Would Miyoko’s Creamery exist without Miyoko Schinner’s recipes?
SONOMA, California––Perhaps the only dairy product for which Miyoko’s Creamery founder Miyoko Schinner, 65, never tried to develop a vegan alternative was bullshit.
Post-Miyoko, however, the Miyoko’s Creamery management team who ousted her appears to be moving fast to corner the market on vegan bullshit.
On February 16, 2023, the same day that Miyoko’s Creamery euphemistically announced that “The company and its founder Miyoko Schinner have parted ways,” Miyoko’s Creamery sued Miyoko for alleged breach of contract, violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, violation of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, breach of duty of loyalty, and breach of promissory note.
Hong Kong-based Green Queen could smell it from there
Posted the Green Queen vegan news web site late on February 19, 2023, “Earlier today, Green Queen received a PDF copy of court filings detailing that on February 16, 2023, Miyoko’s Creamery filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California naming founder and former chief executive officer Miyoko Schinner as the sole defendant.”
Green Queen learned of the lawsuit against Schinner from the legal news service Law360.
Law360 reporter Craig Clough reported about the case late on Friday, February 17, 2023.
“According to the filings,” Green Queen said, “Schinner allegedly stole company IP and ‘hatched a plot to steal the company’s property, trade secrets, and confidential information so that she could create a competing company.’”
“The devil made them do it”
“In the documents,” Green Queen continued, “the company says it issued multiple notices to Schinner upon discovering her plans and asked her to return the confidential items,” purportedly including “proprietary recipes and plant-based culture configurations.”
Because Schinner did not comply, the new Miyoko’s Creamery management team contends, it “was forced to bring this action to protect its trade secrets and confidential information.”
Added Green Queen, “Further allegations against Schinner mentioned in the filings include not being able to develop or maintain a strong executive team, repeatedly missing performance and financial targets, refusing to facilitate a smooth transition following her departure as CEO, and enlisting the help of now-former company employees to help her steal company documents.”
“Designed to destroy me”
Founded in 2011 by self-described Hong Kong “serial social entrepreneur and eco activist” Sonalie Figueiras, Green Queen said it had “reached out to Schinner for comment.”
Schinner, however, had already responded, minutes earlier, via Facebook.
Said Schinner, “I am shocked that certain board members have decided to file a lawsuit against me. There are wild untruths about me that are designed to destroy me and get me out of the way. I have been cooperative with the company [Miyoko’s Creamery] since my termination,” in June 2022, but Schinner made no public statement about it until after the new Miyoko’s Creamery management announced her forced exit on February 16, 2023.
“I am going to move with care”
Continued Schinner, “I fail to see how this is adding value to the brand that I––and other values-driven, passionate vegan former employees––worked so hard to build.
“While I am eager to bring the truth to light,” Schinner said, “I am going to move with the care necessary to ensure that I am operating in accordance with my fiduciary duties as a director”––Schinner remains on the Miyoko’s Creamery board of directors––“and with applicable legal rules and guidelines.
“While I remain a director,” Schinner noted, I am uncertain of how much sway or say I actually have. As always,” Schinner assured sympathizers, “I thank you for your trust, your patience, and your support.”
Regardless of the eventual legal outcome, Miyoko’s Creamery chief financial officer Jon Blair, now the acting president, and James Joaquin, cofounder of the San Francisco-based venture capital company Obvious Ventures, appear to have already lost in the court of public opinion.
Wrote Anna Starostinetskaya, senior news editor at VegNews, “The public announcement of the separation came as a surprise to Schinner, who learned of the [Miyoko’s Creamery] press release as she was cooking dinner for 150 guests at a fundraiser for Rancho Compasión, a farm sanctuary she founded with her husband Michael Schinner.”
Schinner alleged that the Miyoko’s Creamery media release “was deliberately timed to coincide with the event she was hosting, such that she could not immediately respond,” Elaine Watson of of AgFunderNews elaborated.
Whether or not that was the intention of the new Miyoko’s Creamery management team, in effect publicly firing Schinner was unlikely to strike many observers as a class act.
Schinner, recalled Jemima Webber of PlantBasedNews, “had been active in the vegan scene decades prior to Miyoko Creamery’s debut, teaching plant-based cooking classes in the 1990s, and launching a number of cookbooks, restaurants, and smaller vegan brands, while remaining “vocal about operating Miyoko’s Creamery in a manner that protects animals and the planet.”
Schinner, in short, may have had more “street cred” among vegans than any celebrity chef since the vegan Cain slew the herdsman Abel, and certainly more than the fictional Betty Crocker.
Neither did Schinner lag behind anyone as a vegan entrepreneur, having taken Miyoko’s Creamery from zero at debut in 2014 to a reported $260 million in sales in 2022, perhaps the fastest breakout after a hard landing since George S. Patton hit the beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944 and headed straight toward Berlin.
The investor James Joaquin did not help the Miyoko’s Creamery takeover team by telling Elizabeth Crawford of Food Navigator USA, that “It is often the case that the skill set of a founder––that innovation engine to go from zero to one, to just create a new category that didn’t exist,” is often “not the same skills to go from one to 100 and then scale that and make it more accessible and more affordable and bring those products to the masses.”
Miyoko’s Creamery products are already reportedly sold in more than 20,000 supermarkets, approximately a third of all the supermarkets in the U.S.
“It is telling,” Schinner said, “that I was patronizingly described as taking the company from ‘zero to one,’ in contrast to what is needed to take the company from ‘one to 100.’
“The results that this company achieved under my leadership speak for themselves. We achieved these results––while I still had the ability to meaningfully ensure it––in a legitimately values-aligned way.
Joaquin mentioned to Crawford that Miyoko’s Creamery is soon to introduce “new branding,” perhaps hinting that Miyoko Schinner’s name is to be de-emphasized or perhaps even be removed altogether, since Schinner refused offers to stay on as a figurehead, with no actual authority over the corporate direction.
Meanwhile, Joaquin and Blair, though Blair only joined Miyoko’s Creamery in March 2022, should know that Schinner is not only not afraid of a fight, but has a history of winning legal battles against much bigger, much more affluent opponents.
“In 2020,” recalled Jemima Webber of PlantBasedNews, ‘Miyoko’s Creamery was hit with a temporary injunction by the California Department of Food & Agriculture, which took issue with the company’s use of descriptors like ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘butter.’ It claimed such terms were ‘misleading’ to consumers.
“Schinner fought back, stressing that ‘food is ever-evolving, and so too, should language to reflect how people actually use speech to describe the foods they eat.’
“The vegan company ultimately won the legal battle,” Webber finished.