NEW YORK CITY — As a beauty industry veteran of over 17 years, Kimberle Lau’s transition into baking was not one she anticipated. Yet, she has been able to use her background in innovation, product development and marketing to create Bake Me Healthy. The woman- and Asian-owned brand is disrupting the baking mix category as the first plant-based, top nine allergen-free, upcycled baking company.
Though baking was initially a side hustle for Kimberle — she would make custom cupcakes, donuts, cakes and wedding cakes for local clients — the idea that sparked the creation of Bake Me Healthy began when she developed a lactose intolerance after having her children about 12 years ago.
“I had to change my diet to accommodate these new dietary restrictions,” Kimberle said. “So, I learned to bake without using dairy or eggs, really becoming more plant-based.”
A self-proclaimed health nut, the entrepreneur and mother of two was committed to ensuring her children were fueled by products made from wholesome ingredients that did not have artificial flavors or dyes, and less sugar. However, one more health restriction came into effect a few years ago.
“In 2020, I was diagnosed as being high risk for breast cancer,” Kimberle shared. “My oncologist advised me to eliminate soy from my diet, so yet again, I had to alter my diet to accommodate these new restrictions.”
With one more factor to consider on top of the clean-label, dairy- and egg-free baking she was doing, Kimberle began to conceptualize the idea for an inclusive baking mix late last year.
“Baking should be inclusive, and you should be able to enjoy a brownie without fear of what it would do to your body,” she said.
A new kind of R&D
She worked with Drexel Food Lab, a food product design and culinary innovation lab housed at Drexel University, to create the baking mixes that would become the flagship products of Bake Me Healthy: Dark Chocolate Fudgy Brownie, Oatmeal Pancake & Waffle, and Banana Bread & Muffin.
“I knew the program director for a few years, so I worked with them because I wanted to create something that I didn’t have experience in,” Kimberle said.
The mixes are free of the top nine allergens, vegan, soy- and sesame-free, and plant-based. Trying to meet all of these attributes in one product was a challenge, to the point where Kimberle nicknamed the project “Project Unicorn.”
She spent weekend after weekend for several months working with the Food Lab program director, manager and a team of students to develop the mixes. They conducted surveys and focus groups to gain consumer insights. After eight months of multiple rounds of testing and refinement, the brand selected its three launch mixes.
Sustainable inside and out
In addition to their health attributes, the mixes are also made with upcycled ingredients, supporting the sustainability pillar of Bake Me Healthy.
“In addition to focusing on food allergies, I wanted to make sure that it was sustainably focused because sustainability has been a core focus of mine pretty much my entire adulthood,” Kimberle said. “I work with different vendors and suppliers to source ingredients that are upcycled, meaning ingredients that would normally go to waste and end up in landfills, creating methane gas to greenhouse gas.”
These upcycled ingredients include coffee cherry flour, made from coffee cherry which coffee beans grow in; sunflower protein flour, which stems from the byproduct of sunflower oil production; and “ugly” bananas that would otherwise be discarded.
Yet working with these alternative ingredients can be challenging.
“It was a lot of back and forth in the kitchen testing and refining and optimizing,” she said.
Through trial and error, they all worked together to balance flavor profiles, chewiness, pH levels and more.
In addition to the upcycled ingredients, Kimberle noted the intention in using recyclable packaging made with 43.5% post-consumer resin and recycled materials.
“In choosing the packaging for our baking mixes, I selected this particular package because it’s made with recycled content,” she said. “There are compostable options on the market. But unfortunately, the shelf life with compostability is only six months so it wouldn’t last too long in a retail store because retailers require a shelf life of over a year.”
With eyes set on entering the retail space — Bake Me Healthy is currently available on the brand’s website and Amazon.
A taste of what’s to come
Overall, the market response to Bake Me Healthy’s products has been positive, with the inclusive nature of the brand standing out to consumers.
While Kimberle is currently creating these mixes in a commercial kitchen, she’s in talks with co-manufacturers as the next step is growing her operation. Yet, with a commitment to remaining top nine allergen-free, finding a facility that meets those standards and is accessible without a cross-country flight is a difficult task.
Once that’s locked in, the next play is more mixes heading to market in 2024.
“Next year we definitely will be expanding into other mixes,” Kimberle shared. “I’ve gotten several requests for other products that people would like to see.”
As an innovator, she’s ready to bring these ideas to fruition.
“I’m such an innovator; innovation is my love language,” she said. “If I could be in the kitchen creating products all day, I’d love it. Of course, you have to pace and fund yourself, but I love coming up with new products. It’s really just blue sky in terms of where we are going with product innovation.”