This piece is part of Trailblazers, a four-part series that pairs Toyota Corolla vehicles with Canadian luminaries for a journey into their past, present and future.
Meet Lilian Umurungi-Jung, mom, entrepreneur, real food advocate—and dedicated snacker. Lilian is the founder of Mumgry, a line of ethically sourced, sleekly designed natural nut butters, of which none other than Beyoncé.com has taken note.
How did you get your start? Tell us how you found your calling.
I’ve been interested in what goes into the food we eat for some time. When I was very pregnant with my son, I would go to the grocery store and spend way too much time reading ingredients trying to decide what was healthy and safe. Every product had so much stuff in it, like chemical-sounding names I couldn’t even pronounce. It was so difficult to understand what was good for me and what was not. The Internet had so much conflicting information, so unless I was willing to put in a call to my gynecologist every time, I just didn’t ever really know and I got increasingly frustrated. One day I came home empty-handed and my husband asked what I wanted to eat for dinner and I snapped! I said, “I don’t know what I want, only that I’m Mumgry!” It became an inside joke for something that I know is good for me, so I don’t have to stop and think about it, and something that immediately hits the spot.
How have your passions changed and evolved over time?
A few months postpartum, because I wasn’t going out grocery shopping often anymore, I started prepping my own healthy fuel for my body—specifically, snacks with peanut butter, which I had a weird craving for most of the time. Peanut butter is notoriously full of chemicals and preservatives, which really sucks because it’s so healthy and beneficial in its natural form. I started making my own, just at home in my blender, playing with peanut and nut butter by roasting nuts and finding the perfect amount of oil and flavour, without the additives.
“Losing my job was the door I needed. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have taken the leap into entrepreneurism”
What have been the catalysts for change in your life and career?
The conversation with my husband about being frustrated by the lack of healthy food options really sparked my dream. But I also have the most obvious story here: I lost my job at a tech company, which actually shut down during my mat leave, putting me in that fight-or-flight moment where you’re thinking about if you want to stay put [in your industry] or leave to try something that you really want to do next. Mumgry had been floating around my head as a business idea, but I was of course concerned about risk and money and the challenges of starting a business—and being a new mom at the same time. Losing my job was the door I needed. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have taken the leap into entrepreneurism. And if I had not been pregnant, I wouldn’t have had the idea to begin with. Both situations created the pressure I needed for change.
Was there a breakthrough moment where you thought, I’ve made it!? Tell us about it.
Oh yes, and it’s even captured on camera! In 2020, just as we finished deliveries one day, I was hanging out with a few friends and my phone started blowing up. I immediately knew that something either really good or really bad was happening. I looked at Instagram, and someone said, “You’re on beyonce.com!” I thought it had to be a typo, or a prank, because c’mon, it’s Beyoncé! Then my friend opened her phone to record me going to the site, where Beyoncé had posted a Black-Owned Everything list of businesses to support, and boom—there it was. I think I screamed the loudest scream of my whole life.
Tell us about your most challenging moment, how you got through it and what you took away from it.
We launched officially in October 2019—which was itself another breakthrough moment, really. The party really felt like a celebration of what was possible and that we were really going to make it. But within a few months, we were in the pandemic, which meant uncertainty. It forced us to adapt and pivot to online. Overnight, we had to become familiar with e-commerce, and we started delivering door-to-door. We also had to learn how to connect with people online.
How do you see yourself changing your industry?
I like to think I’m bringing awareness to nut butters and expiry dates. You can buy a plastic tub of peanut butter that lasts for three years—and you’re supposed to think that’s a good thing. We’re not prepping for the apocalypse here; your food should expire in a reasonable amount of time. It has not “gone bad”—it is just real food and that’s what real food does. Our peanut butter will last about a year, but I promise you’ll eat it before then because it tastes good. That’s real food!
Is there such a thing as a typical day in your world? What does it look like?
I’m laughing because there’s really no such thing. I wish that there was, and I envy anyone with a structured day, but I have a business and a kid, so no way. It’s all about adjusting to curveballs all the time.
“Being an entrepreneur—and my own boss—actually lets me be around in a way I never could before”
How do you stay connected to what’s most important when life gets busy and overwhelming?
I have the flexibility to prioritize moments with my son. I don’t have to try hard [to stay connected], because my son is right here and I am mothering him. It’s always busy and sometimes overwhelming, for sure, but being an entrepreneur—and my own boss—actually lets me be around in a way I never could before.
What motivates you to keep growing and changing?
It’s great to have a product people love, but I’m careful to ask people what they want next and really listen to their answers. It was a conversation just like that with my sister-in-law, who said, “You should try a chocolate peanut butter—but do it the right way.” My initial response was hesitant [that it could be done], but she convinced me to try it the way Mumgry does it, just to see. If she was right, I owed her some free chocolate peanut butter jars. I did, and she was right, and people just went bonkers for it. It’s now one of our most popular and exciting products.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m always thinking about what the next big thing will be. We are working on something cool that I can’t announce yet, but stay tuned!