Fred Chen and Phuong Nguyen’s daughter Madeline didn’t like drinking milk.
She took hours to finish it, sometimes even falling asleep in her high chair, the couple told NBC News. In their search for something their daughter would like, Chen and Nguyen learned how to make Vietnamese yogurt — da ua, which Nguyen had eaten growing up — from Nguyen's father.
“Vietnamese yogurt is famously made with sweetened condensed milk,” Chen said. “In Vietnam, just about every family makes their own. Because our yogurt was originally made for our daughter, we made it with just three high quality ingredients — slow cooking organic whole milk, cane sugar, and then adding yogurt cultures.”
Yogurt was first introduced to Vietnam by the French about a century ago, according to Chen and Nguyen. Because fresh milk was not always available, Vietnamese began using sweetened condensed milk, which gives the yogurt a sweeter flavor.
The yogurt was a hit with their daughter as well as the family and friends who tried it, Chen said. A student at Virginia Tech’s MBA program at the time, he tested the yogurt in a class assignment against commercially-available products and found that his classmates preferred the Vietnamese yogurt over other options.
Chen and Nguyen decided to launch a new company, YaÜ, around the product.
“Vietnamese yogurt is cool, because it is not just a breakfast food, but rather, can be a delicious and nutritious snack or dessert,” Chen said.
Production has expanded from Chen and Nguyen’s kitchen to an organic dairy production facility, though the couple still delivers product with their minivan and refrigerated trailer.
They are expanding production with a crowdfunding campaign and reaching out to grocery stores in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region. The campaign, which closes Sunday, has already raised nearly $40,000. The couple's original goal was $10,000.
“We believe when things are done the right way, the ingredient list is short, and the process is long,” Chen said.