The California company formerly known as Hakuna Brands (they changed their name to Must Love in February) is representative of newer processors and startups entering the frozen foods arena, with young ownership and an environmental plan and passion for sustainability from the start.
The business launched in 2017 and was co-founded by friends Hannah Hong and Mollie Cha—who met in 2005—and their signature products are clean-label, plant-based, dairy-free, non-GMO frozen desserts that they call “nice creams”, with a base of either bananas or oat milk.
“Sustainability has been top of mind for us since we ideated our nice cream product in 2017. We knew we would use a lot of bananas, and we figured we should use ones that might otherwise go to waste, so 100% of Must Love’s bananas are ‘ugly’ fruit,” says Hong. “Sustainability is also built into the DNA of our brand because our products are 100% plant-based, which is inherently better for the environment than ones made with animal products and byproducts. We believe it’s paramount for Must Love to be aligned with consistent sustainable initiatives so that our brand is not only ‘better for you’ nutritionally but also better for the environment.”
In addition to using only ugly bananas in Must Love desserts, which helps fight food waste, the company chose oat milk as the main base of its Must Love Oats line, “in part because oat milk requires less water to produce than cow, almond or soy-based milks, ultimately reducing the environmental impact of our brand,” Hong explains.
Distribution is another area where Must Love tries to combat its carbon footprint. The company works with co-packers around the country, and recently expanded the brand’s availability on the East Coast using a supplier’s warehouse there to cut down distribution mileage for those markets.
“As our distributed network of co-packers and suppliers has grown, we’ve been able to get savings on freight and sometimes even costs. We have more options and can better work with existing suppliers as they have locations across the country,” says Hong. “We want to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible, which is in part why it took so long for us to become a national brand. Thankfully, consumers are growing increasingly aware of their environmental footprint, which is why the non-dairy, vegan and meat substitute markets have maintained their upward trajectory. Nonetheless, being selective with our partners can cause a bit of a production and processing lag because it takes time to find vendors whose environmental goals align with our brand, yet we chose to grow slowly and sustainably.”
Outside of processing and distribution, the company has cut its carbon footprint further by eliminating its travel budget for all of 2020 and likely for 2021 too. “We realized we don’t necessarily have to fly so much. Air travel is one of the biggest pollutants in terms of transportation, so instead of flying in for production runs,” Hong explains, “we worked on improving communication before and during production, and found for the most part that traveling was perhaps unnecessary to begin with. I think a lot of businesses are going to transition to permanent remote work, and there are of course financial savings with that.”