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Superfrau’s Melissa Martinelli knows the whey forward for healthy beverages

Her canned, whey-based fizzy drinks are on sale at the new Super Local Snacks pop-up in Inman Square.

Melissa Martinelli, cofounder of Superfrau.Courtesy photo

This month, Inman Square is home to temporary shop Super Local Snacks, part of an Inman Incubator program that showcases an ever-changing array of small, homegrown businesses. This one highlights start-ups like Pariva (marinated yogurt spreads), Off Our Rocker (plant-based cookies), Hapi African Gourmet (spices and sauces), and lots more. It runs until Sept. 1 at 1385 Cambridge St.

Melissa Martinelli, 40, designed the pop-up. She runs Superfrau, specializing in fizzy, canned liquid whey (think soda but packed with electrolytes and more tart). The business reduces food waste by sourcing surplus yogurt-based whey that would otherwise get tossed, turning it into a drinkable treat that’s popular in Europe but, for some reason, not here — at least, not yet.


Why did you start Superfrau?

My husband is from Austria, where it’s very popular to drink the liquid whey from yogurt and cheese-making. I never truly understood it until I tried it myself. And it was delicious. When I learned more about it, I learned that it’s a huge waste problem here — particularly when it comes to yogurt, because you can’t dry and concentrate it for whey protein powder. But it’s this liquid that’s loaded with all of these vitamins and minerals that are good for hydration, energy, and for your gut.

I was actually a practicing immigration lawyer for 10 years. I shifted gears to this because I was amazed by how versatile and healthy the ingredient was and that, in the US, we were pretty much throwing it out. I did a little research, and then I started out of Commonwealth Kitchen. That’s where I met almost all of the people whom I rallied for this pop-up snack shop. And we finally launched basically a commercial product last October online. Right away, Whole Foods reached out to have us get into stores there, and so now we’re in Whole Foods in the New England area. ... We’re growing really quickly.


Why a snack pop-up?

I live in the Inman area. So I was walking by the incubator space a few months ago. I was very curious about it. … I presented this super-local snacks idea, and they told me — it was like five or six weeks ago! — they’re like: “You’re in for August.” But we made it happen. It was really a community DIY project.

What do these snacks have in common?

The concept that I had was: There are a lot of food and beverage businesses in the Boston area that are delicious and really interesting. Everybody has an interesting story, and this incubator was a space about sharing a bigger story.

I knew all of these companies through Commonwealth Kitchen that had great products and great stories. And the incubator space was about connecting artists and makers with the community. So I thought it was a great opportunity, especially after all of the real-life connection restrictions with COVID, for these new emerging brands that have great products and great stories to connect with their target market, and for the community to get to know who’s making these products right in their backyard. … It was really about connecting with community in an authentic way, and this space allows us to do that for a one-month period. I’m very grateful to the incubator for hosting us. They offer the space for free. They helped us with organizing everything. Everything is donated; all the furniture in there was provided to us. We really threw this together, and it looks beautiful.


I’m assuming you’re not a full-time attorney anymore. How was the process [of switching careers]?

Do you want the truth?

Yes, preferably.

It’s been a very interesting journey for me. I had my own law practice, so I had started my own business, but the service industry is very different from the consumer packaged goods industry. What I learned is, if you really put yourself out there and connect with others in the space, you can learn so much from each other. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I really do value this community so much. We’re all building something from scratch. We can learn from each other’s mistakes, and some people are further along in the journey and can help guide us. I’ve really leaned on the community for an education. In a way, it’s a free business school education. I’ve learned a ton along the way. And, at the end of the day, I obviously hope and believe my business will be successful. But the success really is that I got to learn so much and meet all these other people who are doing some really cool things.

What’s your advice for somebody who wants to launch a business like this?

I think you have to really believe in your idea. There are lots of highs, but there are also lots of lows, lots of disappointing moments. And, if you really believe in your idea, you can get through those, and you have to be open to change. I’ve had to pivot and shift our plan all along the way. I mean, no one ever plans for a global pandemic. You have to be open-minded to that.


And I think what’s really important that people understand is that success isn’t necessarily what you plan on it being. It’s very expensive, and it’s very hard, and you put everything into these businesses. Sometimes — actually, oftentimes — it doesn’t work out, and you have to believe in your idea so much that you’ll be the 1 or 2 percent that does work out. I think that’s the statistic in food and beverage; 1 or 2 percent are actually successful, at least in consumer packaged goods. So you really have to know what you’re getting into. I truly believe in our idea. And so, when I hit a low moment, that’s what carries me through: We are on a mission to fight food waste and climate change through this really fun, approachable product.

What does it taste like?

So I always say it’s not too tart and it’s not too sweet, but it’s definitely a little bit of both. It’s slightly sparkling. It satisfies a little bit of your sweet tooth and your savory tooth. It’s the liquid whey from Greek yogurt; if you know that going into it, you’re going to taste some yogurt-y notes, and we infuse it with complementary flavors. We have peach mango, cucumber lime, pineapple ginger; they’re all a little bit citrusy and acidic, because that’s what works really well with the natural flavor of the liquid whey. You could chug a can of it because it’s just so refreshing. When people think of whey, I think they think of protein powder, or they might think of a smoothie. And this is a very light and refreshing liquid. It’s really unexpected. People are usually pleasantly surprised.


Which foods pair well with your drinks?

I would say a nice Cuban sandwich. Anything that might be a little salty is good. It pairs really well with salads. I mean, it depends on which flavor you’re having, too, but again, it’s light and refreshing. It has more full body than a seltzer water.

When I demo at Whole Foods, I always get their avocado sushi rolls and with our cucumber lime, and it’s perfection.

Where do you go to eat when you’re not working?

If it’s a special occasion, Celeste in Somerville is my favorite place. There’s a really great Greek restaurant called Desfina. That’s a top one. It’s very unassuming on the inside, but the food is really good. We live in Inman Square, and on Friday nights, we’ll rotate. We have a 2-year-old. We rotate between going to The Druid and going to Atwood’s. At The Druid, everyone who works there is like our family. On Sundays, they have live music, and it’s like walking into your own living room and getting to hang out there. It’s just very easy. At Atwood’s, they’re very friendly with young families. I don’t even want to tell people about Atwood’s because their courtyard is awesome. The courtyard’s amazing, the food is very good, and they’re very friendly with young people.

And, I have to ask: Why the name Superfrau?

That was a very iterative process. The inspiration behind this is, it’s a popular drink in Austria, so we wanted to harken back to the origin story with maybe a German word or something that connected it back to the roots of this product. We were thinking about what this does. It’s got great benefits, it can reduce food waste, and everyone kept saying, “Oh, it’s so super!” It’s a word that is used both in Austria and in the US very frequently.

And then this superhero character developed, a female superhero fighting food waste and climate change, and Superfrau was born. It’s sort of a long, convoluted story, but the food and beverage world is fairly masculine, so we thought this female superhero coming to fight food waste and climate change would be cool. Superfrau means “superwoman” in German, and she’s here to fight food waste and climate change.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.