A New Type of Oat Milk is Out on the Market, Here’s Why We Need It!

May 02, 2024

By Liana Werner-Gray


We all know that oat milk is a rave at the moment, and there is no wonder why because it’s so creamy, delicious, and a helpful dairy-free alternative. But not all oat milk is created equal. You may have heard about the controversy around oat milk and how it spikes your blood sugar, causes bloating, and just isn’t that healthy for you. These things are true, but only because of certain oat milks and how they are made. The type of oat milk you are going to learn about today is different; it’s wholesome and lands differently in the body. You will be relieved, just like I am, because I too want to enjoy oat milk with my matcha latte.


I was able to meet with Christina Dorr Drake, CEO and co-founder of Willa’s at Expo West, which for those of you that don’t know is the largest natural food and products show in the entire world! It happens every March in Anaheim California. 


Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey and the inspiration for Willa’s Organic Oat Milk? 


I’m a purpose-driven entrepreneur who took an incredibly risky but rewarding leap, leaving my ad agency career to create Willa’s Organic Oat Milk. My sister, Elena, and I started Willa’s to create a healthier, organic, wholesome plant-based milk inspired by our Grandmother Willa’s recipe.


After overcoming breast cancer at 36 years old, I became even more committed to eating mostly plant-based, living a cleaner lifestyle, and putting my physical and mental health first.

What was your  ‘why’ for building a business for the first time? 


I was tired of seeing plant-based milks that were mostly made of artificial ingredients and sugar rather than actual plants. We started with my Grandmother’s delicious oat milk recipe, which used real ingredients you can recognize in your kitchen - like vanilla extract and sea salt. 


Willa’s is not here simply to create a ‘less bad’ milk alternative. Willa’s is here to lead positive change in the world, nutriously, deliciously, and for the good of the planet. 


Willa’s is also the only oat milk to use the WHOLE OAT rather than just oat sugar (which is what you find in most oat milk options). Using the whole oat gives Willa’s:

  • A richer taste
  • The most protein and prebiotic fiber of any oat milk!
  • Just 1 gram of sugar from the oats (versus 5 - 15 grams of sugar per cup)


As my sister, husband, and I got started on this entrepreneurial path, we kept asking questions about the plant-based milk options available. Why didn’t they have any protein or fiber? Why did they have so much sugar?

What we discovered is that a lot of nuts milks have very few nuts, and therefore, very few nutritional benefits. And oat milks are typically made with just oat starch and sugar. The protein and fiber is discarded as food waste, which isn’t great for our health or the planet. 


We knew there had to be a better, most honest and more sustainable way.

With Willa’s, we use the whole oat groat. Nothing good is wasted! And that gives it a richer taste that is never watery or thin.

Using the whole oat also means Willa’s has a low glycemic index, preventing the sugar spike and crash that you get from oat milks or sugary plant-based milks. Willa’s Organic Unsweetened Original Oat Milk has just 1 gram of sugar compared to other brands with 5 - 15 grams per cup. Willa’s Organic Barista Oat Milk has less than half the sugar of creamers and other barista plant-based milk made for coffee drinks and lattes. 


Willa’s also doesn’t use rapeseed oil, which is inflammatory and can make a lot of people feel just as bloated as dairy. You won’t find gums in Willa’s either. Willa’s Original is made with just filtered water, organic whole grain oats, organic vanilla extract and sea salt. 

Tell us about how you were blindsided by a breast cancer diagnosis at 36…which inspired a reckoning of your whole routine and health choices? 


This entrepreneurial journey has involved all kinds of unexpected highs and lows and, at the same time, I have grown more in the past few years than I ever would have without all the challenges.

I was blindsided by a breast cancer diagnosis in January 2020 at 36 years old, just before we were preparing to launch Willa’s. I don’t have a family history and I couldn’t quite believe it. Thankfully, we caught it early after I discovered a lump while doing a self-exam (do your self-exams!) and got my first mammogram.

Now I focus on real, organic ingredients and aiming for a healthier relationship with food and with myself. Breast cancer in younger women is often more aggressive and that means going through more treatments, not only to get rid of the cancer, but to help prevent a recurrence decades down the road.  After learning that I would be going through chemo, immunotherapies, radiation, lumpectomy, and lymph node surgery, I decided I also wanted to take an active role in my treatment journey.


I researched your recommendations, as well as The Anti-Cancer Lifestyle, The Blue Zones, and my oncologist’s and integrative doctor’s recommendations. I aimed to listen to my body more than I ever had before. 


I committed to eating an anti-inflammatory diet 80% of the time and ate organic when it came to the Dirty Dozen, meat, and grains.

I also focused on the things I could eat and drink to help my body fight cancer. There are so many delicious cancer fighting foods - matcha, turmeric, broccoli sprouts, cruciferous veggies, organic berries - the list goes on! I focused on incorporating these into every meal I could.


I gave myself the grace to be imperfect…


I wanted to be kind to myself. I went through chemo for over five months. That is a long time! I told myself not to expect perfection. I still ate dark chocolate daily, had organic sourdough bread weekly, and enjoyed pasta every so often.

For me, I knew that I wanted to have a positive relationship with food, and that putting myself on a strict, restrictive diet, would feel like I was punishing myself. 


The biggest changes I made were cutting out almost all dairy, cutting out cane sugar (except on special occasions and my birthday), and rather than cutting all carbs, trying to eat carbs and anything that spikes blood sugar after eating protein and healthy fats.

For me, it is all about balance and thinking about what will make my body feel better, but also not punishing myself if I am craving something that isn’t as healthy. I’ve found when I’m kinder to myself and I tell myself I can have chocolate and sourdough bread tomorrow as well as today - I don’t eat as much indulgent food at any one sitting. I try to avoid telling myself ‘this is the last day I can ever have this!’

The experience also forced me to reevaluate how I prioritize my mental health as an entrepreneur/founder…

As a founder, it’s easy to find yourself working all the time. It can feel like you could be - and should be - doing more for the business every minute of every hour. That can make it extremely difficult to carve out time for the things that will give you more energy and allow you to get more out of your day. I believe the narrative that you need to work constantly, get little sleep, and run yourself ragged to be a successful entrepreneur is not only false but dangerous. To be there for the business, your team, and your customers, you must also take care of yourself.


After I was diagnosed, I decided to prioritize workouts almost every day, as well as journaling and meditation. Then I thought, ‘why am I only permitting myself to carve out time for these activities every day because I’m going through a health emergency?’ Health should always be a priority.

Now, no matter how busy I am, I work out 4 - 6 days week, do weekly therapy, and start my day with daily 5-minute meditations on Headspace. These activities are blocked out on my calendar and non-negotiable.

A shift in my relationship with my body…


Cancer is hard to wrap your head around. I kept having thoughts like ‘why is my body trying to kill me?!’ The most helpful antidotes to these emotions are also proven to help create better outcomes from treatment.

My surgeon and oncologist shared that working out helps your body process the chemo and can lead to better outcomes. My neighbor is a cancer researcher and she shared that workouts after treatment - even just walking on a treadmill - help the chemo get processed through your whole body. You want it to pump through your whole body because, unfortunately, most breast cancer recurrences happen outside of the breast. In the UK, they even try to raise patients’ body temperature after chemo for similar reasons.

Working out made me feel more ‘in my body’ as opposed to separate from it. Workouts also reminded me that my body and I are on the same team! Research shows that even getting out for short walks can have a profound impact on your mental and physical health.


‘Forest bathing’ has also been proven to help patients cope and have better outcomes. I love hiking so my husband would drive us up to the Hudson Valley straight after chemo treatments to go hiking. It made such a difference in my mental and physical health.

Equally, I was feeling such a flood of emotions that I started journaling every day to help me process what was happening.

I recognize that eating healthy, working out, and having access to nature are not available for everyone. I have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive family, care team and support system. There is so much we as a society need to do to better support health, particularly womens’ health.  

With Willa’s, this experience solidified our commitment to having a net positive impact on the health of people and the planet. 


My experience with cancer inspired us to double down on Willa’s use of organic ingredients. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is used on everything from grains to chickpeas. It is a known carcinogen and not something we want in our oat milk! Willa’s uses certified organic oats. Willa’s is also glyphosate-free certified. Organic oat growers can’t use synthetic pesticides or herbicides. 


Organic oats have prebiotic fiber which supports gut health, your immune system, as well as your overall health. They also support the soil health, which has its own microbiome. 


With every ingredient we source and every decision we make, we ask a simple question: does this live up to our values and our Grandmother Willa’s name?


With Willa’s, we aim to create products that people can trust and enjoy every single day. 


After this interview you can see why when I consume oat milk that I choose Willa’s. It just makes sense on so many levels. I hope you enjoyed this inspiring conversation with a breast cancer survivor and first time entrepreneur! And now you don’t have to be worried about enjoying oat milk again.


Find Willa’s in a store near you using their store directory… 

Willa’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/willaskitchen/

Willa’s IG: https://www.instagram.com/willas_kitchen/

Website: https://willaskitchen.com/


Additionally check out this live tv interview where I bring Willa’s oat milk on as one of the Top 6 Natural Products of Expo West 2024 and why because of how unique it is: Watch here on KTLA