Meet Christiana Zhu of Yeyo

By Lynn Yen 2024-06-14 14:24:42

The Chinese Kiwi who launched an eco-friendly coconut yoghurt brand.


Tell us about yourself

I’m Christiana, founder of Marvelous Foods, creators of the plant-based coconut superfood brand Yeyo椰优格. I’m a Chinese Kiwi (aka Chiwi) from New Zealand living in Shanghai with my French husband and two dogs.


How did Yeyo come about and what is it?

Ye‘ is Chinese for coconut (椰) and ‘yo’ is short for yogurt. ‘Coconut yogurt’ is the name of our brand because that’s where it all started and we’re proud to be China’s first dairy-alternative probiotic coconut yogurt brand.

I first created Yeyo’s signature coconut yogurt for my own health needs. When I moved from New Zealand to Beijing in 2014, I started developing food allergies that gave me severe eczema and low immunity. I became particularly sensitive to dairy, including dairy proteins. Yogurt was always my go-to gut healing remedy, but I couldn’t have dairy anymore, and when I couldn’t find any plant-based yogurts in China (not even on Taobao!), I started making my own. When I started sharing my dairy-free coconut creations with friends, one invited me to make the yogurt in their restaurant, which allowed me to explore the possibility of scale, and another invited me to sell the yogurt at their farmers market, which helped us grow a cult following. This all led to venture capital investment and now Yeyo products can be found in Tmall, ALDI, City Super and Epermarket. We’re also working to expand into restaurants, schools, and company canteens.



What are your goals for Yeyo?

I started Yeyo with the simple goal to boost my own immunity and gut health, but the drive behind growing it came when I realized the positive impact it could have on the health of others and the health of the planet. Plant-based dairy has a 75% smaller carbon and land use footprint versus animal dairy. On top of this, 80% of Chinese are lactose intolerant so dairy alternatives have huge market potential.


What are some challenges you face in business?

Success is a moving target in the business world, and even more so in a startup. The step changes of growing it from 0-0.5 and then 0.5 to 1 were challenging. It was like running a completely different company at each step change because we needed to re-think our operational model, formulation, and revenue model every time.


What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs?

Start acting even if your idea is small, so you can get tangible market feedback rather than talk yourself out of action. Never cling onto a hypothesis too preciously, test and iterate to find the ‘truth’. In the end, just go for it, never live life with regrets. But also be brutally honest with yourself about the repercussions that may come with losing any bets you make (there will be many) and make sure you are mentally equipped to face that before you go all-in.