Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Clare McLeod, Founder of Ona Yogurt, located in Portland, OR, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ona is a dairy-free yogurt company based in Portland, OR. We make a Greek-style vegan yogurt that is high in protein, thick & creamy, low in added sugar, and tastes delicious. Our customers typically tend to be dairy-free, lactose intolerant, avoiding dairy, or vegan -- but we welcome all customers to try and enjoy Ona.
Tell us about yourself
I started making dairy-free yogurt back in 2020 during COVID. I was vegetarian and grew quite addicted to dairy Greek yogurt. I could eat it for breakfast, a snack, or dessert. I loved the versatility, texture, and protein content in my dairy Greek yogurt. However, I knew that Greek yogurt, especially, is one of the worst offenders in the dairy industry when it comes to waste and environmental degradation. Most of the milk used to make Greek yogurt ends up being discarded since the product is strained. When that whey is sent down the drain or to a water treatment facility, we're spending time, money, and resources on treating a by-product. Learning more about this industry and the dairy industry, in general, made me realize I should try to replace my dairy Greek yogurt with something dairy-free. However, I couldn't find a single dairy-free Greek-style yogurt brand that I actually liked. They either were full of sugar, had no protein, tasted like feet, or were just plain gross. I'm motivated to continue to do what I do with Ona because I believe companies, not consumers, are really the ones who have the power to stop climate change. Ona is a way for more consumers to enjoy a plant-based diet and to support a company that does its part to reduce waste.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Getting into farmers' markets! I've been working on the recipe and process for 2+ years (2020-2021). When I decided to launch the business at the end of 2022, one of my greatest fears was that I simply wouldn't have anywhere to sell my product. I wanted to sell my product in person, so I could sample and get feedback directly from folks. I also didn't want to sell online, so farmers' markets would be the best path. I was so so so pleased when the acceptances from local farmers' markets across Portland, OR, came trickling in. I'll be at anywhere from 4-5 markets per week in the summer of 2023, and I cannot wait.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
So many priorities! As a solo founder, I have many friends, mentors, and family members who support me. However, it is only me at this point. That means I'm doing everything from making yogurt, packaging yogurt, recipe-testing, marketing, accounting, etc. This leads to full days, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the variety of my days. I also look forward to one day being big enough that I can hire a team of superstars to support the growth of the business. Until then, I have to figure out how to manage my time despite the many priorities!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Focus on a mission, product, industry, or space you are passionate about. Your idea(s) may and can change, but if you start by focusing on something you genuinely enjoy... all the work will be fun. I love making yogurt. I love talking about yogurt. I love sharing yogurt. Every step of the way, I find joy. I wouldn't be able to stay motivated if I wasn't finding joy, so I'd recommend finding that thing that you really would devote the rest of your life to if you could. For me, that's building a dairy-free yogurt empire.
- Don't be too hard on yourself. Someone once gave me advice: "When you start feeling overwhelmed or behind on your to-do list, think about all those tasks (big and small) that you've already completed. You're always further along than you give yourself credit for."
- Share your ideas, company, product, worries, and troubles with others. It's easy as an entrepreneur to feel isolated. It's also easy to feel like you don't want to be talking about your business all the time. I've found people who are truly in your corner DO want to hear about the business, DO want to give you advice, and DO want to help you through the hard days. Make sure you have a network of people who genuinely care about you, your company, and, most importantly -- the impact that you and your company can have on the world.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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