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Alumna turns Entrepreneurship Class Project into Sustainable Business

Melissa Finestone '17, can be found every weekend selling her organic, cold-pressed, fresh almond milk at farmer’s markets in San Diego. What started out as an assignment in a marketing class turned out to be a full-time business and passion project for this 2017 alum.

Melissa Finestone

Where it all started

A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Melissa Finestone caught the traveling bug and immersed herself in different cultures before eventually falling for sunny, Southern California. After meeting her husband, she relocated from Los Angeles to San Diego where she enrolled in the College of Business Administration's Global Business Management - Entrepreneurship Track. While wrapping up her senior year, she was asked to create a product with corresponding marketing plan for a fictitious business in Professor Gayle Belch’s Marketing class. A childhood love of chocolate milk, and the recent desire for more plant-based options, led her to the idea of producing a chocolate almond milk. The sample tastings she served at the class presentation received high praise, and her classmates and professor strongly encouraged she launch the product. She started with a small booth selling vegan baked goods and added the milk as a side offering. She soon realized there was a high demand for plant-based beverages due to the growing market segment of vegans, lactose-intolerant, health conscious, and environmentally-conscious shoppers. With very few competitors producing a fresh plant-based milk, she decided to eliminate the baked goods and focus solely on almond milk. Flash forward to 2020 and The Mulk Co. is selling more than 300 gallons per month in 10 different flavors.

Refusing to sacrifice quality

Refusing to sacrifice the fresh quality by pasteurizing her almond milk, Melissa sells it fresh, direct-to-consumer at the Poway, Little Italy, and Hillcrest farmer’s markets. Customers can pre-order the product online and pick it up in sustainable and refillable glass growlers at The Mulk Co. booth. Each bottle is filled with milk made from almonds grown and sourced directly from a local family-owned farm. Choices range from a pure almond milk to classics like chocolate and strawberry, as well as holiday favorites such as Pumpkin Pie, Choc-Mint and The Almond Nog. All are sold with the promise of using non-processed, minimal ingredients with a focus on being zero waste—the leftover almond pulp is used as chicken feed by a local farm in Ramona. “One of my favorite classes was the sustainability course taught by Dr. Cata Ratiu. Learning about how animal farming emissions impact our environment really inspired me to develop a more sustainable, non-dairy option.”

Mulk Co growlers

CSUSM Experience  and Lessons Learned

Melissa still uses quite a bit of what she learned at CSUSM. "My best experience at CSUSM was interacting with my professors. I still use many of concepts I learned such as cultivating strong relationships with suppliers and how to wear all the hats in your own business.” She even stays in touch with her professorial mentor from senior year, Dick Lansing, who provides a sounding board for strategic decisions.  

Melissa also learned a lot from simply starting the business. “Sometimes entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, but if you have a passion project, just go for it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!” Melissa is currently working on entering the retail grocery store space and never hesitates to reach out to food scientists or distribution specialists with questions. “My mission is to create more affordable healthy food for consumers. Hopefully technology and supply chain disruption will make it less expensive in the future.” 

For now, she is happy to run her small business and chase her big dreams. Order your own MULK growler to try samples of all 10 flavors—we're especially excited to try the new, sure to be summer classic, coconut cold brew!

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