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OffLimits is a cereal company, sure, but the brand is much bigger than that. It began with two characters -- ZOMBIE, the chilled-out, relaxing ambassador of OffLimits’ Pandan variety, and DASH, the energetic bunny who reps the brand’s Coffee flavor -- both of whom are meant to convey real emotions and promote real ingredients. Through these characters, founder Emily Miller is infusing the playful, joyous nature of our childhood’s sugary cereal into a product that’s delicious, gratifying, and good for you. And, she’s also defying the norms of both cereal and VC culture.
An art school grad and breakfast connoisseur, Miller seems to have “cool” embedded into her DNA. I had the opportunity to learn more about her vision for OffLimits -- from ice cream collaborations to cereal glitter and even Web3 -- on a Google Hangout from her apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. Below, dive into the sweet, magical, and futuristic world of breakfast through Emily Miller’s eyes.
To begin, I'd love for you to share your background and the inspiration behind OffLimits.
EM: I went to school for fashion design. When I graduated, I was doing trend forecasting, and I immediately jumped at an opportunity to cover the food space. I started traveling and writing, then eventually launched a series called Breakfast Club where I worked with Michelin star restaurants who would open their doors for a one-time-only family style breakfast. I did about 40 of those and got a cookbook deal to write a 380-recipe cookbook on breakfast.
The book took three years to research, write and develop. Through that experience, I collected a documentation of breakfast around the world. That experience led to OffLimits, as I was thinking back to so many conversations I had about cereal -- so many people had asked, “What happened to cereal?”
I started wondering why people have lost their affinity for cereal. And, it's because we grew up with these incredibly fun characters, colors, flavors, toys, animations. And then slowly, over the years, we’ve found out that we've been completely lied to and manipulated by bigger brands. And even some of the health food brands to be honest. I felt that there needed to be a snacking cereal, something in the middle [of Kellogg’s and Kashi] that had really incredible ingredients. I wanted to bring it to life through culture and rethink what cereal culture is.
I'm curious what taking on Big Cereal has looked like as you’ve gotten OffLimits off the ground. General Mills and Kellogg's are such dominant players in the space. How do you break in and convince people that it’s time for something new?
EM: Taking on a product that literally needs to be at scale at launch is really difficult, and launching in 2020 when the supply chain was absolutely nuts (and honestly still is) created an extreme challenge. We've come through that, though and are really carving out a space for ourselves.
I think the best way that brands can do that is by infusing life into the brand and showing that there is more to what you're doing than just the product. We spent all of the time while we were sold out, delayed, or facing any wait time, trying to build our community and show people that there is so much more to this than selling a product.
For example, when NYU kids were in quarantine, I saw on TikTok that the university had messed up their food deliveries, so I figured we could step in. Within 24 hours, my social media manager got us into a text group for new NYU students, and we spent four hours in Washington Square Park packing cereal and delivering it to the dorms on skateboards. That moment embodied everything that I love about startup culture and teams.
That is an amazing story. I’ve seen some similarly creative and fun content on OffLimits’ social channels too. I’m curious if you’re able to track sales correlated with these projects, or if you’re purely focused on driving brand awareness right now?
EM: When I started the business, the goal was always to spend 18 months making the brand cool. Because we’re doing things so differently, a lot of our work is a heavier lift from an education standpoint. We've spent time focused on marketing and projects and testing things out here and there. And I think that patience has really paid off because now we're starting to see bits of return. We’ve never pressured customers; we've been like, “Hey, check us out. I think you'll like this, if not, here's like a weird video of us squeezing cereal with our hands.” I think people appreciate the realness in that and not so much pressure to convert all the time.
Speaking of collaborations, I saw that you worked with Salt & Straw this past year. How did that partnership come about? Do any other recent projects stick out as highlights?
EM: I've known Tyler [Salt & Straw’s co-founder] for years through the food world and finally the stars aligned and the perfect collaboration happened. They used our Dash cereal (the coffee flavor) to make this cold brew cocoa crunch. It was amazing.
We also have an ongoing partnership with NTWRK, the streetwear and collectibles drop app, where we've done limited edition artist boxes. We did one with Greg Mike, with Sophia Chang. We did an upcycled basketball bag with Tomme Studio in London -- that bag sold out in five minutes. Honestly, I was totally shocked. It was the coolest moment.
That's when we realized that there's something to the lifestyle out of the brand that we're building as well. We're really trying to create things that we would enjoy too with no other intention than that. We hope people enjoy them as well. And if they don't, it's a limited edition thing we'll probably take down soon anyway.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline? What’s next for OffLimits?
EM: We recently launched Cereal Glitter, which is a ridiculously fun product. We noticed a lot of customers “playing with their food” (mixing flavors, adding berries, fresh flower petals), so to help enhance that, we developed this product that’s like a luster dust that’s usually used in baking. We also added butterfly pea flour so it turns the milk blue because...why not? We also launched these mini boxes that you tear open to top with milk.
I’d love to do other fun projects that are part of the snacking category -- I have a million ideas. I’m also obsessed with Web3 and NFTs and bringing OffLimits into the Web3 space and community. We're starting with these novel NFT projects that are blending IRL with Web3, which is an exciting creative challenge for me. They could work, could not work -- I'll figure it out eventually. The goal is to further activate and empower our community. And I think these are really interesting ways to do that.
Interested in joining OffLimits’ quickly-growing community? Order a Variety Pack of full sized boxes or mini boxes here (trust, they’re insanely good). Plus, follow the brand on Instagram @offlimits to discover new, exciting projects dropping soon.
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