Yoso: Not Just Another 'Me-Too' Health Food Company
by Kiki Athanas
December 20, 2017
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Francis Lo, co-founder of Yoso, to get the latest and greatest on the next best thing since sliced bread - dairy-free yogurt.
Before Dairy-Free Was Cool...
"We grew up with having a very veggie-focused diet, lots of Gai lan (Chinese broccoli), Choy Sum, lettuce, mushrooms and also a lot of tofu (fried orsteamed) - although eating soy not as 'trendy' in these days." Francis explains.
Arriving from Hong Kong, Francis and his elder brother Erik soon realized that there's a lot of emphasis on meat here in North America. Meat is the star focus of each meal, which shouldn't be since a high cholesterol diet is not a healthy one for our body. Unfortunately, most people are used to it.
The brothers, who both studied at the University of Guelph, came across a competition called Project Soy about developing new product ideas using Ontario grown Non-GMO soybeans, and thought: Why don't we create something that is not meat and also non-dairy? The initial creation was a cream cheese made from tofu.
"And it tasted quite AWFUL." Francis declares passionately.
BUT - they didn't give up on it.
While their first samples didn't taste good - they still wanted to figure out a way to make them better. Luckily, Erik is a food scientist, so a helpful person to have around in this sort of thing.
Francis, on the other hand, took the role as lead communicator to get the all-important feedback - what people like vs. don't like about how things were tasting.
Thus, 'Yoso' is essentially a spin-off from how two 'passionate-to-do-something-meaningful and different' brothers coincidentally entered into a product competition...
What I love about Yoso is their committed, diligent and thoughtful approach to product development and growth. These are underlying ethical mandates which they've been able to maintain ever since their start back in 2002 - before dairy-free was the "it" dietary regime everyone on Instagram is now hashtagging.
"To us, it's never an afterthought - we never want to be a 'me-too' company."
See, Yoso didn't jump on the coconut bandwagon for the sake of the many fad diets which now blatantly proclaim this saturated fat deserves a staple place in your diet [*side-note: I don't mean to bash these diets, I think many of them share some fantastic insights and recommendations!].
In fact, the Yoso Unsweetened Coconut Yogurt has been around for 7 whole years!
During which time, they've played around with different recipes and blends in order to perfect not only taste and texture - but also be sure to preserve it in a way that's conducive to how people consume it (i.e. - some like to have it all in one day #guilty, whereas for others - it might sit in the fridge for over a week, but still needs to taste fresh!).
Since I'm a total health nut nerd, I wanted every last detail on this...
Apparently, most coconut yogurts are made from coconut milk and/or cream.
Not Yoso - they use the flesh.
It's a lot creamier and maintains its quality taste and texture throughout it's entire shelf-life (and dare I say even beyond).
"When you open the container, you should have that urge to eat it - that 'I-WANT-THAT' moment."
It took a lot of tweaking, and Francis admits that at the beginning, they even played around with using coconut milks and creams. Many iterations later, they landed on a concoction that provided that 'desperate urge to devour' - and it's all in the FLESH!
An interesting tid-bit on coconut flesh, while we're on the subject: coconut contains the "healthy" saturated fat, lauric acid, which - aside from human breast milk - is the only food that contains this particular nutrient.
[Read more here about why lauric acid is so great for you!].
Turns out, using coconut FLESH is at least 3 times more powerful in supplying our bodies with medium chain fatty acids and lauric acid versus coconut milk.
*Note that coconut flesh is sometimes referred to as coconut "mana" or "butter", in case any of you are interested - and it goes great on a smoothie bowl as another option instead of nut butter!
Coconut is personally one of my new favourite foods - yes, admittedly, I may have been attracted by the "trendiness" of it (thanks Bulletproof!). Regardless, I've now learned how to incorporate it into just about every meal. The oil is great for cooking in more savoury recipes as it has a high smoke point, the butter I use as a spread on toast or dollop on yogurt (yes, coconut butter on coconut yogurt is a thing, and you should try it), the milk and cream is perfect for baking with, and the chips (lightly dry-roasted coconut flesh) make a convenient on-the-go snack.
Getting back to the Yoso Unsweetened Coconut Yogurt - it's made from the pure coconut flesh, and there's both a probiotic (think: "good bacteria") as well as a prebiotic (think: fibre to get things moving!) added for a fully functional food product. They use a natural chicory root for the prebiotic, which provides a cleansing affect on the stomach and intestine - to essentially get the fibre out! A wonderful byproduct of this process is actually boosting the good bacteria in your gut. If you've read previous posts or follow me on social media - you'll know that I'm an avid advocate for the importance of optimal gut health! A happy gut is a happy life.
I was delighted to hear that ALL Yoso products include those 2 very important elements (pre + probiotics), which again reconfirms my faith in the legitimacy of their brand.
For Those of Us Who Swing Both Ways -> Which Way Would Francis Swing: Local or Organic?
The ingredients in Yoso products tend to be both as much as possible, but of course - it can be challenging to source local AND organic for EVERYTHING - nor should they (or you!). I asked Francis the big question: which is more important, from his perspective?
Francis suggests leaning more towards local.
His explanation was extremely insightful: "I think for most people, local is an easier concept for people to grasp especially when it comes to minimize carbon footprint and sustainability and to understand. It's something that everyone can relate to - at least to an extent."
What's Your Dietary Regime Then, Mr. Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan Company Boss Man?!
Clearly, both Francis and his brother Erik take health and wellness seriously, and have the education and experience to truly back it up - the proof is in the pudding (or in this case, yogurt). So I was dying to know...what kind of diet does he follow?
Yoso products are vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, etc. - does Francis follow any particular food restrictions or rules?
His response was un-sexy as ever, and I loved it.
"To me, moderation is key."
He jokes: "I have friends and colleagues here that follow new diets each and every month."
The same is not true for him though, and he claims that his good health suggests proof that he's doing something right. While moderation is really the most important thing to keep in mind, he does practice a few other general guidelines:
- Plant-centred diet for the most part.
- Meat in very small amounts - hardly ever (and never at dinner).
- Usually, his heaviest meal is lunch.
- Always lots of fibre and veggies.
- Keeping well hydrated throughout the day.
Francis and I align in our thinking on many subjects, and he reconfirmed that when he presented his approach to health:
"It starts with your mind".
You think a little differently, you move a little differently [we were discussing yoga], and you start to eat a little differently.
"At the end of the day, it's all about listening to your body."
I believe (and I think Francis would agree) that we could all be a bit more mindful and reconnect with a deeper sense of awareness for what our bodies are telling us. Forget diets, better "listening skills" could very-well be the transformational shift we need to improve our entire health and wellbeing for the better and for the longterm.
In the meantime, there's fabulous companies like Yoso making "mindfully edible" choices a whole lot easier, accessible, and delicious.