Umaluma is a plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free gelato that is hard to believe not made with dairy. It’s creamy, smooth, and bursting with flavor. We are proud that Umaluma chose to use MARPHYL Fleur de Sel Sea Salt in all their desserts.
Recently, we set down with Ian Bruce, founder of Umaluma, and Jennifer Kieselbach, Umaluma’s Production Manager, to talk about their path to success, struggles along the way, and plans for the future.
You can sum up Umaluma’s story into one short paragraph:
The magic of Umaluma started with the pure desire to create a super healthy, organic, non-dairy alternative to traditional Italian gelato — the yummy stuff that’s creamy, smooth and bursting with flavor.
But how did this whole idea of Umaluma start in your head?
Ian: Ice cream is a happy product. Everyone has a smile when they go to their favorite ice cream store. And I always wanted to create a business that brings people a feeling of joy.
One day, I asked myself, “Is there something new we can create in this already saturated market? Is there a good business opportunity to improve on what is essentially a household staple?” The answers were yes on both counts. What was missing on the market was a healthier alternative to dairy-based gelato and ice cream.
Ian, what is your background?
My background is in software and business. I also have a degree in Marine Biology. It’s quite the range, I know! But no matter what job I had, I’ve always been very health conscious. I genuinely care about what I put in my body and share with those I love.
When I was looking for healthy alternatives to dairy-based gelato and ice cream, I realized that none of the options satisfied me. All of them were falling short of delivering a real Italian gelato experience: creamy, smooth, fresh, and natural. Therefore, that was the business opportunity I identified.
You say that Umaluma is a healthier alternative to conventional ice cream. Could you please explain more how it is healthier?
Plant-based food is generally known to be easier to digest while providing all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need. Conventional (not organic) meats and dairy foods are full of pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals that are associated with creating disease. So by focusing on an all-natural, mostly organic, plant-based gelato, we are avoiding all that “bad stuff.” Besides, there is a growing body of evidence that links dairy consumption to many digestive issues that can cause problems and disease.
Could you tell us more how Umaluma is better for the environment that any conventional ice cream?
By avoiding the whole dairy industry-related production cycle, we are better for and friendlier towards our shared environment. Cows in the dairy industry are raised in factory farms. Keeping them in an unnatural perpetual cycle of reproduction ruins the lives of these animals. It also requires a lot of energy footprint to feed and sustain them instead of having the cows graze on grassland, which is a renewable energy source. Clearing land for factory farming is also detrimental to the environment.
Also, dairy farming creates a lot of methane gas and waste products from the animals that end up in our water systems. For every gallon of milk or cream produced, 100X that amount is needed to create that gallon. Umaluma primarily uses coconut milk from sustainable, organic farmers. Our footprint is arguably much smaller than it would have been if we were a conventional dairy-based gelato company.
What does “Umaluma” mean?
Ian: It means nothing, really. The name has its fun-sounding rhythm, and we wanted a name that didn’t associate with any particular thing. It leaves it sounding unique and exciting, and people seem to love it!
Where do you source your ingredients?
Locally, when possible. But given the variety and uniqueness of many of our flavors, we have to source from all over the globe.
We always search for the best ingredients as we want to maintain a premium experience, whether it is using fantastic chocolate from one region in Ecuador or sourcing the best pistachio on the planet from Sicily.
Where do you find inspiration for new flavors?
Ian: We tend to combine flavors and ingredients that complement each other or create the right flavor contrasts that tantalize and please our palettes such as, for example, salty and sweet. Inspiration comes from our individual preferences and cooking experience.
Jennifer: I particularly like to mimic flavors that I loved in the past – that since becoming dairy-free myself, I can no longer have – and would imagine that others like me miss being able to enjoy. For example, our flavor “Key Lime Pie” has a tang that is reminiscent of a cheesecake.
Or our flavor “Spicy Turtle” is our take on the classic Turtles candy, but with our own spicy twist. It brings me joy to bring the classic, nostalgic flavors back into the lives of people who have chosen to eliminate, or can no longer tolerate, conventionally made products using dairy or gluten (did we mention that we are also entirely gluten-free?).
What is your most popular flavor?
Ian: Punk Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Truffle are the two most popular flavors to date.
Jennifer: Our Yuzu Lemon Pie is creating quite the buzz at its release this summer. The unique flavor of Yuzu Lemon is the star of this flavor. It will be around for a limited time, as it is difficult for us to get our hands on it consistently.
You use MARPHYL Fleur de Sel Sea Salt in all your flavors. Why did you choose MARPHYL?
Jennifer: We love to have close relationships with our suppliers wherever possible. Shortly after I started with Umaluma, I was approached by MARPHYL Marine Phytoplankton and given samples to try, and the rest is history. Our relationship is built on a love for good, quality products, and supporting our local businesses. MARPHYL Marine Phytoplankton cares deeply about what they do, and that is why we love them.
Natural and hand harvested Fleur de Sel Sea Salt
Try our MARPHYL® Fleur de Sel Sea Salt. All our sea salts are fleur de sel, hand harvested premium 100% sea salt.
Sea salt is naturally present in the ocean and contains many essential nutrients and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, zinc and sodium among many others.
Available flavors: MARPHYL® Marine Phytoplankton | White | Organic Rosemary | Organic Lime & Cayenne | Organic Turmeric
What’s next for Umaluma? What new projects/flavors/endeavors should we be looking forward to?
Ian: Next is to continue to raise awareness of our brand and to find new wholesale markets. We are also considering franchising at some point.
Jennifer: We just started our relationship with Cactus Club running a dessert on their menu that features our popular “Drunken Cherry” flavor. And if things go well we hope to expand into more of their locations. Currently, it is only available at the Metrotown location, so go show us some love! This particular flavor features pecans that are roasted using MARPHYL’s Lemon Zest Fleur de Sel (a custom flavored sea salt made especially for Umaluma).
We are also available by the scoop at the Kits Pool Concession Stand, and the Jericho Beach Concession Stand in Vancouver, BC, and are hoping to grow into several more locations next summer. One of the flavors featured there is our Salted Caramel, which exclusively uses MARPHYL Fleur de Sel to get that perfect salty-sweet flavor.
Stay tuned for more conversations with our partners by following MARPHYL Marine Phytoplakton on Instagram and Facebook and by subscribing to our Newsletter.
Do you have a question for Ian or Jennifer? Or maybe you want to suggest a person or a topic for our next blog post? Leave a comment below!
Arantza and Benjamin, founders of MARPHYL Marine Phytoplankton
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