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On the Brink

We’re almost ready to ship.

Beyond the shelves of bulk ingredients lies the mysterious clean room.

All the ingredients are in. That includes the Costco vitamins, which we will have to use until we can find a manufacturer willing to sell us a custom blend. Sadly, it turns out these vitamins contain trace amounts of gelatin, which means they are not animal-free, and therefore not vegan or even vegetarian. :/ For lack of a better option we will go ahead with these pills until we can get our own blend, but for any disappointed vegans who would like a refund in the meantime, we will do our best to oblige.

On a related note, I just found out that the Vitamin K2 powder that we bought to supplement the Costco vitamins contains sodium caseinate, which is derived from milk, and could cause problems for people who are severely allergic to dairy proteins. Because of our commitment to a completely hypoallergenic product and facility, we won’t be able to use this Vitamin K2 after all.

That’s unfortunate, because this was from the only Vitamin K2 supplier that would give us the time of day.

So it looks like we’ll have to find some hypoallergenic Vitamin K2 capsules on Amazon and grind those up along with the Costco vitamins. Thank goodness for two-day Prime shipping. :p

Ingredients labeled and ready to go, complete with lot numbers.

All the equipment is set up. An air conditioner and a small dehumidifier together keep the clean room below 50% humidity at all times, in order to minimize risk of spoilage for any of the ingredients that now line the shelves in airtight food-grade bins. We’ve got our chef coats and aprons, our gloves, masks, and safety glasses, and our expensive digital scales. We’ve got our cleaning routine down, with microfiber towels, a HEPA vacuum cleaner, and an alcohol-based sanitizer to obviate the need for water in the clean room. All the tools and containers are taken to the three-compartment sink, washed with soap and water, sanitized with chlorine bleach as per the industry standard, and left to air-dry overnight on the stainless steel wire shelving.

The sink! Three compartments and all.

And we did a test batch with the mixer this week. Unfortunately, we discovered that it can only accommodate about 30 lbs of product before it starts to have issues mixing consistently. Yes, that’s only one month’s worth of Schmoylent, or two months of Schmilk, at a time. That’s not very efficient. On the bright side, that means we could easily introduce new flavor variations on an experimental basis, because of our small batch size. ;)

The recipes are almost ready. We’ve succeeded in achieving a smooth texture and stable suspension for all five variations, which I’m really happy about. There is almost zero perceptible grit even in Schmoylent, and Schmilk will now stay mixed all day without separating into layers.

At this point, we’re just finalizing the flavors for all of the recipes. We’ve got our vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate dialed in for Schmoylent already, and we’ll be testing flavors for the remaining variations over the next week.

Richard mixing the latest Schmoylent flavor test.

I’m proud to say that we’re using only entirely natural, authentic flavor ingredients for our recipes, sourced from Starwest Botanicals. That means vanilla extract from actual vanilla beans, ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka for the lowest possible coumarin content of any cinnamon variety, and Dutch-processed cocoa for a richer chocolate taste. And they’re all organic.

If all goes well, we hope to publish the final recipes and nutrition facts later this week, and start shipping next week. At that point, it will probably take a few more weeks to ship out all the pre-orders from the last three months. But once that’s out of the way, we can finally achieve a turnaround time of only a few days for each new order.

We’re so close! I’m looking forward to getting this wheel turning.

Let’s make it happen.

Yep. Pretty epic.
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Chipping Away at It

It’s the end of July.

We haven’t started shipping yet.

Instead, we’ve been busy doing this:

That’s me. Before the blisters.

And this:

Richard rocking the paint roller.

And a little more of this:

Who knew chipping paint was so exhausting?

And waiting for this:

Our first ingredient shipment, mostly intact.

The rice protein arrived on Friday. Thank you, Axiom. The rest of the ingredients we need should be arriving within the next week or so.

That’s 200 kilos of Oryzatein 80, straight from the source at Axiom.

The factory is starting to come together. It’s looking more like a place where something productive might actually happen, and less like a forgotten corner of a big, empty warehouse.

The clean room is looking pretty clean. No more paint flaking off the floor.

Where the magic happens. Or, will happen. Soon.

The shelves are starting to fill up. We’ve washed – and sanitized (you’re welcome, health department) – all the containers we’ll be using to mix and store ingredients.

We’ve got some comfy chairs and a shiny steel table to work on. We’ve got plastic strips over the door to keep the dust in. We’ve got some fancy scales to weigh everything precisely. We still need some thermometers and humidity sensors and an AC unit to make sure things stay dry and cool.

Pull up a chair. Don’t forget your hairnet.

And we still need to find a supplier that can get us a custom multivitamin blend ASAP. We’ve got several inquiries out but we’re still waiting to hear back from them. If nothing turns up in the next week or so we’ll probably end up buying a case of vitamins and a coffee grinder from the nearest Costco. :p Just like the good old days.

I wish I were kidding.

So, we’ll probably be shipping in a few weeks. Early August if we’re lucky, late August if not. Don’t ask about September.

If you can’t wait that long, let us know. We’ll work something out.

See you in August.

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Some Assembly Required

As it turns out, starting a new business can take a while, even when you’re not starting from scratch.

It’s been a month since we got this website online, and started setting up shop in our newly rented warehouse space in San Francisco.

What’s happened since then?

Richard, and the soon-to-be assembled mixing machine. Also, a mess.

Well, we got a new mixer. It’s basically a food-grade version of your typical cement mixer, and the only thing you can get for less than $1000 when it comes to commercial dry-mixing equipment.

It finally arrived late last week and we finished putting it together yesterday. Actually, mostly Richard put it together while I took pictures of it with my less-than-excellent phone camera. :p

Just tightening some bolts. Gotta have tight bolts.

Seems like it will do the job. If demand ramps up in a few months, we may have to invest in some really heavy-duty machinery, but no need to get ahead of ourselves. There’s plenty of other stuff to worry about, in the meantime.

For example, ingredients. You need stuff to put in the mixer, that you want to mix.

The completed mixer, in all its food-grade glory.

As it turns out, trying to buy supplement-grade nutritional ingredients from reputable suppliers as a small, fledgling business is a lot different than buying a little bag of potassium citrate for your DIY on Amazon with free, two-day shipping. This industry works at a different timescale. And at a different volume scale too.

If you’re not buying hundreds or thousands of kilograms of each ingredient per month, you’re tiny. And no one particularly cares about your business, nor will they go out of their way to attract new customers.

If you do manage to get a hold of them, “six weeks” is generally the kind of timeline you can expect to hear for any request. And that’s not counting the weeks it takes for them to bother to reply to you in the first place.

I’m not bitter. Just impatient on behalf of you all, my beloved and loyal customers. ;)

Ah, man. Well, we’re working on it.

Just imagine all the Schmoylent you could fit in there.

Also, turns out that the California Department of Public Health has a lot of ideas about how one should go about doing things in this industry, and ironically they are even less interested in responding to inquiries than the big ingredient suppliers. If they are as apathetic in their enforcement of the rules as they are in the communication and clarification of said rules, then perhaps this would not be such a problem. But I’m not going to bet my business on that.

And it’s great to follow the rules. And the guidelines. And the recommended practices. It just takes a frustratingly long time, and a lot of detective work, to attempt to do so.

So with any luck, we’ll be up and running – for real – sometime in July.

On the bright side, this means I can finally take some much-needed time off without slowing anything down! I’ll be flying to Seattle next week to visit my family, for the first time in a while. Richard will be handling things while I’m out, though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stop myself from answering support emails for the whole week. I’ll do my best though. ;)

Hopefully I’ll return with a fresh perspective and a lot more energy for the journey to come. We’re just getting started, after all…