While training for an ultra-marathon in Australia a few years back, Russell Radebaugh discovered an oats, milk and grain breakfast dish that was not only healthy but kept him full for hours.
Three years later, Radebaugh, 35, and his longtime friend and now partner, Greg Peyser, 33, launched Brekki, a new Carlsbad company that manufactures an adapted version of that dish, which is known as Bircher muesli, or overnight oats.
Brekki - inspired by the Australian slang word for breakfast - is a mix of rolled oats, almond milk, grains, seeds, nuts and fresh fruit. It sells for $2.99 per 6-ounce refrigerated tub and can be found in the refrigerated section at 16 Whole Foods markets in Southern California.
Peyser said the feedback he and Radebaugh are getting from customers has been encouraging.
"People taste it and say 'it's good' and they can't believe it's non-dairy because it's so creamy," Peyser said. "Seeing how the product resonates with people, that's the golden ticket for us."
Radebaugh and Peyser met a decade ago when they were both college lacrosse players. Radebaugh grew up in Maryland and after college went to work in marketing for the Campbell Soup Co. in Philadelphia.
Peyser is originally from New York and has a background in the credit and food industries. Five years ago, he and his wife, Whitney, started a company distributing organic produce in San Diego. The following year, the organic juice company Suja bought the Peysers' company and hired him to serve as Suja's director of procurement.
In August 2015, Radebaugh joined Suja as the company's director of marketing.
Once Peyser and Radebaugh - who both live in Encinitas - were working under the same roof at Suja, they started talking about one day starting their own company. That's when Radebaugh brought up Bircher meusli, which he first tasted in 2014 during that visit to his wife, Michelle's, native Australia.
Australians didn't invent Bircher meusli. It was a mush created in the 1800s by Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner as way to get more raw fruit into the diets of his sanitorium patients. To soften the uncooked oats and grains, they were traditionally soaked overnight in milk or cream.
Every weekend for more than a year, Radebaugh and Peyser experimented with different recipes. They decided to use almond milk instead of cow's milk so it could be sold as a dairy-free, vegan product.
They also worked for months to find just the right combination of ingredients for creaminess and consistency. Besides oats, Brekki is made with buckwheat, chia and flax seeds, puffed amaranth grain, sea salt and coconut syrup. The product has about 300 calories with as little as 7 grams of sugar per serving.
In January, they flew to the Winter Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco, where they met with a buyer for Whole Foods.
Radebaugh said the timing of their meeting was ideal because in the year they'd been working on their formula, the popularity of overnight oats exploded in America. Recipes and photos began turning up on Instagram and Pinterest and companies like Starbucks began developing their own overnight oats products.
"They did all the heavy lifting for us when it came to product awareness," Radebaugh said.
While the entrepreneurs were confident about their product, they were stunned when Whole Foods contacted them in March with a product order. At the time, they had no office or manufacturing site.
But rather than miss the opportunity, they resigned from Suja and rented a "makers" space, where they could have a front office, a manufacturing space and, eventually a retail space, at Carlsbad Gateway Center. Just six weeks later, the first cases of Brekki overnight oats rolled off the assembly line.
Up until a few weeks ago, the partners have been doing everything themselves from making the product to in-store demonstrations. The face-to-face interaction with customers has been enlightening, Peyser said, because it helped them find a new market niche.
"We've seen a great opportunity with health-conscious parents," said Peyser. "My wife and I are working parents with two kids and we don't feel bad peeling the seal on this product and giving it to the kids in the morning."
So far, they've shipped about 80 cases of their product, but they expect that to grow quickly. This week, Whole Foods expanded its test market for the product from 11 to 16 stores. Peyser said sales tracking shows the product is growing in sales each week.
Brekki is available in four flavors: original, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry. Radebaugh said they're looking to eventually add some tropical flavors like coconut. They're also considering some savory flavors, like cardamom or turmeric, so Brekki can become an all-day snack.
"We think there's a market for it," Radebaugh said, "but people need to get eased into it."
Founded: March 2017 in Carlsbad
Product: Australian-inspired overnight oats breakfast product, made with oats, almond milk, seeds, nuts and berries.
Cost: $2.99 for a 6-ounce portion
Where to find it: At 16 Whole Foods supermarkets around Southern California. For locations, visit brekki.com/find-us/