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Following a rollercoaster of a couple of years, Miyoko Schinner speaks to Green Queen about leaving Miyoko’s Creamery, news about the company’s potential sale, and her future plans.
It’s been a few months since Miyoko Schinner closed the chapter on the vegan dairy company she founded for good. There were disputes, lawsuits and some bitter words between her and Miyoko’s Creamery – but it’s all in the past now, and Schinner is moving on.
In an interview with Green Queen, the vegan dairy queen talks about her departure from Miyoko’s Creamery, what she’s been up to, and her upcoming plans (which include a seventh cookbook and featuring in a Netflix documentary). Whisper it, but there’s a potential restaurant tease too.
How Miyoko Schinner became a vegan cheese leader
Schinner has always been known as a plant-based pioneer, and for good reason. Having turned vegetarian when she was just 12 (in the late 60s, the “glory days of the hippie movement”), she learned how to cook for herself since her mother didn’t support the shift. After a decade or so, realising she was lactose intolerant, she went vegan.
This sparked an entrepreneurial instinct that turned Schinner into who the force she is today. She began selling okara pound cakes from her backpack – a business called Madam Miyoko – before her yearning for cheese led her to start Now and Zen, an all-vegan eatery in San Francisco in 1988. The restaurant, which became popular for its plant-based turkey, was sold in 1997, evolving into a namesake natural foods company.
When the business shut in 2003 – amid family responsibilities and personnel issues – she ascribed it to a lack of investor interest in vegan food. But that didn’t stop Schinner the innovator, who already had three cookbooks to her name by then.
Her everlasting love for cheese culminated in her own company in 2014, Miyoko’s Creamery (then called Miyoko’s Kitchen). What began as a fledgling plant-based artisanal cheese business turned into an industry giant producing butters and spreads as well. Schinner was hailed as the queen of vegan cheese, with her cashew-based innovations reaching over 20,000 retail spots and another cookbook acclaimed as a game-changer for the industry.
The company gained B Corp status in 2019, and won a landmark legal labelling battle against the State of California two years later, which allowed it to use the term ‘butter’ on its packaging, with the judge noting “the State’s showing of broad marketplace confusion around plant-based dairy alternatives is empirically underwhelming”.
Legal disputes and exiting Miyoko’s Creamery
By June 2022, Miyoko’s Kitchen was worth $260M, according to one estimate. But this was also when things began unravelling. Schinner was ousted as CEO that month, being sued by the company she founded earlier this year for an alleged breach of contract, a violation of trade secrets, and stealing company IP.
Schinner countersued, saying she was “blindsided” and alleging that sexism led to her dismissal. She claimed that recently hired male executives discriminated against women in the company, and that multiple HR complaints about the same are what led to her being forced out. Schinner accused COO René Weber of “openly denigrating women, their expertise and their contributions at Miyoko’s”, adding that after raising an HR complaint about an operational consultant hired at an investor’s request, the company “swiftly retaliated against [Schinner] by demoting her and then terminating her”.
The board, however, claimed Schinner’s exit came as she lacked the necessary skills to take Miyoko’s Creamery to the next level as its CEO. However, two months later in May, there was a resolution between the company and its founder, with both withdrawing legal claims and settling their disputes.
Since then, Miyoko’s Creamery has revamped its website and branding and hired former Beyond Meat CMO Stuart Kronauger as its CEO. In September, the brand launched its first product since the fallout, a range of cheese spreads. But now, the company is closing its Petaluma factory in Sonoma County, with 30-40 jobs being affected as it moves to a co-manufacturing setup.
And according to Bloomberg, the company is now raising funds and preparing for a potential sale after sales fell by 24% on the back of sustained deficits for years.
Schinner, who remains a minor shareholder in the company, spoke to Green Queen about this news and what she’s up to now.
Green Queen: Are you still involved in the company or with the board?
Miyoko Schinner: I’m not involved anymore, am no longer on the board, and am only a minor shareholder, so I know nothing other than what I read in the news. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Stuart Kronauge, however. She sounds like the right person to lead the company. In a different life, I might even enjoy working with her.
GQ: How do you feel overall about having exited Miyoko’s Creamery?
MS: I have had a good year and a half to reflect on my life, the economics of the food industry, the role of innovation in defining the future of food and what we need to watch out for in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and the role of activism in business. I have lots of thoughts around all of that, and am beginning to share some of them, and will be doing more.
GQ: What are you working on these days?
MS: I’ve been doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I am under contract with Ten Speed Press/Penguin-Random House on a new book, The Vegan Creamery, which is slated for publication in 2025 [her third book with the publisher, after 2015’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry and 2021’s The Vegan Meat Cookbook].
I’ll be sharing new ideas for many plant dairy foods, including new methods for making cheese and butter (no, the experimentation hasn’t stopped, and I’m at the top of my game again). I’m also looking forward to seeing a new four-part Netflix series about food that I am in (it airs in January, I think).
I started a fledgling, scrappy YouTube channel, The Vegan Good Life with Miyoko. And I’m also beginning to work on an autobiography/memoir. I’ve been speaking in various venues around the world, and am open to more speaking engagements, so reach out to me!
GQ: Where do you see yourself going as you look ahead to the next decade?
MS: I am entering a new chapter of life where I am focused on inspirational activism that will help build community so that people can be change makers together. I spend a lot of time helping to strategise the direction and growth of the sanctuary, Rancho Compasión [which she opened in 2015], as it enters a new phase focused on education – we have about 50 kids visiting each week, and we plan to expand our after-school and other programmes for humane education and food systems.
GQ: Would you ever start another company?
MS: I’m unsure if I will start another company. If I do, it will likely be more experiential, based on activism, less on selling things (although I keep playing with the notion of a restaurant). It’s time to bring power to the people. I guess I’m becoming a revolutionary.
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