We often remember the tastes and products that we discovered in our childhoods. Christina Dorr Drake learned about the power of oat milk from her grandmother, Willa, and founded Willa’s, producing oat milk as it should be. We talked with Christina about her company, story, and future plans.
The biggest challenge we faced was that suppliers immediately assumed that we intended to make oat milk the same way the other brands were doing it – by using conventional oats, stripping them of most of the oat protein and fiber, and then processing them heavily to make them sweeter and more sugary. This wasn’t how we wanted to make our oat milk at all.
First, we had to find organic whole grain oats. Conventional oats are heavily sprayed with pesticides and glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) which wasn’t something we wanted in our oat milk.
Additionally, we had to come up with our own proprietary approach to milling so that we could use the entire whole grain oat, and include all the protein and fiber in our oat milk while still creating a deliciously creamy consistency. Thankfully, Elena, my sister, had a background in food and beverage manufacturing!
We also didn't want to use phosphate ingredients like the other brands of plant milk on the market. Americans get 30-50% more phosphate than they should and that can cause a litany of health problems. We wanted to use plant-based, clean ingredients.
Not all milk is created equally. From a health standpoint, compared to dairy milk, Willa's has the most prebiotic fiber for gut health, satiation, and immunity, as well as cholesterol-lowering beta-glucans, and de-stressing vitamin B and gramine.
From a sustainability standpoint, dairy production hits the environment with three times the greenhouse gas emissions as non-dairy milk.
Sustainability and health aside, the vast majority of people lose the ability to digest dairy properly as they reach adulthood. Many people on the planet are lactose intolerant and many people are choosing to follow a more plant-based diet. With Willa's, we use the entire oat to make sure that our oat milk is truly wholesome and plant-based and packs in all of the nutrients we associate with oats.
In January 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through chemo, radiation, and immunotherapies while launching Willa's. During that time, I became even more focused on a super low-sugar, clean, anti-inflammatory diet because that’s what made me feel the best, and that of course included Willa's Unsweetened Original.
I'm lactose intolerant and I really wanted to avoid anything that would be inflammatory for my system. Thankfully, I had the best possible response to cancer treatment and I’m fortunate to be able to now say I’m cancer-free.
We work very closely with our suppliers and manufacturers to ensure every carton is deliciously creamy, uses the entire whole oat grain, and is made using the most sustainable practices.
We’ve gone through the certification process to be Vegan.org, USDA Organic, and Non-GMO Project Certified.
We’ve learned so much from our fans who are at-home cooks as well as chefs who love using Willa's in dairy-free recipes. Oat milk can make baked goods super fluffy and airy. It also doesn't impart a strong flavor and, if anything, brings out a lovely, subtly nutty quality. It can add a wonderful creamy consistency to beverages, as well as sauces, and even dairy-free frosting.
Inspired by requests from our fans, we have a few new products that we can't wait to launch this summer.
Additionally, we’re collaborating with The Good Batch Bakery in Brooklyn and Seed + Mill on a delicious vegan, gluten-free, five-layer cake. Matchaful Cafe also uses Willa's for its amazing, clean-label vegan soft serve at its NYC locations.