A New Generation of Baby Food
The co-founders of Yumi bring a different approach to nutrition for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life
by Abby Moore
For ten years, Evelyn Rusli reported on business and technology startups at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Now, as the co-founder of her own business, Rusli is adjusting to being on the other side of the interview.
“When I was 18 years old, I thought I would live in a newsroom and die in a newsroom,” Rusli says, “but the things you want at 18 often change by the time you’re 27.”
Rusli was content with her job in California until a different issue entered focus. Rusli’s close friend Angela Sutherland became pregnant with her first child, and the two began discussing nutritional health during and post-pregnancy.
Sutherland learned about a period of time called the first 1,000 days, which extends from conception to two years old. According to Sutherland, it is considered the most important period in the life of a human regarding nutritional development.
“I considered myself pretty educated and informed, but I had never heard of the first 1,000 days,” Rusli says. “As a woman in my early thirties, thinking about family planning, I felt it was really important to understand.”
It was on a trip to Arizona when the two realized how consumed they were with the concept. “It came up in nearly every conversation,” Rusli says. “We were obsessed.”
Their interest in the first 1,000 days also made them recognize a product gap in the baby food market. According to Rusli, everything in the grocery store is built to be shelf-stable, is highly processed and full of fructose.
“Nothing provided the range of nutrients that babies need during this period,” she says, “and more than that, we wanted other parents to understand the significance of those thousand days.”
Sutherland and Rusli quit their jobs immediately after returning from Arizona. They gave themselves time to develop a product, build their brand and then took the leap into entrepreneurship together.
After gathering feedback from local Los Angeles families, providing taste tests at farmer’s markets and raising a seed round of funding, Yumi was officially launched in the summer of 2017.
Yumi (pronounced you-me) is often “adorably mispronounced as ‘yummy,’” according to Rusli. Derived from two Japanese words, “Yu” can be translated to “cause or reason,” while “Mi” is a common prefix or suffix meaning “beautiful.”
“The inspiration from Angela’s first daughter, and the hope for future generations,” Rusli explains, “they were both part of this ‘beautiful reason why’ we started the company.”
Since offering fresh, nutritionally-dense food was the mission, a sustainable grocery shelf-life was not feasible for Yumi products. Instead, the organic meals are delivered directly to consumers’ doorsteps on a weekly basis.
Rusli admits that she grew up on processed foods and turned out fine, but she also acknowledges that her generation expects more than just “fine.”
“This generation is so fundamentally different than past generations,” she says, “we know the science and we see beyond the labels. If we want fresh and organic for ourselves, why would we not also want it for our kids?”
Targeting millennial parents through a curated and playful Instagram as well as thoughtful and authentic city-to-city marketing has been successful for Yumi. The company expanded from California into New York, and is now launching in Texas in just two years.
“It’s no surprise that Whole Foods came from Austin and that I’ve had some of the best breakfast tacos of my life here,” Rusli says. “Texans know good food and they’re ambitious about it.”
“It just made sense to end up here,” Rusli adds. Whether referring to the company’s move to Texas or alluding to her career change, by the end of our conversation, Rusli seemed awfully comfortable on the other side of the interview.