you from the inside out. “When people know what feels good in their bodies, it makes a difference,” Yael says, “and it makes space for this kind of awareness to take hold.”
After the holiday rush, I met Yael and Nicola in their commercial kitchen where, next to rows of empty mason jars, we discussed Almond MIlk LA’s first year, their proudest moments, and why they hope to be put out of business one day.
What was your biggest fear going in?
Yael Green (YG): There wasn’t any fear. That was the best part. There was an overarching dream put into us, but we took one step at a time. If you do it the other way, you’ve already decided your journey. We’ve just let it unfold. If nothing happens in six months, that’s the gift we’ve received from it, and we don’t worry about what Almond Milk LA will be in five years.
Nicola Behrman (NB): There was no expectation of this being what it is right now. Yael just wanted to make almond milk and deliver it to people, so it was such a pure intention with no sense of size or scale.
We know intellectually that when you push hard for things, you’re not using the right energy to generate what you desire. When you let things happen naturally, they come into your life. There was still exhaustion and anxiety, but there wasn’t an initial fear that held us back. Instead, we allowed space for magic to happen.
With almond milk being just three ingredients, it seems like your brand is bigger than the milk itself. Why do you think your community has embraced the product with such enthusiasm?
NB: The recipe is on the internet, and there’s nothing territorial about it. When you’re in the rhythm of creating something and creating something well, there are so many pieces that come into it. Even though other people might be using the same recipe, it’s not the same thing.
Our taste buds, our senses can tell if something is authentic or not. There’s no way of getting around it. Either you put the time in, or you don’t, but whoever’s experiencing the finished product will be able to tell. We could get different almonds that are still organic, but we know from tasting them they’re not as good. Even though they’re cheaper and would help our bottom line, we don’t do it. For us, success is creating the highest quality product, and the person drinking it knows it.
How does almond milk fit into your bigger philosophy of health and wellness?
NB: We’re not interested in convincing anyone of anything. So many of our customers are already open to the concept of health and know why it’s important, so we don’t have to act like salesmen convincing people why almond milk is good for them. The pureness of the product speaks for itself.
YG: I’ve worked in care facilities where patients couldn’t leave because they were medically unstable due to the the food they were being served. I’ve had MS patients drinking Diet Coke in facilities we trust because we don’t trust ourselves. Once you tap into your own power to control your health, you feel differently, and the world can change because you feel differently in your life.
It’s no secret that almond milk is simple. If everyone made it at home and we didn’t have to do it anymore, that would be the best thing that could happen.
“The pureness of the product speaks for itself.”
That sounds like a nonprofit model. Organizations often say “My dream is to not be working on this issue, because then the problem would be solved.”
YG: We don’t want to mass produce it. When everyone’s making it, and we’re at that level of health, there’d be something else for me to do.
NB: You have to be very spiritually aligned to say that.
Giving back is part of your business model. For a small company, that says a lot about your values.
NB: We give 5% of our profits to local organizations. The first month we gave, it was a very small amount, but the organization’s level of gratitude was so inspiring, and by posting on social media we achieved more donations. We know enough about how the universe works that we’ll get it back.
YG: It’s an energetic equivalent. You get what you give.
When you envision your customers, what do you want them to feel when they open a bottle of almond milk for the first time?
NB: Most food that gets put in people’s bodies these days is not really nourishing and sustaining, so when you taste our almond milk, I want a joyous sigh of relief. It blows my mind how much time we’ve spent around almonds in the last year. There was no realm in which three years ago I thought we would live and breathe almonds, but I’m not bored of the discussion because the deeper message being imparted feels really important.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in starting your business this year?
YG: Going inside and listening to yourself is the answer every time. Being in the moment, truly, for us, is what we strive for. It’s easy to get pulled into all the details of running a business, but we have to remember to stop and go back inside.
NB: The value of community. We’ve had a few moments in the year when we were invited to events or featured on major websites, and those are things you typically think of when defining success as a small business. Those events are exciting, but the best thing is we have local people who have been getting weekly deliveries since day one, and we have an Instagram community that’s nourishing. Posting photos is the highlight of my day!
If you would have asked me what was needed for a successful business before we went into it, I might have said massive amounts of exposure, but now, nothing beats word of mouth and real community. It’s been our success every time.
What are you most proud about?
YG: From the first day we were out selling, Almond Milk LA has found committed customers. They come every week and bring bottles back to us and interact with us. The bottom line is, we’re here to have human connections.
NB: We live in a time when kids’ bodies are being assaulted on every level. Knowing that we’re creating a product that children enjoy and get excited to taste, and knowing that it’s doing nourishing things for their bodies, even without having children, is one of the greatest joys. That feels like a really good contribution to me.