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Podcast 5: Grounded Foods Co-Founder Veronica Fil speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a plant-based cheese company. 

In “The Big Idea Podcast: Food” series, each week our Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space about the exciting projects they are a part of.

The podcast can be viewed at the links below:


Please view the transcript of the interview below:


Andrew D. Ive


Hi, welcome to the big idea food podcast. I’m Andrew, I’m your host. Today we’ll be talking to Veronica, the co founder of Grounded Foods. Grounded have made the most amazing plant based cheeses recently launched and taking the plant based cheese category by storm. We’re going to be talking to her about how they started, their motivations, and how they’re going to build a great plant based cheese company. Look forward to getting your feedback and comments, by all means, reach out after the podcast look forward to hearing from you. Thank you. 


So Grounded Foods, one of, In my opinion, the best if not the best, plant based dairy/ cheese company in the world. I’m sure I’ll start getting rude letters from other founders, you know, in the plant based space saying have you considered X and have you considered Y. But as far as I’m concerned in terms of all of the products I’ve tasted, today, Grounded is the best plant based cheese company in the world. So tell us about you, your co founder and Grounded Foods, and then maybe we can get into a conversation about it all.


Veronica Fil


A big claim Andrew being the best plant based cheese company in the world. It’s been a two person unit coming out of Melbourne, Australia. So our products were originally created by my partner Sean who’s an award winning fine dining chef in Australia. He’s been running restaurants his entire career, he’s been in food R&D for the last 15 odd years, occasionally solving, you know, major flavor problems for much larger companies when their food scientists couldn’t crack the code on it. But he started putting plant based foods on the menu in our restaurant just because we noticed a shift in consumer preferences like the customers that were coming in, were largely from overseas, not necessarily local and they were all asking for more plant based options. Not only that, they were always asking for their dishes to be changed to be gluten free to be no sugar to be, you know, nut free, soy free all of the frees. And so he just intuitively started creating things for the menu that would be foolproof for him to serve to diners. 

Not true or any allergies, something that his own chefs wouldn’t stuff up because it’s just the same dish for everyone and one of those things was a cheese that didn’t contain any dairy. Now, Sean had this on the menu for a year before he told anyone that it wasn’t real cheese, including myself. And when I heard that the business side of me just started taking over and I said to Sean, “you do not understand what you’ve done” and I immediately wrote a business plan, pitched it to an accelerator program back home. Won a little bit of prize money and from there, everything just blew up. I think it was just a few weeks after that, Andrew that we met you at Big Idea ventures on the other side of the world, ready to commercialize the products and we just never went home.



So I remember that you and I were there at this weird thing at Season Chips with this conference around food and food innovation, bringing together amazing companies and innovators and there was this sort of weird thing. I think it was like five minutes with an investor or something. 


So you and I were on a stage, there were two kind of stalls that looked like I don’t know, we were going to start playing a guitar solo or something. You and I were sort of propped up on these stalls and a video or TV camera or something was recording the whole conversation except that there was this big clock counting down because you literally had five minutes not a second more, not a second less and we sat down and you started your conversation with “I’ve got the most incredible plant based cheese and we want you guys to invest in it and we want to come to the United States”. I was thinking to myself, “Oh crap, one more plant based cheese company that wants to give us I don’t know, the next cashew nut butter cheese that everybody else seems to want to give us”. And you said “it’s made from something completely different”. and that was like Okay, now let’s have the conversation.



Absolutely. So we make it from cauliflower and hemp and we do that because I guess, in Shawn’s mind, that was the most obvious solution for cracking the code on flavor and on mouthfeel texture, the entire sensory experience. I always say like that was not obvious to anybody else in the world, apparently. But to him, it made complete sense. And I think once everyone else tasted it, then they agreed. 



That was in Melbourne, right?



Yeah, this was back in Melbourne. I don’t think we ever expected that we would even build a company off of it initially. I initially just thought it would be a little side hustle for myself that I’d start commercializing some of Sean’s more creative products. At the time, he was doing a lot of plant based seafood as well out of, again, vegetable ingredients, such as celeriac. But the reason we decided to double down on the cheese is just because my background is in economics. All I had to do was watch the market for the last couple of years and see where I guess the big gap was happening. And we just figured, looking at the trajectory of plant based milks and meats, it’s more than likely that cheese is going to be the next big one to hit. So it just made sense to you know, right place right time. Let’s double down on that one right now.



So I think you’re right, in terms of, you know, big opportunity, the next wave in terms of where consumers were looking for great, great products. But, you know, I want to kind of go back to something you said a bit earlier. I’ve got to know, Sean, and he is like an incredible guy. He’s actually quite a big deal in the chef slash food scene in Australia, that I think I saw a number of videos and a number of shows and things that he was a part of. Like, he’s, he’s the real deal when it comes to cooking and innovating in the food space. He’s not a food scientist, though, you know, well, I mean, tell us about Shawn. 



Yeh he’s like a mad genius. He’s completely self taught has been his entire life. Just one of those obsessive genius personalities that will not stop until something is perfect. Currently he just has to do it himself, hands on, play with it until he perfects his craft. And I think I’ve never really seen Sean as a chef, I think he’s something much more, you know, his talent and his skill, something much greater than just being a chef in the past in the kitchen. He’s essentially, in r&d he’s creative. He’s a businessman. I think in the past, it’s just been confined to restaurants, whereas now we’re using those skills and taking them and applying them to something with much greater global impact, I guess.



And you mentioned he has created a product, because people were asking for plant based cheeses as one of the frees …..  free from wheat ….. free from gluten, all that stuff free from dairy. He created the product, he plated the product, he sold it within the restaurant to multiple people, never once actually mentioning to them that the cheese they were eating wasn’t dairy. And nobody figured it out?



Nobody ever suspected it. Like I think Sean’s got a reputation for making food. That’s not what it seems all of the gastronomical wizardry and wimzie. And, you know, smoke and mirrors behind it, which is what used to excite our diners, because, you know, they’d never get a menu at the start of the night, they’d get at the end, and they’d be shocked and delighted by what they just ate and how it had tricked their taste buds. So I think it was expected that Sean would be playing around with the perception in their senses in some way, shape, or form. But no one ever expected that it just wasn’t cheese whatsoever. I think the closest anyone ever got was asking which farm it was from because it tasted a bit different. So they just thought it was some, you know, the cheese was some artisan you know, small batch produced thing from a local farm.



But the funny thing is, he was all about creating new flavors, new sensations, new tastes with different ingredients. But in this case, he used a different ingredient, a different combination of ingredients to create a taste, which was more traditional, it was a taste that was you know, to people’s taste buds the sensation in their mouth and so on. Cheese dairy period, it wasn’t trying to be anything different in that sense, but it was just made from something completely different.



Yeah, I think we started working a lot together on the the sensory experience side of things and the psychology around taste and flavor and I guess the dining experience in general, because we used to use so many wacky you know, so much novel tech in the restaurant. Like we’d be hiring actors, engineers, musicians, psychologists, we even had, you know, sound and lighting technicians in there at one point We figured if we were going to kind of take people out of their comfort zone with all of these factors, we need to bring some familiarity back in a different way. So while he’d be using these unique and underutilized ingredients that people weren’t very familiar with, we still had to anchor them with something that they were deeply comfortable with and that was the flavor. Like, it might be different ingredients, but it’s still a flavor that you recognize. It’s a flavor that you’ve grown up with. It’s the same flavor as cheese.



So we gave you an offer, we said, “Hey, we’re going to invest in you”. This was in you guys. We’re at that time in Australia. You pack up yourselves your lives, your little puppy dog. And you guys take New York by storm. How long after the offer were you on site in New York? 



Seven days …. I was already packed. 



So within seven days Grounded Foods hit America.  You have been here how long now?



Since October 2019. So we kind of, we got here, we spent a few months going through the BIV accelerator and then as you know, COVID hit once everyone had completed the first cohort of the accelerator. So a bit a bit freaked out at that point but fortunately, we just got our visas granted. And that was, in all honesty, the scariest part of this entire business journey was just getting those visas granted so that we didn’t have to, you know, be deported, which would have completely screwed the company from day one. So we were very, very fortunate to get that one week before Trump closed the borders. At the time, I think had that been one week later, the business could be looking very, very different at this stage.



And at the time, or around about that time you closed what a couple of million bucks give or take?



That was later in the year. So that was last August, we did 1.74 million.



Okay. Not a bad result, given that, you know,



Given the pandemic, it was a bit hairy for a while. I think none of the investors knew that we were probably down to our last $1,000 in the bank account between us. It was getting really weird, drawn out a lot of our superannuation back from Australia, which is like the 401k here. So if this didn’t work, we didn’t have much to go home to.



And so now what is it a week, we’re now kind of April the eighth some sort of just dating the podcast here, somebody will listen in a month’s time via Oh, it’s a month old already but you guys, I received my Grounded Foods fully commercial ready to eat product, no samples, no sort of test products here. I received a fully completely professional looking  product yesterday. A big brown box arrived and I waded through all of the kinds of materials to ultimately get to an incredible array of black packaging with your bold white logo. Haven’t tasted it yet. I’m waiting for that. But you’re now commercially available, right? People can come to grounded foods and buy, buy your product in the US?



Absolutely. So they can buy it on our website and we’re about to roll out through retailers as well. So we’re launching through Whole Foods and I think we’re at about 100 other doors right now. The next month starting in California branching out just pretty much pocket by pocket by opening up different distribution centers around the US until we cover the whole country.



I think the great thing about your product apart from who’s behind it, i.e. you and Shean, is that it sells itself. Anyone you know, not everyone always loves it. You’re not you know, I would guess one out of every 10 people says, for whatever reason, it’s not for me, but nine people out of 10 love it, they just really love it and that helps close the deals, right?



Yeah, it’s good in one way but almost more frustrating in another way because the entire category of vegan cheese has such negative connotations around it. Because other brands have done so much damage to its reputation over the last few decades. It’s just been a category that’s been incredibly slow to innovate, has not seen the same level of innovation that we’ve seen from milk and meat like Beyond and Impossible and Only. 


So whenever you say the word vegan cheese, people immediately make a gagging face. So we really try to steer away from that label entirely. We will not say the word vegan on our products just because we’re going after a different audience, we’re going after mainstream flexitarian consumers that are just trying to dip their toes into the waters of trying plant based options, maybe for the first time even, and just starting to cut back on the animal based proteins. And I think if you if you call it a vegan cheese, then that can be really off putting to the consumers straight off the bat. So we just don’t we just don’t it’s just a novel cheese made from cauliflower and hemp.



I think you guys could be the gateway dairy for the vegan lifestyle? I don’t know, I’m not sure. I think in a sense, it’s a bit of a challenge. Because after trying Grounded, I think it kind of is going to be tough for people to go try the other, you know, vegan cheeses and see it as anything similar. I think it’s, it sets the bar a little high. Now if we get great products like this setting the bar high in all of the categories, maybe people will, you know, be more flexible, flexible or even vegan. I think that’s the goal, right? Well, at least that’s my goal. It may not be yours.



Well, no, I mean, we often ask ourselves, because we’re not vegan at the moment. We often ask ourselves, after tasting 70 products over the last maybe 12 months that have just really upped the game on what we’ve tasted previously. It’s like, hang on, why aren’t we eating more? Just every day, there’s less and less reason to not go plant based and I can foresee a future where like, there’s just no reason to not eat that way anymore and that’s what I’m hoping I think that we’re going to get there faster, well, much faster than I originally anticipated.



I’m going to change tack now and not even just ask the other investors we work with, we all have the same goal to find great companies who raise that bar and give more and more reasons why people don’t need to be clearly in one camp or the other camp. And even maybe one day can move across fully to a completely 100% plant based lifestyle. No pressure but if we give them great foods, then you know, it makes it easier to do but it hasn’t always been plain sailing, you know, hasn’t always been an easy road. I’m sure there have been times when, as a founder with any, you know, young company, there have been times where you’re like nervous, concerned, scratching your head about, you know, what’s happening next. Anything in particular come to mind.



Yeah, every freaking day, Andrew like nothing is good enough. We cry on a weekly basis. But I think that’s the difference I think any founders that are not crying every week and not freaking out every minute of the day are probably not very successful ones. Because that’s just part and parcel of the entire journey. We find personally that the biggest things that we stress about the elements of the business that we don’t touch personally. So co packing, working with third party logistics providers, anything that doesn’t have our hands on it, and we can’t control is usually where things go arrive just because no one is ever going to have the same standards that you do. Right.



Okay, so how do you deal with it? Do you become a minutia maniac? Or do you insource or in you know, deal with the things yourselves? Do you set up a contract manufacturing facility for yourself? Do you set up a manufacturer a packaging company? Like when do you stop? 



it’s a balance, isn’t it? Because it makes no sense as you know, as a startup, that’s not even on the market yet to just dump millions of dollars into building your own facility, you know, take all that time to actually do it, when in reality, we just need to get on the market and validate the products first, see what people like and then raise the capital to take it to the next step. I think just looking at other companies in this space, and how they’ve done in the past, I think a lot of them have gone that route of setting up their own facilities, because they just didn’t have a choice. There was no one available to make their products. It’s a new process. It’s a new category. But it also took them years and years to build up to get on the market. A lot of them would invest all that money in a production workflow that it turned out later down the track our shit that actually doesn’t work, we’re going to need to buy all new equipment under a completely different way. We didn’t want to waste money on that. It’s a time sensitive thing in my opinion as well. There’s so much innovation happening right now that we don’t have time to just spend a year spending all this money just to see if it may or may not work. So to me Finding a co Packer is essential at this stage but also an incredibly difficult Feat and as I said before, no one really ever weighs up to the standards that you’ll have as a founder.



Now I’ve had the pleasure of tasting multiple products that Sean has made around this area. Why don’t you take us through the products that you have decided to bring to market first? You know what products did you choose? Why did you choose them and you know, tell us a little bit about them.



Sean’s done about 35 different styles of cheese in terms of formulations. Obviously, we’re not going to bring 35 to market all at once, that would be a good way to kill a business. But we chose the first three, which is the cheese free cheese sauce, a cream cheese, and a marinated goat cheese, all made out of hemp or mixture of hemp and cauliflower. We chose those ones, firstly, because we thought that they would be the quickest to get on the market, just fresh cheeses no lengthy fermentation periods or aging. So they can be cooked, you know batched up into a pallet relatively quickly. 


We also chose those ones because we thought that would be the most popular straight off the bat. So just thinking about volume and getting our name out there from day one, like cream cheeses and high brass copper then, apart from that, we’re also just thinking what products will form the basis of all of our other ones. Like if we can get the the manufacturing workflow right for these three products, we can essentially make all 35 of them off of the same equipment. So if we had chosen something like an aged cabin, air or green arrow, one of these other fancy cheeses that we’ve made in the past, that would have been great, but it wouldn’t have allowed us to make everything else on that same modular equipment it would have required, you know, setting up a whole other process to do the next range. Interesting.



So the contract manufacturer or the third party that you’re using to execute on making these products, you figured out which product set they could do most quickly, most efficiently given the equipment they had, if you guys or when you guys decide to launch the range of products that Sean’s you know, allowed me to taste, they will mean they will need what new equipment, new processes, etc. And it will change the dynamic of the manufacturing process.



Well, we we fundraised last year to buy our own equipment, because there was no turnkey manufacturing option for something like this and I think it’s the same experience for a lot of plant based companies. They’re doing something that no one else in the world has ever done before so there’s no facility that can you can just walk in there and give them the formulation and they just make it for you. So we built a very modular system, which allows us to make the most number of different products skews on the leanest setup possible and then every time we add a new product line or a different packaging format, it’s just a matter of adding that piece of equipment onto the end of it so that we can package it in a shred or a little single survey of old style cheese or something like that. But it’s essentially the same base formulation that goes into everything. 


That’s what we’re using this co Packer for, when we start rolling out additional products, we’re going to need different styles of equipment, I don’t really want to buy more equipment at this stage, because that’s literally the most expensive thing that we’ve had to do so far. So it will most likely mean going into different facilities, taking that base formulation over to them and just getting it processed at different locations. So we’re essentially looking at conversion plots to create the different product skews but all the bases created at the same co Packer at the start.



I totally understand and have you figured out what’s coming next from a product perspective? Or is it very much about, hey, we’re in $100. Today, in the next six months, we think that’s going to go from 100 to maybe I don’t know, 300, or 500, or whatever the growth projections are, we’re just gonna double down and really kind of make sure we over deliver in terms of revenue and descend growth in the core products and we’ll think about what’s next later. How are you thinking about that kind of product graphs.



So we’ve got this product matrix, our spreadsheet of all of the products that we want to do or the ideas and it really just comes down to cost benefit analysis on every single one nd always watching the market, always looking at customer feedback. And it’s really just being responsive to what we think people are going to buy. It’s not like a passion project thing. It’s not like we’re thinking or you know, a vintage cheddar we just we love that we really, really want to do that. Next, it’s like, we don’t care if something’s not selling, we’ll cut it off at the limb and do something else. So it really just depends on what retailers want and what consumers are buying. And that’s partly why we’ve got the DTC platform up and running. To us direct to consumer sales are just a marketing activity. It’s really just there so that people can tell us what they like we can split test different flavors, different formats, and then use all of the data that we’re getting from that platform to inform how we roll out our retail products.



I love that you guys are making the consumer, the arbiter of where this business goes, I think that’s a really smart way to do it. You know, many, many founders sort of get passionate and fall in love with their own problem that they need to solve or the product that they want to deliver to market and they ignore feedback and then take note of what the markets telling them. And sometimes, maybe they hit it lucky. And they line those things up with what the consumer wants with what they want to deliver as, as an entrepreneur, you guys are by the sounds of it selectively choosing from the 30 at least 35 different products. I know Sean’s could create 35 products in a weekend. Yeah, you guys are gonna, you know, let the consumer tell you what they want. I think that’s super smart.



I think it comes down to having the hospitality and restaurant experience behind us. Like if we wanted to just if this was just a creative project, we’d still just have a restaurant and leave it at that. But, you know, if we’re actually bringing a product to market and expecting people to buy it, they need to tell us what they want not us dictate it to them.



So what advice would you or Sean potentially have for another chef out there that thinks they want to make that transition from, you know, restaurant chef to taking their their recipes, their creations and taking it to the broader market?



It’s a very different business model, obviously, I think Sean felt really, really uncomfortable about it at first. Look, it took a long time for me to I won’t lie to convince Sean to completely walk away from a restaurant that was doing very, very well, you know, his career’s going gangbusters. And I’m asking him to just walk away from it entirely and just become a cheese mogul with me. That was no easy feat. But I’m glad he trusted me on that on



Being married helps, I guess …..



Exactly. I think one thing that really stuck out to me, though, when we first started was that even though I had the business experience, a lot of the feedback that we would get was, you know, Sean’s just a chef, how’s he going to scale these recipes? He’s, you know, he can do it in a, you know, little kitchen serving 50 customers a night, but how is he going to do it in a 25,000 square foot production facility? Well, he did, because he’s got that skill set. You know, he knows how to scale recipes, he knows how to manage cost of goods, he knows how to utilize stuff that would normally go to waste. Hence, the reason why we use cauliflower scraps, because at the start, that was his way of using up stuff that he didn’t want to throw away in his restaurant kitchen. So my advice to chefs is that you guys already have the skills to do this stuff. It’s just a different application. And don’t let anyone tell you that just because you’ve never manufactured a food product that you don’t know what you’re doing. You may have the skill set, you may have already set up a successful business, dealt with vendors, managed massive teams of staff ….. this is just a really big kitchen ….



And they’re getting daily consumer feedback. It’s like, every day they take the show on the road into the restaurant and get that food in front of people in the mouths of consumers. They’re getting told every day, this is what we love. This is what we don’t like quite as much. They’ve got that data, they’ve got that insight that most food producers, you know, don’t necessarily get until they’ve invested a couple of million bucks in a couple of years producing something which they hope is going to work when it hits the show, you know, hits the mouths of the consumers.



Absolutely. And I think that’s a huge competitive advantage for us as a founding team that we never had to go out and hire a food scientist or a food technologist or get someone to help us develop recipes for a concept that would have you know, we we already could do it ourselves. And I really think that chefs just intuitively have that ability. They don’t need I guess they they come from a different perspective of people that might be more formally trained in an academic sense. And that’s where we’re starting to see some really, really unique products come out just because different mindset just coming from a different place. You know, chefs can come up with different ways of doing things.



So how do you you mentioned before that, you know, you guys are crying on a weekly basis, challenges occur. You ensure in a very different people. He’s the, you know, he’s the product development, creative genius, as you mentioned, and I think he truly yours that’s not hyperbole. You’re the dog eared, creative business person, sort of. And I’m sure he’s very good at business as well. But you know, you’re, you’re the, you know, you’re the business Rottweiler of this team who kind of gets things done and drives things through. Great team in that sense. Do you have what’s next in terms of building the team? What do you need to add that you don’t already have?



Well, we started looking at our team after we close the fundraising round last year. So the first two hires was Jeff, who heads up our sales team. So that’s already I think that’s a core role for any any startup is sales, obviously, even if you’re really good at sales as a founder, the more people the better, right? To help you out with that. So that was hire number one, and then hire number two was Jason who is out, he heads up our operations. So he’s in charge of supply chain management, logistics, all of those, I guess, filling in the gaps that Shawn was just trying to teach himself at the start and trying to get this product, commercial, like scale it up on the production equipment, Jason was able to get in there and just accelerate that whole process drive down our cost of goods to a place where we never thought was even possible. So to me, that’s in a lot of startups, the first two roles that I’ve been looking to hire for.



And you’ve got some more folks, too, that you’re out on the lookout for if someone’s listening to this, and they have a particular skill set. What are you looking for next, or maybe you’re not…..



Not just yet, I think the next logical hires for us will just be two weeks to expand our sales team and other than that, we’ve done everything in house. So marketing, for instance, is something that I’d probably never hire for just because that’s my background. So we’ve always done all of the marketing ourselves, we, if anything, we use a lot of external agencies just to do the heavy lifting of stuff that we don’t have time to do. So even though we’ve done all the graphic design and branding and everything for our first range of products that was so time consuming to teach ourselves that we just never do that. Again, we’d rather just hire people to do that for us. I don’t really want to be sitting at my desk all day watching Google Analytics, and monitoring our AdWords, and you know, Instagram campaigns. So we hire people externally to do that for us. I think that’s the lane approach that I’d always prefer to do that because you know, if it doesn’t work out, or you want to switch consultants, it’s a very easy change to make, rather than going to the effort of hiring all of these full time staff from day one.



And where do you see, Grounded, you know, everything works the way you want it to you and Shawn, kind of just drive the business? Where do you see grounded being, if you achieve your Nirvana in, I don’t know, five years,



I would like to see that we become the first plant based cheese company in the world to truly break through this category, and make something that mainstream consumers want to eat in the same way that they’re willing to try Beyond and Impossible. Those burgers still need a slice of cheese on it at the end of the day and I want us to be that. we’ve made. We don’t want to be plant based cheese moguls forever, I can definitely see us one day down the track having a strategic partnership with another, you know, maybe even current dairy producer that’s looking to bring in plant based products into their portfolio or even looking to convert depending on where the market takes us. We’ll see where consumers pull us in the next five years, right? I have a feeling that, you know, current dairy manufacturers might be having a challenge on their hands. So they might be looking to work with companies like us in the future.



So global? 



Absolutely. File trademarks already filed and an international strategy….



You’ve got an international strategy already. So 35 products to roll out in the US and plus International. So what’s after the US? What’s the next geography? Is it go back home and do something in Australia?



No, because look, I think that Australia is a really, really exciting place in terms of plant based innovation, especially with the geographical proximity to Singapore, just Asia in general. I really think that’s where the hub of all of the excitement is at the moment, not necessarily the US, but just thinking realistically in terms of numbers. I mean, the market in California is still bigger than the market in Australia and New Zealand combined for these kinds of products, so it doesn’t really make logical sense to go back home to Australia. 


Next with it would more likely be tackling the EU, maybe branching out to Canada first, that’s a soft step to get, you know, to get much bigger, but we’re definitely looking at taking this company global and I think it just makes sense to consider we’ve got such a low cost of goods and make products out of hemp, which just grows like a weed all over the world, essentially, in a vast array of growing climates, with minimal fertilizer, or water resources. And then using cauliflower as well, like super accessible, super low cost, I would really like to see that technology taken into more developing countries. 


Even Latin America, for instance, using those ingredients that have grown, they’re using workers that are hired from that location where we’re selling the products. And just making something that’s a lot more affordable to everyday consumers than it’s ever been before, instead of having these kind of latest vegan products on the market, like happens at the moment, and I’m speaking of that, you know, is living at the base of the Hollywood Hills here. So I’m fully aware of how exclusive it can be and potential.



So you know that we’re going to be opening up our Parisien office in June, July this year. So that’ll be an office and accelerator you’ll be able to, as part of the family be able to you know, you and Sean can come hang out in the in the office and use it as a base to go figure out what’s happening in Europe and what comes next. You’d be very welcome. Also, what what kind of help, would you need moving forward? If someone’s listening to this? And you know, you can ask them to help you in some way? What are you looking for? Is it more on the consumer side? Is it? Are you going to be going through a fundraising at some point in the future? What kind of help are you looking for? And how can anyone listening potentially get involved?



Yeah, we’re gonna be doing our series A later in the year, probably around September, October this year. And then the other help that we need from a non cash injection perspective is just help with scaling up production. So we need other facilities, we need facilities that can handle our process that are willing to work with startups and that are interested in becoming part of the plant based economy.



Now you were startup, but as you mentioned, you’ve already got contracts at Whole Foods and other places. You’ve got a couple of million bucks in the bank, give or take. So startup, yes, unstable and just getting going Not exactly, I think you guys are, you know, there’s a lot more solidity to you guys. And a typical startup, but at this point, not least of which because you know, the products amazing. So in terms of where do people go to find you guys? Where do they reach out to find Veronica and Sean as individuals, how can they engage with you?



I always recommend hitting up our Tick Tock account, rounded CFC just because that’s where we put all the stuff that our investors don’t watch, way more fun. Otherwise, LinkedIn if you just want the more computer friendly stuff, otherwise, To find our products, learn more about them, see what we’re ingredients we are using and yeah, buy it online, if you want to try it.



Now you launched the product. From an order perspective last week, a bunch of us ran as quickly as we could to place an order. Are you sold out? Yet, I was expecting within about a week you’d have sold out of your product, and there’d be this coming soon again, sign up on up on the website?



No, Andrew, when we do something, when we’re committed to doing something, we go hard. So we, I guess took so long getting to market because we wanted to make sure that like when we get into production, we can supply it consistently. So I can’t see any shortage anytime soon, like, we’ve taken the extra time just to really make sure that there’s not going to be any of those initial initial hurdles, like last year when we did our pre sales and it sold out within a few within a few minutes. Yeah. And then we just had angry people emailing us every day.



I think I think you’ll be surprised. I think you’ll get your stuff. They’ll reach a point where people hear about it more than you can just produce and you’ll get sold out again. I predict in the next 12 months there’ll be another you know coming soon on your website while you’re scaling up production again. So Veronica, if somebody wants to get hold of you in terms of you know, reaching out contacts ordering the product. The products were a cream cheese, a goat cheese from hemp and cauliflower with peppercorns, right?



It’s a goat cheese so not not crumbly, like Greek Feta, it’s more smooth and semi firm goat’s cheese texture in little cubes.



And then the third product is a cheese sauce.



Yes, it’s our American style cheese free cheese sauce and it is an ode to Americans fascination with processed cheese and Velveeta, which everyone says they don’t but someone is buying that stuff and I know that they are and they’re just not admitting to it. So we decided to replicate, I guess that same addictive flavor of those kinds of products, but using natural ingredients through fermented cauliflower and hemp and not all of the numbers and aditives.



So a healthier, potentially a healthier product range than the original products you guys are potentially superseding. Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t think there’s anything healthy about Velveeta. 


Oh don’t, don’t start or start getting letters from I don’t know, Kraft or whoever the heck makes it. Alright, so thank you so much for your time today, Veronica, Grounded go to tick tock if you want to look at the fun stuff, go to LinkedIn, if you want to look at the boring stuff. Go to the website if you want to order the product and actually taste it. I really highly recommend it. Thanks for your time today. If anyone has any questions for you, they can kind of get connected with you during those over those platforms. Right. 






All right. Thanks for your time today. 



Thanks a lot. Thank you, Andrew. 

I’m gonna pause it and then I’ll come right back one second. Hi. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Veronica, co founder of Grounded Foods. By all means if you have any questions or comments, please do reach out to us or reach out to Veronica. If you want to find out more about Big Idea Ventures come along to Big Idea We’re also on LinkedIn, and a number of other platforms. Look forward to hearing from you and by all means like and subscribe, the podcast or the YouTube video so you can find out when we update. We’re trying to do these on a weekly basis. We’ve got a wide range of great companies to introduce you to. So please do subscribe, and look forward to reaching out and connecting with you again. Thank you


Podcast 4: Actual Veggies Co-Founders Jason Rosenbaum and Hailey Swartz speak with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a plant-based burger company.  

In “The Big Idea Podcast: Food” series, each week our Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

To listen to the second episode featuring Actual Veggies‘ Co-Founders Jason Rosenbaum and Hailey Swartz, click on the links below!


The podcast can be viewed at the links below:


Please view the transcript of the interview below.

Andrew D Ive


Hi, welcome to big idea food podcast. This is your host, Andrew D Ive from Big Idea ventures. So today we’ll be talking to the co founders of actual veggies. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what they do they do it far better than I do. So let’s get into it. And if you have questions, or comments, please do post them. Like and Subscribe this via YouTube, via the various podcasts and so on. Look forward to engaging with you. Thanks very much. Actual veggies. How are you guys doing?


Jason & Hailey (Actual Veggies)


Doing well? How are you?



Hailey this is your cue.



Oh, sorry. I’m great. Thanks for having us.


Yeah, go ahead.



We don’t normally do a podcast with like three people. So it’s



Jason and I have done a few. So we’re good at this. Don’t worry.



I really yeah. You drop the ball then.



I thought he was answering for both of us. So I was giving him that one. 



When has he ever been allowed to do that? Come on.



Yeah, that’s true. Okay, let’s get going again.



This is all live. This is it. We’re not going to change this. This shows the dynamic of like the actual veggies team. It’s very cool. So let’s get back to it actual veggies. Welcome to the podcast. Love you guys have been, you know, following your journey now for quite some time. Why don’t you guys tell us about the company and what it is you’re doing.



Go ahead, Jason.



Perfect. So what we’re doing essentially is we’re making the best veggie burgers that have ever existed. And we kind of hit on all the different pain points in veggie burgers out in the market. And we offer this refrigerated fresh veggie burger that has all clean ingredients. And it’s all completely naturally colorful. And we really play off of the different colors. So we have four different burgers that we launched with the actual black burger, that’s black beans, the actual orange burger, its sweet potato, the actual purple burger, that’s beets, and then the actual green burger. That’s all your different super greens. And what’s amazing is you can really see taste and smell all the vegetables in them. And they just taste amazing because they’re all chef crafted by our partner who’s a chef. But it’s a it’s been an exciting journey. I mean, almost every single day is a roller coaster a lot of up but obviously some down as well.



So I mean, veggie burgers pretty horrible stuff, right? Traditionally, now.



Now they’re so good. The great thing about them is that like we’re finding that people who don’t eat meat, love them, people who are trying to eat less meat, love them, they’re so versatile. They go on the barbecue, they go in a pan, they’re easy in the oven, and even in the airfryer that’s we’ve been hearing a lot of that and as people are trying to eat healthy, especially during COVID times and but also have less time available. It’s a really convenient, easy meal to make that’s absolutely delicious. And it’s just it’s really one of my favorite things is seeing all the different ways that our customers and consumers are preparing it. It’s like every day it’s a new way.



So my daughter is 18, soon to be 19, and for the first 16 years of her life I don’t think she tried a vegetable period, she would not eat vegetables. Is this actual veggie going to crack that code. Is it making vegetables, you know, interesting, approachable for you know, kids and adults alike?



yeah, that’s what’s super interesting. We’re also seeing people use this as not as like their side, you know, as a replacement of the veggies on their plate. The colors are really good. The taste the seasonings, like really add to it. And it’s definitely a way to get your daily vegetable regardless, like I said, if you’re eating completely as a vegan or flexitarian.



But it tastes great in a bun? Oh yeah. Like taking it off the barbecue, slapping some, you know, plant based cheese on top and some ketchup and just taking a big bite. Yeah. So how did you guys come up with this? Veggie burgers have been around for a while, veggie products have been around for a while. You just sort of woke up and said, We can do this better or like what’s the story?



So I stopped eating meat towards the end of 2019. And I stopped eating meat for health reasons. My cholesterol was always high and I tried everything and eventually I was like alright, I’m going to cut out meat and see if it helps my cholesterol drop. So my favorite food was always the beef burger. So that was the first thing I was missing. And I pretty much learned that there’s two different types of vegetarian burgers on the market. 


The first is your imitation meats that really look tasty and bleed like a beef burger. But the problem is they’re really processed. They have a lot of sodium, and they’re called they’re plant based burgers but they don’t have them the plants in their ingredients. So they taste good, they look good but for me, they’re not that healthy. So it didn’t really work for me. And then on the other side, you have these kind of like antiquated, old school veggie burgers that really haven’t seen much innovation or any innovation throughout the years. And they’re really just these like, frozen, like kind of hockey pucks that just sit in your freezer for months and months and they’re just not exciting. 


There’s so many pain points, they’re thin, they’re small, you need like two or three to be even close to being filled up. And like we always had those when we were growing up, and they literally lived in the freezer unless there was nothing around for dinner. And it was just a last minute thing to fire one of those up. And it’s simply because they’re just not that exciting. And they’re also just not that healthy. They just don’t taste great. So really, we discussed why is there not like this restaurant style homemade style veggie burger that you can go buy at a grocery store, and then cook it up in five to 10 minutes. 


So we created this like thick, colorful veggie burger that just tastes amazing. It doesn’t have any fillers or preservatives, almost every other burger out there that you look at, has like oils, they have coconut oils, which is really bad for you once you heat it up. They all have all these other ingredients that help the burger bind cellulose eggs, bread crumbs, we cut out all that and we just use just veggies. And it’s just a clean burger that tastes amazing and it just was something that was not on the market. Because everyone’s so focused on imitation meats, and we were just like, hey, let’s make the best veggie burger out there. And that’s what we did.



So from a nutritional perspective, how do your products break down? Like, you know, salt, sugar, fiber, you know, all those good things, tell us about that.



Yeah, so they have about like 200 calories each. So not high in calories. They’re high in fiber, they’re low in fat, they have a decent amount of protein. And really, we have like 50% less salt and sodium than the other players out there. So that’s definitely something that we’re playing into is making sure health is front and center.



What’s your number one selling skew?



Well, so right now, we think that you know, so the black burger is the most versatile. Again, that’s the burger that the veggie burger that our customers are really comfortable with. But it’s really across the board when we have like someone try them, which one they liked the best. So it’s still probably too early to say exactly which one.



So you’ve got how many, how many, how many flavors, how many colors,



We have four different flavors. And then in terms of what we’ve sold the most, it’s by far the actual black burger, but the actual Greenburgh are starting to creep up.



Awesome. So it’s kind of like 30%, the black burger, the actual black burger 20%, the actual green burger, and then the other guys are sort of quickly coming up behind?



Yeah, it’s funny, the purple actual purple burger is probably our least sold from like a revenue perspective but the fans of the purple burger are the most vocal and the most excited about it. So it’s definitely a niche flavor. Yeah, it’s a beat based burger. So people love them or hate them. But the people who love them, they really love them.



And how are these things being made that you guys sitting around in your kitchen switch squishing the stuff together with your hands and knees? Or how?



I’m actually we have a big coal manufacturing facility out in Denver. I’m actually there. Right now we’re in the midst of a big production run. So yeah, we have a big facility. It’s a big operation. In it, it’s, it’s pretty exciting, because like, when we first started, we were just using our chef’s commercial kitchen, and we really scale this thing grow grew quickly to be able to fill capacity over at a big packing facility.



And how did actual veggies get it start? Who said yes to actual veggies first, from a distribution or a sales channel perspective.



So not to toot your horn, but having big idea ventures as our backers has been super helpful and making us legitimate in the eyes of investors and sales. Um, we definitely, we got a lot of introductions that led us to the right people, and the right connections to scale this a lot quicker than we could have on our own. So, you know, I think the idea was at the right time. You know, I always say it’s the perfect, you know, your dream is to get the perfect product market fit. And I think we did that. You know, it’s a product people want and it’s a market that people want it in. But really, all the mentors that big idea ventures we we were not afraid to really, you know, bother you guys all the time and ask for the right connections and right interactions to help us scale as quickly as we were able to.



So who’s who said yes, first, which channel which which retailer which, you know, okay, I’m going to take a gamble. on actual veggies.



So we the first technical place that we sold our product was a place called pop up grocer in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a traveling grocery store. Alright, cool. It’s one store. So it was very exciting. Our sales were were out of the roof, it was amazing. Our first like real big production. And our first real big order was in QVC, where we launched this year, January 8, and we sold out instantly. So that was like, that was our first like, moment, like, wow, like, we’re really onto something, this is a product people want. This is a product that, you know, the sky’s the limit here, essentially. So that was our first customer. And from there, it honestly feels like it’s kind of happening overnight, where orders and new vendors and new customers are just coming in, like almost in our sleep. It’s it’s, it’s amazing. Like, it’s just like all the work we put in last year’s laying down the foundation, with big idea ventures with our other investors with our other mentors. It’s all kind of coming to fruition now, like within the past month.



Absolutely. So obviously, because of COVID, you couldn’t be in the studio of QVC, sort of watching the the ticker go as people are placing their orders, because, you know, I’ve seen the movies where you’ve got, I don’t know, 10 minutes, and everything, you know, the orders are coming in in those 10 minutes. And that’s the only 10 minutes you’ve got at that particular point in time and the, you know, the the video starts or the you know, the presentation starts and if you’re lucky the telephone start ringing, the internet starts getting its orders, the clock starts getting all of the numbers of all of the orders that are coming through and it’s a success. Now you weren’t there for that, but I’m guessing that was pretty much the experience.



And yeah, so it was it was funny. Obviously, with technology, it’s a little different. But like one thing of starting our company in March 2020 is we don’t really know that what the reality of doing things in person is. So we, we had to sit and wait a few hours until we got our first cvc numbers and then it was just like, this moment of like, really, really like, Is this real? Um, it was just the fact that we pull it off QVC and like I said, and like Jason said it, it really made us feel like a legitimate company. So



Have you got that? Have you got the video of that, that kind of that presentation on your on your website or anything for people to see the kind of first time you guys went out on QVC?



Yeah, so we have the video, if you go to do search QVC actual veggies, you can see the video there. And we can also put it in the show notes as well.



Oh, great. So they actually keep you up on the website constantly. So you’re an ongoing vendor to them. That’s awesome. So what what came next after what came next after QVC.



And so a huge, sort of randomly. So hungryroot solid hungryroot is an online retailer that’s growing like crazy. And the exact consumer, we want to reach someone who’s healthy, who wants to eat healthy, but and clean, but also really values like a delicious meal. They found us in the pop up grocer. And they reached out and they said, you know, we want to try your burger. So we didn’t even have to reach them. And they did a huge order that with repeat orders every four to six weeks. We’ve just shipped our first order to them, I think at the end of March. And then we have another one early May. And like I said, they’re a great partner, their audience cares about the same thing our consumers care about. And it’s just really fun to work with them.



That’s amazing. And obviously, how you came together as a team? Who’s doing what roles those sorts of things. You you’ve all been, you know, tied down a little bit by COVID. Although I think you guys risked it a few times. I think there were certain drinks, parties and barbecues and things where you guys all kind of came together and hung out. I don’t know whether you wore your masks then. But you’ve been able to create this business as a team from different places. You know, take us through some of the the challenges you’ve had. Obviously, I don’t know that there’s been too many completely sleepless nights where it was touch and go in terms of whether the company is going to survive. Maybe there were some and you just didn’t tell me but you know, take us through some of the the obstacles and how you found your way around those.



Yeah, I do want to reiterate for us, we I think one of the advantages we had is we didn’t start the company before COVID. So really, we’ve only known working remotely. And I actually can’t imagine sitting in an office with my brother and Jason every day.



I can’t imagine that either.



Yes, that’s something that I say is an advantage, we didn’t have to pivot our strategy. We didn’t have to figure out like how to, you know, all these meetings that used to be in person, we don’t know what that’s like. And if anything, we found that like, buyers and advisors and investors had more time to talk to us. And so you actually feel very thankful for that course, like, on the, you know, obviously would not wish this pandemic on anyone or anything but that it has it. We did, there was a lot of positives that came out of it at the same time,



and tell the big negative that happened.



Yeah, you can.



So just a quick story. So with, I guess it doesn’t matter. So with hungryroot our first order, this was our first like big, big production order. A nightmare happened where our one of our machines broke. And it was our machine that essentially takes our burgers go into our trays, and then the machine will seal the burgers with film, the machine completely broke. And we had to seal 20,000 trays. We lost a lot of sleep over this trying to figure out how the hell we were going to seal these machines. We ended up finding a another co Packer that was based in Colorado. We trucked everything over to them. They had the machine it was working, they ended up doing it for us. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. And obviously, it obviously cost us money financially. But it was a nightmare. But luckily, we figured it out. We made it happen. We got the product to Hungryroot, but it was like an ongoing issue for almost a week where we put all of our brains together to try to figure out a solution. And luckily, we made it work. 



One more nightmare that we had. I thought I thought this is the one you were gonna bring up. So I think y’all know this one. But um, when we first apply the big idea of ventures to be in your cohort to um, we sent you guys burgers from Los Angeles. Oh, there you go. There’s the laugh um,



I still haven’t still haven’t tried the product. 



Yeah, so there’s supposed to be a burger. It’s supposed to be stable. That’s one of our our core differentiators is that we’re a stable burger without any fillers or oil, or preservatives. Um, we did not freeze. We did not send the burger with ice or dry ice or anything. The burger was not yet stable. And I remember, we got an email from you, Andrew. And it was like a picture of what was supposed to be our burger, but it looked like soup. And you and your humor were like it looks like the American soccer team just kicked this burger across the United States. We really thought we blew our chance at being in a big idea ventures cohort that no way we will get in without a, like a product that was working and tasted good. And so it was it was quite a surprise when we actually got the investment and joined the current cohort.



Yeah, we were I mean, we invested in you guys. We knew you’d figure out the product eventually. And you have look at you guys. I mean, Mike Barrow, who’s the guy, for those that are listening is the person responsible for distribution sends me texts almost daily with updates on you guys. He’s like, Oh, my God, they just got into this channel, this this account and that account and look, you know that they’re blowing up and like he’s, you know, texting me on everything you guys are doing? Why don’t you? Why don’t you take us a little bit through the team members, obviously, we’ve got Jason and Hahley, what do you guys do? And who else is on the team? And what are they up to?



So So yeah, I’m the CEO and co founder. Hailey’s co founder and president. And then Hailey’s brother Alex is our co founder. And he deals with operations and logistics. So he’s the director of that. So pretty much. We met with a lot of people when when we started, and they told Hailey and myself that we should pretty much never attend meetings together. And we should always kind of be doing our own thing and, and kind of carving out our own role. A lot of times when we met with people like that, like we left, and we were like, We were very scared or like, are we doing things right? Like, some of those people we met with are no longer that some of them are founders of other food companies. 


Some of them are no longer even in business. So it’s like, you kind of have to take everything with a grain of salt. So what works for Hailey and myself is we do a lot, we wear a lot of the same hats. And it just works for us. We attend a lot of the same meetings. Usually I know what she’s doing, usually, you know, she knows what I’m doing. There are things that I kind of break out and kind of took ownership on as well as Hailey has, but our roles definitely collide and overlap a lot. Whereas Alex, our other co founder Hailey’s brother, his role is really defined. He’s He’s our guide that deals with everything from sourcing ingredients to our co Packer to really owning the relationship with our co Packer to owning all of our logistics in terms of picking up products, shipping product, things like that. So he’s really defined. I kind of stick my nose in there every once in a while but he’s he’s got that down to a science. 


But yeah, I mean, Hailey and I are both involved in everything from marketing. When it comes to finance, I usually kind of take the lead on that. When it comes to like social media, stuff like that Hailey takes the lead on that. Sales, we kind of break up. We’re usually both involved in it together. But there’s certain people that I deal with them sales or that she doesn’t. 


But yeah, we really just, you know, we’re kind of just every day, like, what makes it so fun is like, every day is different. We don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of it’s unpredictable. We’re learning a lot under fire. And we really just work well, as a team. There’s no egos here, at least I don’t think there are. And it just, it just works. Like, people tell you like, you know, there, you have to do things a certain way. But we’ve done things the way we’ve wanted to do it. And it’s been fun, and it’s working. And we’re gonna keep doing it our way. And it’s great. I mean, that’s pretty much how it’s played out right here. It is, like, we were both kind of all over the place. And we stay organized. And it works for us. Yeah.



So who’s the chef?



So we, when we first started, we brought on chef Joel, who we brought on as an equity partner, and pretty much brought this vision to him to kind of create these burgers. And he pretty much brought it to life in terms of just, you know, the recipes and making it happen. So he’s involved in everything from just kind of recipe creations and things like that.



And you said, you guys have roles that sometimes collide, sometimes overlap, and so on. I’m guessing you guys have never disagreed on anything.



There we we pretty much agree. disagree. Okay. That’s I’m trying to think of a few things that Yeah, there’s been a few things that we’ve really disagreed on. Um, but I, it’s interesting, at the end of the day, we want the same thing. 



What is that what’s the same thing?



We want to grow the business and we want to make our consumers happy. Um, so I’m like, it’s interesting, I think having three of us, usually it’s two against one. And then that’s sort of the way that we would like would solve something. And then the other way that we’ve like, solved disagreements is it will bring in like a third party, who is unbiased. And that’s really worked really well. But again, there’s no ego. And we really, we always, it really just works. And I, you know, I know we’re a year in, but I’m hoping that that remains the case.



I guess what could change the dynamic is if you guys ever do sit in the same office together, that may change everything.



That’s That’s why I moved across the country. I was in New York, and Hayley and I would sometimes work together, but she made me move all the way to California. So now we are we are far apart.



Is that how it’s gonna be? You’re going to be California for the rest of the company. And Hailey, you’re going to be New York, are you? Do you see yourself Hailey moving across to LA and joining the glitterati at some point?



NO? for the foreseeable future? I’ll stay here. And my brother will be in Chicago. And like I said, it works. Yeah.



It’s, it’s really interesting. I wonder if we’re going to see this kind of group of companies that started during COVID and see, and I wonder if that’s going to make them kind of totally different ways of doing business, if it’s going to make them scrapier, if it’s going to make them more tenacious, than the kind of companies that needed to your point, Jason pivot, because of COVID and do things differently? You guys had to build it from scratch during this thing? It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be really interesting.



Yeah, no, that’s definitely the case. Like I said, I really do think it just has made it easier to have more meetings, and keep our expenses down to not travel to those.



You also mentioned, focusing on keeping making customers happy. I think it’s a fantastic kind of filter for everything that you do. But where do you see actual veggies? Being? You know, what, what are your personal goals as a team for the next, let’s say five years? Yeah,



So I’m just gonna last because this is actually probably one of the things that we argue about. I was like, trying to remember what the last thing we argued about, and this is it. Um, so obviously, actual veggies is not we don’t want to just be a burger company. There’s a lot you can do with the actual veggies brand. And I think it’s all about celebrating vegetables and like making food delicious and making it what it is and being transparent about what that is. Now when and what those products are going forward is something that we’re still we’re still tackling, there’s so many different ways we can go and there’s so many different ideas that we have and I think knowing when, and what products to launch next with are something that we’re still discussing internally. But Jason, you can probably share some of your ideas, which he has a lot.



I’m not gonna share individual ideas. But yeah, that’s definitely like a point of contention of when do we start coming out with new products. So like, now we’re starting to see traction with our burgers, like Hailey said, we don’t see actual veggies as a burger company. we’re not pigeon holed to doing alternative meats, we can take this wherever we want, we don’t have to do what someone like get beyond meat is doing where they’re just doing imitation meats, we can really take this wherever we want. So that’s definitely where this is heading. 


It’s just a question of when we have a bunch of different awesome fun products that are getting close to you know, getting ready to go. but what’s really what’s really cool, which we haven’t even talked about yet, is we’ve had such success with these online retailers like hungry root, we have a couple other ones coming on board. But our big play here is is traditional retail. And we are we’re officially launching, I guess we can announce this now. With sprouts, they’re relaunching with every single one of their 370 locations, which is another reason why I moved out west is just so we can have someone on the ground in California that really cares and can can kind of go into the stores because most of their stores are based in the West Coast. 


But that’s what’s really exciting, we’re launching with them early May 370, stores, three out of our four skews, and it’s going to be a huge launch, they’re really getting behind us. And really, that’s just the start of it. I mean, we had a bunch of other retailers knocking on our door, but sprouts was just the perfect partner to launch with and they’re really getting behind this. So that’s where, you know, that’s where things start getting exciting.



One thing I would one thing that for what it’s worth, I’m hearing from people who try your products that they are passionate about them, you know, it’s not just okay, it’s a bland burger, I could take it or leave it. I don’t give a crap when the next Damn, I said crap, that’s gonna have to change the rating of this podcast. Oh, well. Yeah. So, you know, when people are, they bite this product, they’d like this product, those who like this product, love this product, right? In terms of what you should do next, figure out a way for what it’s worth of asking your passionate consumer, right, you’re building a tribe of people who kind of get into what actual veggies is all about. 


There’s, there’s a kind of a story and a thought process of why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it’s different from anything else out there. Find those people who are your evangelists and give them some choices. If you’ve got, you know, five ideas 10 ideas of what products you’re thinking about next, ask the people that are voting with their dollars for you guys.



That’s a great idea.



I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if that’s like a, you know, a voting or getting people to call an 800 number or I don’t know what whatever. But there’s got to be a way of reaching out to the people that are actual veggie consumers.



Just give my phone number I’m happy to get those tests done.



Yeah, I mean, there’s got to be some way of reaching out to your most passionate consumers and saying, you know, what frustrates you about the food you’re eating today? What things do you want to see vegified? Or, you know, what, what do you want to see better nutrition, better quality ingredients better, you know, taste and texture than currently is out there today? And what you know, what do you want us to tackle next? Maybe you’ll get some good ideas.



That’s great.



Very cool. So next five years, still sort of in the thought process by the sounds of it? Are you building a team? Do you see yourselves being you know, four plus in at some point in the future?



Yeah, I mean, definitely looking to build onto the team as we raise more capital. That’s definitely something that we want to do. But something that’s been really working for us is we’re bringing in part time, essentially freelancers, and because of COVID and because we never were in a physical office, we’re able to operate that way. So we found we have some amazing, amazing part time, freelancers, our designers, she is an absolute gem. She is incredible. We don’t we’re just going, you know, she’s part of the future. This company, she’s part time, eventually we’ll bring her on full time. We have so many other people like that. And we’re gonna keep going down that path just so we can stay lean. 


At first, like, we were like, alright, let’s build a huge company in terms of employees have, you know, 100 200 people, now we’re thinking more let’s stay lean. Like, let’s bring in amazing people that are part time. If they work out, we’ll bring them on full time. But yeah, that’s that’s kind of the route that we’re looking to take.



And you’ve got enough to cope with with the US market for now, I guess. Any thoughts at some point in the future that you could be either licensing your, your kind of brand and your technology to other regions or doing it yourself, or is that just too far away for now? 



We started engaging in those conversations already and really, we’re probably about a few months away to re engage in those, it’s definitely a channel that we want to explore, It’s just we want to make sure we’re, we’re comfortable in the US at first. 



Got it. What are some of the challenges or gates obstacles that you’re coming up against right now, if any? Or is it all just plain plain sailing?



It’s Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely challenges. One of them is, believe it or not, we’re already looking for our second or third co Packer, because we’re already getting to the point where capacity is going to be an issue, just because kind of orders are coming in overnight. So that’s definitely something we have a couple other amazing co Packers that we’ve been talking to for a while that were potentially going to start sending some business their way. So that’s definitely something I don’t know does anything else come to mind? Hailey, in terms of just like,



I mean, I think the other thing for us, it’s not much, it’s a small challenge in the sense that so many people want our burgers and it’s a hard product for DDC. So it’s it’s expensive to ship. It’s an expensive supply chain. And yet, we want to make sure that as many people can try burgers as possible, as we’re, as we’re still in the process of getting into grocery stores nationwide. 


So working, you know, and it sort of takes a backseat, when you look at the quantity of orders that we’re getting to you to see because we’re not we’re not focused on promoting that, but at the same time, making sure that we can support it. So anyone can try our burgers, something that we constantly are revisiting.



Given the low levels of sodium, fat, high fiber, you know, the density of vegetables, and, and the deliciousness, I would have thought that the school sector and the university sector would be probably really interested in what you guys are doing, you know, having this as a kind of meal one day a week in a you know, in a school district would probably give kids more of the nutrients they’re looking for for a healthy, you know, healthy diet. Is that something that you guys are already talking in exploring? Or is that something that you’d like someone if they’re listening to reach out about if, if they’re in that space?



Yeah, so exactly what you just said, we have had some initial conversations, I think, right now, schools and universities are still trying to figure things out because of you know, how things are going to open due to COVID. But yeah, that’s definitely a space food service is definitely a space that we will love your audience to enter make the right introductions to, we’d really we have we have the ability to support those and would love to do those orders.



Perfect. And if those people listening want to reach out what’s the best way of doing so.



And you can just reach out over email, Hailey, or Reach out on Instagram at actual veggies. We are always willing and happy to talk to people.



Fantastic. So anything that you want to kind of get out there that you you know, you want to talk about from either a company perspective or, you know, anything that you really want to bring up as part of this conversation today?



Yeah, I mean, I think Hailey just kind of hit one of our points is we definitely see actual veggies going into restaurant chains. So that’s something that we do need help with. And if there’s anyone listening that can help with those introductions to different restaurants, or anything in food service, whether it’s universities, camps, schools, anything like that, we definitely need help there. Because that’s a huge, we see that as a huge part of our future. 


Something else that we’re starting to gear up for is to raise our series a round. We’re not actively trying to raise that right now. But we definitely will in the next, I’d say three to six months. So if there’s anyone listening that we haven’t already talked to, because I know we’ve talked to a lot of a lot of different venture groups and angels in the space if you haven’t talked to us or if you have and you want to re engage we would love to speak again or, or or meet because that’s definitely something we’re inevitably going to have to to raise it in the near future.



I mean, we introduced very investors to you guys, you know, a year ago, but the story is dramatically different in the past 12 months, the kind of traction that you guys have been getting the success in the marketplace, the kind of avid fans, etc. I think it’s a very different story from when you were having those initial conversations, because then it was a, hey, we’ve got this great concept, we’ve got this great range of products. 


We don’t seem to be able to ship it anywhere right now, because we haven’t figured that out yet. But you know, it’s it’s early days. Now it’s, hey, we’ve got multiple proof points, multiple, you know, in the marketplace, we’ve got multiple people placing orders, we’re gaining revenues consistently. We’ve got avid fans, you know, let’s have a conversation. I think I think you should be in a great spot, actually. What do you I mean, obviously, you don’t want to get into too much detail about this. But series A you think you’ll be raising $1 to $2 million, something in that range? Give or take?



Yeah, exactly. Right around $2 million. But yeah, well, like you said, What’s amazing is now we have orders. And not only do we have orders, we have reorders from the same customers. And we really have an amazing run rate in a projection where we’re, you know, doing multi million dollars in sales over the next 12 months. So it’s Yeah, it’s your like you said, it’s a completely different story from from where we were a year ago.



And your cost structure is awesome, because you don’t have 100 people in the business. It’s what 4, 3 4?



Yeah, there’s four of us. And then just part time people exactly.



Wow. Okay, I should reinvest



All right, yeah.



This is actually an investment call. Hopefully,



We’ll do the next round. Don’t worry about telling anybody listening, don’t bother about investing we’re gonna do the whole thing. No, I’m just kidding. Reach out to Jason and Hailey if this is, you know, a story and a mission that you’re interested in, if you’re interested in a company that’s growing very, very quickly. And it’s, I got to say, I would say no, normally it’s a delicious product. I’ve tried it. I haven’t, but lots of people I know have and they rave about it. So you know, it’s a delicious product and it’s a great business you should engage with them.



And and Jason will ship the product directly from the packer



I will or you will?



I’m not sure it can get that far. Man. I don’t I don’t believe you anymore. I’ve given up. So you mentioned that you’re that Halley’s brother was doing the the kind of CO man that ingredients to sourcing that sort of thing. So why is your you know, why is your kept t shirted body sitting in a co man facility in in this the state that you’re in right now? Why is he not there doing this?



He’s on the floor. He’s actually doing the work. Wow.



Okay. There’s two of you.



Yeah. So we actually have a meeting with the owner of the CO packing facility. So I flew out for that. But yeah, Alex is here. He’s been here longer than me. He’s, he’s downstairs, I see him now. He’s like carrying boxes, carrying our master cases and stalking him on the pallet. So he’s working.



So let’s see how much money you guys are making. And if you’re truly boozy, are you guys sharing a hotel room? Or are you in separate hotel rooms?



We are in separate hotel rooms.



Oh my god, you’ve hit the big time, man.



Yeah, we finally made it.



Meal budget is $10 a meal and that’s one a day and the other meals are the veggie burger.



So absolutely. What else you need to eat if you could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? actual veggies? Right. Yeah.



Thank you. So what are our salaries looked like you would understand why we are eating our product every single day.



You got to make sure it’s good that way, man. You know. All right. So I think this has been for me, this has been a great call. I think we’ve covered off the key things, actual veggies. You guys are amazing. If anyone wants to reach out to you guys, whether it’s about telling me telling you how great your product is because their consumers, whether it’s retailers who want to stock that probably the first delicious, plant based vegetable based burger to reach out to or Hailey or via Instagram actual veggies or via actual If you’re an investor, run, don’t walk because these guys have a great growth rate and a great trajectory. I just have a problem with the word trajectory. My teeth just don’t allow me to say that one. So yeah, you guys are going to be opening up your series A in the next few months or so.






Okay, it’s now April the 15th when this goes live, You may actually either just be about to start your series A or be in the middle of it. So we’ll try and get it out a little earlier so that people who are interested in you guys can find out about it before you’re going through the investment cycle. Thank you. Alright, anything else to add before we press stop or pause and just say goodbye to each other? Yeah, she’s



Thank you. Been great. 



Why are you so locked in on New York? By the way, if everyone’s deserted you and running across the country? Why?



She has a boyfriend in New York and now



I’m stuck here is my boyfriend so that Yeah, no, it’s it’s good.



All right, well, maybe you can drag him with you at some point.






There you go. Work on him. Alright, everyone, thanks for listening. This is Andrew from Big Idea ventures and actual veggies. do reach out to them if, if you want to just say hello to Jason or Hailey, if you want to get involved in in what they’re building in one way or another. I’m sure they will appreciate it. I’m going to press pause ….


I hope you enjoyed that conversation with the co founders of actual veggies. Great team call people doing some amazing things. So if you need to reach out to actual veggies, they gave you lots of ways to do so if you want to reach out to me, Andrew, I’ve your host from Big Idea ventures. Please do come along to big That’s it. We’ve I’ve enjoyed the podcast today. I hope you have if you’ve got questions or comments, please do reach out we want to hear from you and please like and subscribe and tell your friends your relatives, people you don’t even like very much tell everyone. Thanks again. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. Look forward to speaking with you all next week. Bye


© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021


The issue of single-use plastic is a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. In fact, scientists say we’re eating a credit card’s worth of plastic each week! Taking on this quest to save the planet from plastics, are incrEDIBLE eats, who have caused quite a stir with their idea – edible spoons! Rhianne Lovell-Boland speaks to Dinesh Tadepalli, Co-Founder of incrEDIBLE eats who shares more on how they are replacing single-use plastics with edible cutlery.

Chicago-based food tech Aqua Cultured Foods is launching what it claims is the world’s first whole-muscle cut seafood analogue developed using microbial fermentation. Looking to become a first mover in the category, much like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods has done in the plant-based space, Aqua Cultured is set on disrupting aquaculture by growing the most realistic, sustainable, fish-free seafood on the market.

Aqua Cultured is the latest to join the rising fermentation alternative protein space, the sector described as the “third pillar” next to plant-based and cell-based, and wants to carve out a new category by launching what it claims is the “world’s first whole-muscle cut seafood alternative created through the process of microbial fermentation.”

Using their novel technology, the Chicago-headquartered food tech produces a complete protein without the harmful environmental consequences of conventional aquaculture – from greenhouse gas emissions to overfishing and a whole host negative impacts from bottom trawling, such as bycatch and plastic pollution – and develops whole-cut seafood analogues from it.

Some of the whole-cut analogues that Aqua Cultured is developing include shrimp, calamari, ahi tuna, fish fillets, but its first product will be a frozen popcorn shrimp coming in three flavours and launching in “select markets later this year”, followed by marinated seafood pieces.

Currently, the majority of seafood alternatives on the market are made using plant-based ingredients and come in formats like chunks, crab cakes or shreds, such as Good Catch Foods’ vegan tuna and breaded fish fillets or Hooked Foods’ shredded salmon.

Aqua Cultured co-founder and CEO Anne Palermo says that there is an “opportunity in the market” when it comes to replicating whole-muscle cut pieces that can mimic the look and texture of traditional seafood. Palermo founded the company with CSMO Brittany Chibe in late 2020, and has gained the backing of Big Idea Ventures and AngelList rolling fund Sustainable Food Ventures.

The technology that the startup is using is different to that of precision fermentation food techs like California’s Perfect Day who uses it to create real dairy proteins without any cows, and Change Foods, a U.S. and Australia-based firmcreating animal-free cheese prototypes.

Within the fermentation space, Aqua Cultured falls into the biomass fermentation category, which takes the fast-growing component of microorganisms as an ingredient to produce large amounts of alternative protein – something that legacy meatless brand Quorn has done using filamentous fungi.

Speaking to Green Queen Media, the company’s co-founder Chibe explained that they use a proprietary fungi strain to produce their products, and “since we don’t alter DNA, our products are non-GMO.”

Aqua Cultured also ditches the need for starches and isolates that are often used in existing alternative proteins on the market, which means that its final fungi-based product boasts a better nutrition profile with fibre, micronutrients and naturally-occuring proteins – all the while giving consumers the bite, texture and sensorial experience of eating whole cuts of fish.

“This allows us to improve the health of our global community and contribute to the solution of how the world will meet its increasing demands on food supply,” said Palermo, who added that it caters to the growing clean label consumer trend.

Chibe revealed to Green Queen Media that ahead of its upcoming launch, which will be through foodservice channels, the company is “actively raising right now and looking to close the round in the next 60 days” to help fuel its growth.

Going global is also on the roadmap for the startup, given that it has already garnered “significant interest from international foodservice distributors and operators,” Chibe added.

While Aqua Cultured is set to be the first to use fermentation to debut whole-cut seafood alternatives, other food techs have debuted whole-cuts meats using the same technology.

Among them are Atlast Food Co., the Robert Downey Jr.-backed startup making mycelium-based slices of bacon and other whole-cut meats, as well as Meati Foods, who have developed chicken breast, steak and are set to launch whole-muscle jerky later this summer.

Still in R&D stage, newly founded Barcelona startup Libre Foods is on the same mission and plans to grow an entire platform of whole-cut steak, poultry and even seafood from filamentous fungi.

Singapore is fast becoming Asia’s most important food-technology hub.

Podcast 3:Evo Foods’ Co-Founder Kartik Dixit speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a plant-based milk company

In “The Big Idea Podcast: Food” series, each week our Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

To listen to the second episode featuring Evo Foods‘ Co-Founder Kartik, click on the links below!


The podcast can be viewed at the links below:


Please view the transcript of the interview below.

Andrew D Ive 00:00 

Hi, this is Andrew from the big idea food podcast. Today we’re going to be talking to Kartik. He’s the co founder of the vo foods in India. They’ve developed a product, which is a plant based egg product. Let’s have a conversation with him. love to get your thoughts and feedback. Reach out to us via big idea or any of the platforms where you’ll find us across social media. Thanks very much. Kartik, how are you? 

Kartik 00:33 

I’m good. I’m good. How about you? 

Andrew D Ive 00:36 

Very well, welcome to the big idea. Food podcast. Really glad to have you. So you’re what you’re a co founder, one more co founder in a plant based food company? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you. And a little bit about your food company? 

Kartik 00:57 

For sure, for sure. So I think I’ll give you a bit of a background about me. My background is 

not really into the food industry or into, you know, any kind of, you know, previous work. But I directly jump into entrepreneurship after my graduation, in 2017, and co founded India’s first cultivated meat company called clear meat. And then afterwards, I started Evo foods, which is basically a really short biography 

Andrew D Ive 01:31 

has a terribly short biography. So, so you graduated from your graduated from undergrad in what? 217 2017? Right. 

Kartik 01:39 


Andrew D Ive 01:40 

So three years, three years, four years out of college at this point, right, right. Two startups under your belt, one that you left after a year or two in cell based meat. And now Evo foods, why don’t why don’t you tell us a little bit about Evo, 

Kartik 01:54 

for sure. So, Evo started out of the need to provide clean plant based protein to India. And consequently the world. The way we thought about it is that India is so much has so much crop biodiversity, for example, Indian, India has approximately 62,000 varieties of legumes right now. Why not use it in a sustainable way, why not create amazing plant based options for people here, and usually, you know, expand that to up to other countries. So that was the core thought behind Evo Foods we started back in 2019. Me and my co founder sada, we are really passionate supporters of sustainability, nutrition, she started in the US, so she knew all about what was going on at that time, you know, beyond meat impossible would what they were doing in the US. So she was pretty much, you know, accustomed to the fact that plant based revolution is going to happen one way or the other. And in India, that was an opportune moment at that time. Because, you know, GSI was also starting his work. One, one got hired in 2017, I guess at the same time, I also started working in the sector. So a lot of great things were happening. And we thought that one thing which was missing is the ag sector. Because egg is such a versatile food and it’s such a non religious food in India, because religion is a big part of our country, we have to absolutely make sure that whatever we are producing is up to the standards of different variety of religions. So if you see the dynamics of vegetarianism in India, if you want to convert to non vegetarianism, you’re not likely to start off with a 

chicken or mutton, you’re most likely to start off with an egg and there are three dots. So green dot red dot and this yellow dot right or sorry, orange dot right now, which which relates to recipes, which contains eggs. So, in such a different 

Andrew D Ive 03:58 

way before we pass over that why don’t you explain what you mean by India 

Kartik 04:05 

for sure. So, green dot usually means that the product contains dairy as well as plant based ingredients. orange dot means that you know, it contains egg and red dot means that it contains meat, any kind of meat, chicken, mutton etc. And this is a unique system proposed by fssai so that you know, people from different walks of religion can identify foods based on their religious and their preferences. For example, if a vegetarian sees a green dot, then he will purchase that he will purchase that. 

Andrew D Ive 04:40 

So this is a labeling system within Yeah, that that kind of Okay, got it. 

Kartik 04:48 

Right. So we thought that, you know, since people already have, you know, very less egg is seen as a very less offensive food. So that’s why we thought that we can start With an egg alternative, which is not only made from the, you know, legumes, which they already know, which they already eat on a regular basis in their daily diet, and just make it like these are your legumes in a different form in the form of an egg in the form of a liquid egg. And that’s what we ought to do. And that’s what started our whole product development. We got some scientists on board product developers on board. And it started the whole journey got into big idea ventures, New York City accelerator. Lucky for us, that turned out to be and then raised investment from Ryan, Dr. Sanders freedom, wedge invest, and other angel investors. One thing which we did in the last few months was that we carried out a sort of a launch event, which got sold out within an hour of disclosure, which we are really, which was really surprising for us as well, because we didn’t know that, you know, obviously, India was ready for plant based protein now that they’ve gotten such big responses, we know that Evo foods is gonna, is going to succeed in Tier One cities in India, because of the great response we have gotten. 

Andrew D Ive 06:11 

So let’s talk a little bit about the product itself. You’re using lagoons, and you’re making what you called liquid, liquid egg. What’s the, you know, what? What’s the use? Why liquid egg? Why not some kind of solid form? You know, how did you come to a conclusion about what you needed to bring to market first? 

Kartik 06:32 

Right, right. So that journey from deciding the form factor to deciding the ingredients was very, very intricate. We, you know, we asked people what they thought of it, what they thought of the idea. And they said that even if we even if we can get like a normal egg, for example, in a shell made out of plants, which is incredibly difficult, that would be really great. Then the second choice was if they can get a liquid, which can behave exactly like an egg, and the third choice was powder. Because Indians are accustomed to using powders in the baking recipes. There are alternatives available based on that. But there was no liquid version which was present in the market. And most importantly, it makes their lives easier. They don’t have to break an egg every time they need to make a scramble or an omelet. Plus, most importantly, people are really scared about antibiotics in the whole supply chain in India, antibiotics are heavily used as a substitute for sanitation in the poultry supply chain. So people are concerned about that, there was a clear need for plant based liquid Agra, which we identified. And and that’s how we ended up on that form factor on the liquid form factor. So just to show you, this is our product. Not sure if you can see that. When it comes in a bottle. It is equivalent to 12 eggs, as you can see from the pack itself, there’s a measuring line, out of which you can measure how many eggs you are using right now. Which is quite novel, which we found out that could be a really, you know, in a way it can help consumers track how many eggs were eaten. 

Andrew D Ive 08:15 

So that’s 1212 a dozen eggs in a bottle equivalent. What about price? People more? Is it more expensive to buy a dozen eggs? Or is it more expensive to buy? Evo and how, you know, how do they compare? 

Kartik 08:33 

For sure. So, rising is one of the what I would say is a deterrent while purchasing plant based foods globally, right. Even if you see the US market, plant based meat alternatives are a little bit or or I would say you know, at least 1x or 2x higher than normal, normal meat supply price was a main data and we didn’t want it to be a really expensive 

alternative to an A, but a little bit, you know, I would say under the premium category. So what we did was we developed it to a local supply chain. We use a local supply chain for all our ingredients, including all proteins including our hydrocolloids and everything. And 

we made sure that the price is somewhere close to premium and category in India. So if you see some brands or in the Indian subcontinent, or less kegs, for example, they are priced at around 250 rupees, which turns out to be approximately $4 a dozen. We are also in that price range. So, what the model you just saw a while into a dozen will cost approximately four to 4.5 dollars at conscious choice, because we didn’t want people to think that you know this is out of our reach. We wanted to make it aspirational, but achievable. 

Andrew D Ive 09:56 

And does that give you the kind of margins you need to incentive buys the supply chain so that they’re actually happy to put it on the shelf and so on? 

Kartik 10:04 

Absolutely. Because our supply chain is based out of India, we can afford to make it at a really affordable price. And we have really healthy margins with which we can carry out a business and make it sustainable in the long term. 

Andrew D Ive 10:19 

Got it? And what are the channels that you’re looking to sell the product into initially? 

Kartik 10:24 

Right. So when we considered the whole sector in India, we thought that going directly into, you know, direct to consumer, or retail might create something which we call as, what is the term I’m looking for? It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s like, you know, when when you see a novel product on Amazon, for example, you know, and there’s an expectation which man, that’s how I got it. So there’s an expectation mismatch for all of the products in the novel food category. So if you say list these kinds of products on Amazon, you see a seeker on on the product reviews that are five star reviews. Equally, there are three zero star or one star reviews on Amazon. And that’s what we found really interesting, we thought that going direct to consumers or going listing on different kinds of e commerce platform might not be a great strategy, because people don’t really know what a plant base tag is. And that’s why we made sure that it really makes it clear on the packaging itself, we have made sure that people understand and what it is through packaging. And then when the channels 

are considered, my co founders background lies in the hospitality industry, she is also a part of NRA national restaurant association of India. And through that, he knows a lot of restaurant years. And we have already partnered with more than 55 plus restaurants kind of inspired by impossible food strategy. So make sure that people get to try the product first, they get to enjoy it, they get, you know, the trust is transferred from one needs to defend to the other. And then you know, roll it out slowly into direct to consumer or other channels, when people are aware that such a thing exists. 

Andrew D Ive 12:16 

Got it. So, how’s that going? 

Kartik 12:21 

It’s going really good, we’ve been we’ve been getting a lot of positive responses when tasting is concerned with the restaurants. So far, we have managed to get approximately three to five top restaurants in Mumbai under our brand, what we want to do is co brand with restaurants as well, because co branding will really create that kind of awareness about the brand evo, what it stands for. That’s why we are really, you know, looking forward to co brand and with restaurants. You know, if you’ve seen impossible foods flag on a particular burger, that’s how you’ll see it in India, in Mumbai in different kinds of restaurants. And so people will get to know that this they are consuming an evo burger or evo sandwich or something like that. And most importantly, what we found out is it doesn’t necessarily need to say plant based egg, it can just be evo, for example, you know, impossible burger beyond burger, something like that we want to create evo sandwich or you know, evo burger or Evo good G or evo, omelette, evo fritatta. So, you don’t make that product stand out by itself not dependent on the term plant based thing. 

Andrew D Ive 13:37 

So, you’re looking at restaurants to kind of get the brand out there which is you know, from what I can tell the impossible strategy right where they they got thought leaders involved they got people you know, chefs and so on putting it on their menu and then you know, the the great and the good testing it in the best restaurants. What about getting it to the kind of common person the regular person the the normal grocery convenience, you know, distribution channels, is that part of the strategy? And if so, when do you see that coming along? 

Kartik 14:12 

Not this year for sure, because one thing we are really sure of is the whole Indian ecosystem. So I don’t think India is a market for plant based proteins for a billion people right now, it can take anywhere between five to 10 years for people to get awareness about plant based foods in general. So, but the consumers most of the consumers 50 to 60 million people living in Tier One cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore Chennai, these are the kinds of consumers we are looking for those who are aware about plant based alternatives those who have eaten or drank some kind of plant based milk. You know, eaten for example, a meat meat alternative or eat soy chop, which is like a popular dish in India. So, so yeah, chop is something which is made out of soy And all purpose floor, which resembles meat a lot. So it’s a really popular dish in India. If they know about sweatshops, then that’s like a starting point for them to understand what these alternatives are right now and what they can do with the taste functionality and nutrition. So, so yeah, chop eating people in Tier One cities in India, these are the consumers we are looking for. And our goal is to be present in at least 1000 restaurants across three cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore by next year. After that, we’ll be sorry, go ahead. Yeah, it will be available to, you know, consumers to purchase, why retail and Amazon. Got it. 

Andrew D Ive 15:43 

So over the next 12 to 18 months, the strategy is the food service. So restaurants in particular, get that to you say 1000 or 1500? Something along those lines, correct? 

Kartik 15:59 

Oh, then yeah, tell stone to 1500 restaurants, it can be anywhere in that number. Got it. And the 

Andrew D Ive 16:05 

expectation is that those restaurants will use that Evo brand as part of their menu, it won’t just be an ingredient that they put in without mentioning. 

Kartik 16:15 

Yes, for sure. co branding is a great, you know, a great way for us to put our brand out. And most importantly, it can introduce the brand to chefs as well. For example, chefs can get to know that, you know, this is all possible. And they can tell other chefs about it. So it’s kind of creating an practice as well. Even in Mumbai, we are seeing whenever we trial with chefs, you usually get inquiries from other chefs, probably from other restaurant chains. So that’s what it is, you know, creating like a network effect. 

Andrew D Ive 16:50 

So when the restaurants so forgive me, I’m just sort of thinking through the strategy for a second, from, from a restaurant perspective, who’s going to be selling those selling your product into them is that you’re going to do that internally, you have your own team that’s going to be dedicated to introducing the product to chefs and so on. Or you finding a third party that has those kind of relationships as a way of going to market. I’m just sort of, you know, as you’re a young company, how are you kind of covering that sort of 1000s restaurant? sales process? 

Kartik 17:31 

Right, right. So we’ll start off with anchor brands, what we call as anchor brands, and these are the restaurants where usually influencers dine in and it creates an impact because people usually in India follow a lot of Western values when living in Tier One cities. And they see, you know, influencers such as cricketers, you know, bollywood celebrities, they usually go to these kinds of places and try out different recipes. So our target is to partner with these kinds of brands, first in Tier One cities, so that the word spreads, what that will do is that will encourage more and more chefs from different tiers of restaurants to try out evo was the word spreads. And once the word spreads, we will start to reach scale or bring the price down and then target more tier two or tier three restaurants. In these you know tier one cities in India, we usually like to focus initially on restaurants which are really exclusive which are really known for the taste of the foods I’m known for their whole literary experience so that people can get to know about it right that something like a plant based diet can be used in sushi something it can be used in an omelette breakfast food. And one thing we are trying to do is we want to make it a wholesome holy a food not just for breakfast, as egg is usually seen. So yeah, this is our strategy for the next one year and definitely launch into retail. 

Andrew D Ive 19:07 

Okay, awesome. So Okay, got it. interesting approach. How many restaurants have have decided to take it so far? 

Kartik 19:19 

We have partnered so far with 55 plus restaurants from 20 plus brands. You’re looking at rolling it out in April, fully into these restaurants. As a part of our strategy. It will start off with tier one restaurants in Mumbai where usually celebrities go and influencers go will conduct a lot of tasting tastings are usually a part of our strategy. Because once people 

get to taste the product, they’ll check that you know, it tastes exactly like an egg. It also has the nutrition it also has the you know necessary vitamins and minerals in their daily diet. They can ask the chef about it. What we have done we have created different documents for chefs to use in the form of recipes as well as in the form of communication. So how do you, you know, make sure that it doesn’t get translated to something called as a vegan food or a non vegan food or, you know, it just, we are really trying to stay away from the whole categorization into a particular type of vegan food. So that’s why we have made it really clear in the communication booklet we have created that you can explain to it, you know, using in this way that it’s made out of plants, made out of legumes, it’s 100%, plant base, it contains all of your essential amino acids. And it is delicious. That’s it. That’s the whole messaging we are trying to create with restaurants. 

Andrew D Ive 20:46 

Got it? Okay, so 12 months, restaurants, 18 months restaurants, ideally hit something around the 1000 restaurant, from a numbers perspective, then move into other channels like grocery or, or what’s what’s next, what comes after that. 

Kartik 21:07 

Right now or Andrew, to be honest, we you don’t see us spending a lot of money on the Indian market, even after a year of operations. Tier One cities is what we are looking for, as our target market. And then we would like to launch into other markets such as us, because in the US, plant based tech is the fastest growing category amongst all plant based foods as you are already aware enough, right. So in the US consumers already know about this stuff, they are already aware of other alternatives, which are incredibly high priced. In this way, we can create a value add for the US market that not only it is incredibly tasty, it is also delicious, it is also nutritionally superior, but also it is affordable. So even if we sell for example 2x of the price of what we are selling in India, we would still be cheaper than the most, I would say the most hyped plant based egg alternative out there in the US. So that’s that’s the advantage we might have for the US market entry. And sometime next year, we would definitely want to be in the US market. Okay, so 

Andrew D Ive 22:16 

you don’t see yourself converting that buzz in India into an opportunity for everyone to get access, you still see it being very much a restaurant based product. 

Kartik 22:31 

Right. And, and the reason why we are looking at it is because of the price. Right now in India, if you see the price of normal eggs, it is approximately in the range of four to six rupees per egg, and we at Evo have managed to get the price down to up to 20 to 25 rupees per egg, by next year, we can definitely bring that down in the range of 15 to 20 rupees per egg, but that will still be higher. And we’ll need external resources external investment so that we can convince restaurants in tier two cities or you know, convince consumers in general to buy our product at a at a really high price, according to them. And the consumers usually when they are based in Tier One cities, they already have that purchasing power to buy evo in the form of either a dish or through channels such as Amazon or retail. But that’s the limiting factor here price is a limiting factor in the Indian market, if we can bring the price down to let’s say, a 10 rupees apiece, then we can definitely expand in India, but that will internally amongst the bow, it will take a long time, for example, three to four years it will definitely take for us to reach that price. 

Andrew D Ive 23:45 

And is that a is that a production challenge? Is that a scale challenge or both? I mean, is it very much about if the volume was at such a point, you would be able to be down close to the cost of an egg or even even, you know, even if you multiplied your volume by 1000 times it wouldn’t necessarily bring the price down to that point. 

Kartik 24:09 

Now if you’ve multiplied by 1000 times, then definitely we can reach the price scale. That’s what we are considering right if we are able to reach that kind of scale in Tier One cities in India, then we can bring the price further down by simply negotiating you know, better prices with with the suppliers. But the way we are seeing it will take you know ingredient reduction as well as efficient production research. So that, you know we can make Evo the most nutritious and affordable protein source on the entire planet by 2025. That’s the ambitious goal we have. But of course that will take some time on our end. 

Andrew D Ive 24:47 

Do you see yourselves I mean, you talk about the you know the best, most nutritious source of plant based protein on the planet. Still specifically in egg or do you see Evo at some point, broadening Outside of egg once it’s, you know, covered off India started to for example or got successfully into the United States. Do you see yourselves remaining an egg for the for the duration? Or are there other ideas on there? You know, obviously don’t tell us what those ideas necessarily are. But are there other ideas that you’re considering? 

Kartik 25:20 

Not as of now, because there’s, egg’s such a versatile food it can be made into omelet scrambles, retarders, it can be used in baking, geling agent foaming agent. So there are a lot of functionalities to cover first with an egg for example, the egg we have right now the liquid egg it right now is you know, not shelf stable ambient shelf stable, it’s under refrigerated conditions. So we would like for it to be shelf stable. That’s another goal on the existing product front, we want to create different versions of an egg, for example, and egg Patty are ready to cook omelette. These kinds of different variations. For example, egg biryani to egg biryani is going to definitely become a hit in India. Kind of products we want to create, we want to be focused on the whole egg platform for the next five years at least make Evo the most nutritious and sustainable plant based egg in the whole world and then move beyond egg early and look into other categories, but not for the next five years. I will say. 

Andrew D Ive 26:22 

Got it. And tell us a little bit about your co founder as well. You mentioned a little bit tiny, tiny bit about your story. But how did you and shop come together and what’s her her background and why she doing this? 

Kartik 26:37 

For sure. It’s an interesting story we met back in 2018 at a food conference in Mumbai. So at that time, I was working on cultivated meat front. And she said to me that Karthik I want to introduce cultivated meat at my restaurant. And I said to her that, no, that’s not going to happen within the next three to four years. And she was a bit disappointed, but we always kept in touch. And you know, her background lies in the hospitality. She studied hospitality and management at Boston University in the US. Then she came back to India worked at different restaurants, different hotel chains, and then co co founder and started her own restaurant, which is called as candy and green in Mumbai. And from the early on, she was a big proponent because candy and green is a vegan and vegetarian restaurant, right? It is India’s first Farm to Fork direct, you know, she grows her own vegetables on the rooftop and uses the same vegetables in the recipes. So it’s a novel concept for which she got applauded by Forbes under 30, under 30, in 2018. A big proponent of sustainability in food. And that’s what that’s what led to, you know, US connecting on a deeper level. Because we both care about sustainability and food we both care about climate change, and how our food systems impact climate change. And how India can be a global leader in providing plant based alternatives because of Global Diversity. And that’s what we co founded. That’s a little bit about. 

Andrew D Ive 28:09 

Fantastic. And do you think there’s some sort of mission element to to what she’s doing as well? I mean, obviously, she’s very stimulated by food. She’s been in the hospitality industry and restaurant industry for some time. But is there a mission component to this? Or that’s not? That’s not really part of it? 

Kartik 28:29 

No, no, absolutely. The way she saw it is that using her approach of you know, impacting people through a restaurant, versus impacting people who a big company, which creates tons and tons of food, in the form of plant based egg or plant based meat, plant based dairy is much more effective at producing, producing a change at a larger scale. And that’s why at that time, she was also looking to start something in the plant based page when I left my previous startup, and that’s how we got together. So there was definitely a mission element to it, that, you know, to create a change at a larger scale. It’s not preferred that, you know, you start a restaurant in mumbly, because that’s a very limited approach, right, to create that kind of a team. And that’s what she’s trying to do. Okay, 

Andrew D Ive 29:22 

so tell us a little bit about how you got the company started. Obviously, you guys came together as a team. Where did you go? You went through some form of product prototyping. I know that you guys, I’m not sure where you were in the cycle when you guys applied to big idea ventures, and we’re looking to you know, join the accelerator, get investment and so on. Why don’t you take us a little bit through some of those steps. 

Kartik 29:48 

Right, right. Right. So at that time in August, we got a plant biochemist on board. You know, we’ve worked through different formulations. I already had a few ideas about the ingredients we can use to make plant based egg. For example, chickpeas, which are, which is what we are using right now to create the formulation, we tried a different combination of chickpeas peas. The goal was to make it as nutritionally comparable to an egg as possible without hampering the functionality at all. So we created some prototypes, introduced it in shudders restaurant, ended some trials with consumers in February, and then definitely brought an answer from Big Idea ventures about the selection into New York City accelerator. And at that time, also COVID hit and our timelines got pushed by, otherwise, we were ready to do priors, we were ready to improve the product. But then obviously, it got pushed back, as it did with a lot of startups, I guess, 

and really created a disruption basically, in the whole development process of evo. We resumed back in 20 2020, in October, and then we started resuming all of our processes. You know, we had a lot of challenges, some of our equipment broke down, we had to get access to different equipments at that time, there were a lot of low COVID restriction, so we couldn’t get any, to produce some form of, you know, plant based tech to give tasting to people. But now that we are back on track, we think that, you know, we are ready to go into the market, ready to get feedback from people as much as possible, and then improve the product further to launch more broadly into tier one cities in India. 

Andrew D Ive 31:36 

Now, I was gonna ask how the fundraising process when because that’s often something that, you know, new teams, new companies find challenging, but I don’t know whether it’s you or shuddha, or both of you, but you guys have been able to create a lot of excitement 

around evo A lot of people have been engaging, supporting, you know, G, as you mentioned, Varun from GFI was, has been a strong evangelist and so on. Obviously, we became an evangelist when we invested. So you know, you guys have really got a strong tailwind. You know, so from your point of view, has the fundraising been challenging? Or is it actually been relatively easy given the excitement? 

Kartik 32:19 

So initially, it was challenging, Andrew, because when we started back in August 2019, we tried to raise some funds through Indian VCs, Indian accelerators, and none of them responded to us. Like you guys did, because they didn’t know about the whole plant based space in general, right. Okay. So they didn’t know about the plant based space. When we pitched the idea to them, they said that, why would someone would like to switch to a plant based diet or a plant based meat or plant based dairy, so they were not aware about the space, as I would say, and the excitement about the sector was not there. I think in 2020, after the pandemic, and the word spread, beyond meets IPO, as well, in 2019, they got really excited about the sector. It’s really interesting that how one company’s success can fuel the whole sector. But that’s what we found out after that. We got and we also got an interview request from Y Combinator, which was really exciting. It was an interesting process to go through, we realized that, you know, we should really work on our product well, and at that, I think it was just two months into the journey, we got an offer from them for an interview. We also got an offer from TechStars, and other accelerators. But we decided to, you know, definitely focus on BIV BIV, because BIV’s focuses alternative protein itself. And that’s why you know, BIV, BIV also gave us a lot of traction in the fundraising space. It definitely gave us a platform to to introduce the concept of clean protein to India. And I would say that, it’s it was initially challenging, but 

then it got easier as we went to the BIV program, and got you guys on board. 

Andrew D Ive 34:11 

That’s great to hear. So talking of the challenges for a moment, what do you think, Well, what do you anticipate could be some of the challenges that you may encounter, bringing your product successfully into India? 

Kartik 34:27 

Right supply chain is one of the biggest constraints here because cold chain is not on par with global standards. And that’s why we are actively trying to make the product ambient shelf stable. But the way we are seeing it one advantage of our, you know, whole strategy 

of going into food services that we can piggyback on the existing cold supply chain, which restaurants already have, right. every restaurant has refrigerators, they care about their own supply, and they make sure that the supply stays good. So we can piggyback on the existing model and We can create that whole path through full service first. But then again, if we want to launch into, let’s say, you know, something like Amazon, something like retail, then that will take additional investment on creating that supply chain, if we are going through it from a refrigerated point of view, if we make it shelf stable, then the constraints will definitely go away. But in the initial one year, we definitely expect some unique challenges on the supply chain front. Other than that, hiring great talent, because India is definitely one of the most talented countries in the world, but finding that relevant talent to make sure that we stay into the innovation game, and not lose out on momentum on that front, right. Because ultimately, what you saw in beyond meat was that they started from chicken, and then ultimately went to Robbie and and you know, sausages and all of that. We want to be on the exact same trajectory when product innovation is concerned. So finding talented people is going to be another challenge, we are actively trying to hire great people on board, probably those who worked in alternative protein companies into the US. And someone if someone is seeing this, and hearing me out, do reach out. If in case you find Evo who’s interesting, because we are always ready to create a unique profile for you as a person, if we see that there’s a fit. If we see that you’re passionate about the sector, then we are definitely the right kind of Geico for you. 

Andrew D Ive 36:32 

So talking about recruiting the right people, obviously COVID has allowed us to, you know, work across geographic boundaries in a way that wasn’t imagined two, three years ago, using zoom and Skype and Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, all the other things that people 

are leveraging to people, great people who want to apply to Evo foods need to relocate to Mumbai, or are there certain roles, certain people that can be kept, you know, can work with you, outside of India? 

Kartik 37:10 

Andrew, if you can give us some more funding, then we can definitely be able to create a lab in us. So we won’t have any issue. But yeah, on r&d front, you will have to ship to Mumbai, if not on the r&d front, if more on the front end, you know, marketing, performance marketing, digital marketing, and these kind of roles, more on the front end part of it, then you need necessarily be in Mumbai, actually, we prefer an in person, kind of group, because that has accelerated our whole process. What what we couldn’t achieve during the whole pandemic time, we achieved that within the first three months of, you know, 2021. And that’s because we got our own lab space, we’ve got, you know, our own office space as well, which is combined at a really great price. So in India, you can do and definitely do that. But ultimately, you know, walking out of a group in person, understanding your team members will definitely be a boost. But yeah, this is not a necessity for people to, you know, just apply to evo foods. 

Andrew D Ive 38:15 

So those top restaurants you mentioned before the 1000 to 1500 that you guys are going to be targeting. Are they purchasing their ingredients on a day to day basis in local markets? And they’re sending people out to go buy this ingredients fresh? Or do they have companies that are providing them with their ingredients, and so on? And maybe we can even be more specific if that are those companies getting shipments of chilled dairy and eggs already brought to their, you know, their shipping Bay on a day to day basis. So in other words, if you can get your product into those, those centralized distributors who are providing those restaurants with their dairy, maybe that’s a way of actually scaling that that growth more quickly than needing to go and tackle 1500 restaurants day to day. 

Kartik 39:10 

Absolutely. That would be an ideal approach. But I would say that each restaurant we have encountered has a different kind of a buying process. They have different suppliers, for vegetables for tofu for for example, meat. And one thing which was consistent during the whole process is that there is no structure. For example, in the US, you have food service companies who cater to a lot of restaurants. That structure right now is missing in India, even in Tier One cities. And until that structure is in place, we can’t really depend on that. So what we’ll have to do is we’ll have to create our own supply chain of supplying 

through to these restaurants first. And obviously we’ll have to partner with restaurants who have chains and centralized kitchens. That everything from our And can taken care of when it reaches their own kitchen or own facility. So that’s, that’s a big part of strategy, we’ll we’ll go after that, after we have created an impact in the first restaurants. For example, let’s say, Starbucks, right? Starbucks has a central kitchen. And then, you know, it can be really easier for us, if we can ship the product to them, they can make the product out of their central kitchen and ship it to 200 to 250 outlets they have in the country. So these kind of models we are looking for. But for the Indian restaurants, it’s really hard to find that single supplier who supplies to all of them, and create an impact to that. 

Andrew D Ive 40:40 

Okay, and so you, so I didn’t just make sure I’m hearing the right thing. Starbucks, for example, have a central district central manufacturing system, or facility that they then use to get that product made and sent out to all of the different Starbucks throughout a region, or even the country, perhaps, there are certain restaurants that may use a similar approach, I would guess, particularly if they’re a chain, and they’ve got multiple outlets. But there’s there’s not a kind of distributor that distributes dairy products to 50% of the tier one restaurants in Mumbai, for example, they are they are all finding their own way of getting their own ingredients. 

Kartik 41:24 

There are platforms, for example, there’s, there’s a company called a snowman, which is used by a lot of companies for their own supply chain, they can piggyback at platform, there are new startups such as there’s this interesting startup called is where I grew, you know, they are yet to start up their cold chain supply process, but what they do is they take the lead, take your product, they supply they they store it in their own warehouse, and they ship it to different kinds of consumers. So these are the platforms which are coming up. You know, we are also talking to some distributors who have chains, similar to the daily supply chain. But yeah, it will take some time for us to figure out exactly the dynamics of your distribution in India, because it’s, it’s really fragmented, it’s really difficult for us to find that single player. 

Andrew D Ive 42:16 

So it makes sense potentially to go city by city, right Mumbai first, because that’s where you guys are based. What would be the next city after Mumbai, 

Kartik 42:26 

we are deciding between Delhi and Bangalore, because Delhi is usually where people experiment a lot less like, this is a very different thing we found out about you know, while researching for the market, because in Mumbai, you got people who are really picky with the restaurants once they was this, for example, hackathon, right hackathon is a great example of how this strategy works. So usually, when people try to eat Asian food, they usually go to hockessin. And they stick to it, they don’t try other places, if they want to try Asian food, they will stick with her cousin. And in Delhi, it’s the 

Andrew D Ive 43:03 

Asian chain in India. 

Kartik 43:06 

Yes. So basically, they saw a lot of great Asian food. But But what you see is a lot of influences go there. And when Delhi is concerned, you see people spending on different types of experiences, every time they go out. They don’t necessarily stick to one particular restaurant. And that’s why the volume of these restaurants are also high in Delhi. in Bangalore, usually the traffic is a bit of a hectic problem for people to go out to have a meal. So what they do is they try out restaurants, according to their area, according to their geographic area, and try not to go beyond their geographic area per se. So these are the kinds of interesting things we are experiencing about the Indian markets of tier one tier a tier one cities. And that’s really important for us to figure out at an early stage rather than go into the market and then figure it out. 

Andrew D Ive 43:58 

That sounds really interesting. 

Kartik 44:01 

Yeah. Interesting. 

Andrew D Ive 44:04 

I kind of like the idea of going to the city where people are sort of running around trying everything and getting really getting really, you know, interested in new things. That sounds like a great place for Evo to be after Mumbai. But, you know, I guess if you’ve got a 

city where people don’t move much out of their local area, and they’re just focusing on eating a lot in a constrained geography that’s going to be kind of interesting as well, providing you’ve got outlets in those key geographies. 

Kartik 44:35 

Yeah, for sure. I mean, you know, in Mumbai, usually people are really excited about their own restaurants. The cheese they are really fan of that’s why we are starting off with Mumbai you know, so that they can go to that place and then they can get an offer. Like you know, we have Evo on board. But when in Delhi I think we’ll have to change your strategy a bit you know, it will be more like you know, we are present in these restaurants over On to all social media channels. It will be like an expensive when we go to Delhi. 

Andrew D Ive 45:07 

Okay, so we’re now in 2021. Let’s fast forward to 2025, four years from now, give me some predictions where Evo will be 

Kartik 45:20 

Evo will be present in at least five countries, that’s for sure. Because we are tackling the problem, according to the price. And most importantly, next year, we’ll be ready for the US market because we are already on price parity with multiple categories. In the US, we are cheaper than almost every plant based like there is in the us right now. Not I would say cheaper but more affordable, because cheaper is such a bad word, it can create a bad influence. So I would prefer affordable. And most importantly, then it makes sense for us. So I usually get this question a lot, why are you not moving to Southeast Asia, because we found out that the prices there are definitely lower than what they are in the US. So us first, and then in the next five years, across all continents, that’s what we want to achieve. 

Andrew D Ive 46:14 

I think your prices have got to be similar to the US maybe even a little bit more expensive, I would imagine. So anyway. 

Kartik 46:21 

Usually, usually in the US, you got anywhere between 1.5 dollars per dozen, approximately $7 per dozen, like for an organic egg. And we did that research. For the US market. We are price comparable with some liquid eggs in the US which are sold sold off the shelves, for 

example, Whole Foods. And we are also price comparable with some premium categories. And organic eggs are a little bit higher than evo. 

Andrew D Ive 46:51 

So the interesting thing is, I’ve probably lived in five different cities in in the US. And because I’m in to the foods industry, I spend a lot of time in grocery stores in lots of different places. If I go to a new place, the first thing I do after I get to a city as go and check out the grocery stores. Most of the 12 dozen eggs have kind of the least expensive the sort of regular non organic, nothing special 12, you know, 12 eggs, I think is typically around the 379 399 for dollar range. Then when you get into the organic, and then if you look at organic plus humane. So a brand law in the US, for example would be vital vi t al those those eggs are typically you’ll get them from between 550 and $7 per dozen, depending on which outlet you’re buying them from. So, you know, six, seven bucks for 12. Organic and humane eggs is probably a good price. So I’m not sure where your dollar 50 for 12 eggs is coming from. But you know, if you put in dollars, 

Kartik 48:09 

I’m sorry. 1.5 dollars 2.7. That’s the range we found out. But obviously there might be some issues, you know, because we research a lot on web. But yeah, these are the kinds of prices we saw on the web, at least. On the most storefront I think you’re right, it can range anywhere between three to $7. That is the range. And we are at, you know, for four to five, even if we sell at you know $6 per dozen, that that also means that we are price comparable with organic eggs in the US, we wouldn’t 

Andrew D Ive 48:42 

be tough to get your product to be organic in terms of the ingredients that you’re you’re using 

Kartik 48:50 

one second? Yeah, of course, I mean, organic, we can definitely make it because there’s no lack of ingredients from the supply chain perspective. But we’ll need to check whether there’s a demand for it. For example, organic plant based AG, in case consumers demand, it wouldn’t be hard to create basically, it’s just a funnel. 

Andrew D Ive 49:15 

But the funny thing is you’ve already got the market from an egg perspective, looking at the egg market as organic and non organic when you go in and look for egg related products you’re looking for, you know your or eggs rather, you’re looking for either organic or non organic, right. So I mean, if you’ve got consumers already thinking about eggs in those terms, giving them the choice between an EVO assuming that at some point, you’re going to give consumers a choice. Good sounds like restaurants are obviously the next 12 months. But once you broaden outside of restaurants and you bring it to the American consumer, giving them a you know an organic, sorry, a non organic version at whatever your current price point is. For the expectation of your price point would be to the US, and then putting a buck on top, or $1.50 on top. And having an organic version would probably be a really distinct differential between you. And as you say, the most well publicized liquid egg company in the us right now, I don’t think they i don’t think i’ve seen anyone with a liquid egg that has an organic version. I almost want to cut, I almost want to cut this out of the interview. So people don’t do this, it’s kind of annoying that we’re gonna give them a heads up, right? 

Kartik 50:34 

I’m sure. So I mean, when you send it in this way, it makes sense because, you know, it matches their perceptions of normal eggs. And that will be really interesting for us to create, I think we can definitely look into it when you know, entering the US market launching two versions of it simultaneously, 

Andrew D Ive 50:51 

especially if it gives you an extra dollar 50 margin when I would guess the cost of sourcing raw ingredients that organic versus non organic is not going to be $1.50 per bottle. 

Kartik 51:05 

Absolutely. And one thing which you will really find interesting is that if you go on some platforms in India, such as big basket, the organic versions, for example, I consume organic legumes regularly. So when you see the price difference between organic and non organic, it’s not much it probably three to four rupees, which is not that high for a person, you know, who’s who’s who’s preferring more healthier foods. So I would say it will be not challenging for us to create, I’m assuming from the initial impression. But yeah, we’ll definitely look into it. And definitely, this is really interesting. 

Andrew D Ive 51:43 

Wow, look at that. Another another great reason why we talked today. 

Kartik 51:50 

product ideas, strategy, ideas, everything. 

Andrew D Ive 51:54 

So you’ve already said that getting great people is going to be a challenge or going to be a bottleneck because obviously it’s always a bottleneck dreading getting amazing people to join the team. What are some of the ways that people listening can potentially help you obviously, if they’re in if they’re in Mumbai, or, or Bangalore or Delhi and they’re local, they can go along to a restaurant and ask for you guys, either, you know, either to have to stop 

or to have those restaurants stop you, or they can just specifically asked for you on the menu. That’s one way people can help you. But what kind of help Are you looking for from people listening to this? 

Kartik 52:32 

Absolutely. The thing which you said matters a lot because when you know consumers go to their restaurants favorite restaurants on a regular basis, if they demand Evo to the restaurant, and if we if we get into the inbound inquiry through that, that’s that’s more of a pool than a push from our side. So I would say that you know, if you are able to create that pool for us for evo, just by demanding better egg alternatives, better alternatives in general in your favorite restaurant, and giving us our contact Hello accurate Evo foods dot iron at double o at Red Evo foods dot iron, that will be really great. We are really grateful for it. Other than that, 

Andrew D Ive 53:14 

if let’s let’s just let’s just slow that down for a second. The email address if someone wants to find out about having your product in a restaurant or recommending you to restaurant is Hello, h e l l o at Evo, BB o foods with an S at the end? dot i m correct. Right. Right. Okay, just wanted to you spoke really fast. I just want to make sure anyone listening doesn’t swerve their car over to like, you know, get into an accident because they want to try and write this stuff down. 

Kartik 53:46 

Boy, sure. So hello at the depot And definitely you can ask us where the restaurant, there will be a store locator or a restaurant locator feature on the website, which we are working on right now. Where you can find out what’s the nearest restaurant to use serving evo. Another thing which you can do is refer us to relevant people across different sections such as r&d, or marketing or branding, or performance marketing. So these kinds of roles we are looking to hire over a period of next year are most most intensively on r&d because we feel that you know, that’s that’s where our mode or all future modes will come out of. So definitely refer us to some great people you know, that will help us create this whole plant based revolution in India. 

Andrew D Ive 54:34 

Okay, so that’s that’s people referring you. What else? What else can people do? 

Kartik 54:43 

You know, ask ask about evo. Ask about evo a lot about, you know, to your favorite restaurants or your favorite chains. For example, if you demand to subway every time you go there that, hey, we need a plant based dag. If they reach out to us, then that’s fine. Otherwise we are already trying You know, contact them, usually, you know, you can cut it cut that part out, we’re looking to, you know, reach out to somewhere as well. But yeah, definitely ask about your about Evo or plant based ag in general to your favorite restaurants. Yeah, I will enough from your and we won’t ask much. 

Andrew D Ive 55:17 

And the product is available in Mumbai now, or is there a particular month when it’s going to out? You said you’re already in 55 stores, right? 

Kartik 55:26 

No, me of onboarded 55 restaurants, we are rolling it out in April. So we did a little launch event in Mumbai, just to understand how people react to the concept of land based tech. And we found out that if you position it as a healthier alternative, if you position it, as you know, something like a yummy and fluffy egg, but made from plants, then the response is 

much, much higher than when you position it as a vegan egg. And that’s what we you know, understood during that whole launch event. And then people started reaching out from different cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and asking that, you know, where can I find it? Where can I get it. So this, this is also creating like an exclusive effect for us as well. 

Because anything, which is exclusive, people would like to go on it. And we intend to do it slowly, right? Make it really exclusive, make it really, you know, aspirational for people to get, and then slowly launch into a broader market. 

Andrew D Ive 56:25 

And if I’m subway in India, I should reach out to you now, right, I shouldn’t wait until the products available in April, 

Kartik 56:35 

definitely, you can definitely reach out to us. Because what we have done is we have created different iterations of an egg from a food service standpoint, which will prove out to be really time saving for food service companies or food QSR providers in general for them to save time in the recipes and not who can make every time there’s a recipe 

Andrew D Ive 56:57 

called a so Evo foods dot i n. So Eb o f, ODS di and I’m looking at your website right now, I can see your smiling character, your smiling mascot on your bottle, the bottle looks amazing, I can see why people are really excited about this product. If I’m a restaurant in India, or an owner of a restaurant or a chef, I can reach out to Hello at Evo foods to Iam for samples so that they can try the product and consider whether it’s something they should add to their menu. And you would expect or hope that they would use your brand on the menu as a way of showing people that they’re using the best liquid egg in India today. Right? 

Kartik 57:46 

Right. Absolutely. 

Andrew D Ive 57:48 

Awesome. So I mean, I’ve pretty much covered everything I was going to discuss with you today. If people need to reach out to you they can find john Evo foods dot i n I’m guessing you have various social media platforms and things LinkedIn, Instagram, where do people find you on those on those places? 

Kartik 58:09 

You can definitely message us on Instagram, Facebook, reach out to me personally via LinkedIn. I’m usually very active on LinkedIn as a platform. Reach out to us via Twitter as well. We are very active we are posting a lot of content. You know a lot of egg puns, excellent egg puns on different social media platforms. Yeah, I know. I know. 

Andrew D Ive 58:32 

Good. Dad jokes. 

Kartik 58:35 

Yeah, yeah, that. But yeah, they are excellent experts. We are producing a lot of great content using our mascot, Sonny which is relatable. Because he is not judging you for your food choices. If you even if you are a vegetarian, non vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, he is not the kind of person who’s judging you. Just try evo. Just try a plant based egg and see if it works for you, and then buy for you. So that’s what we want to achieve through our social media. So give 

Andrew D Ive 59:06 

me three places in Mumbai April is April 1, April 15. April 30. April 15. Yeah, yeah. So give me three restaurants. If I’m in Mumbai on April 15, where I can go and At this rate, there’ll be people lining up so where can I get Give me three places I can go April 15 to try Evo Foods liquid egg. 

Kartik 59:30 

Sure. I would definitely suggest you know for the sake of shraddha to candy and green the first place second. Yeah, second would be flamboyant. Which is a great restaurant place. And the third would be Earth cafe. Which is in Bandra. So in these three restaurants will definitely find evo as a part of their menu. And you know, you can go there you can taste different varieties of recipes they have created with it and you can enjoy yourself. Now complete Go 

Andrew D Ive 1:00:00 

to and sign up to sign up for a mailing list so that they can actually get an email of where they can go taste the product on April 15. 

Kartik 1:00:09 

Absolutely, what we are also going to do is we are going to conduct more and more events in different restaurants in Mumbai, through which you can sign yourself up, it will be an exclusive list you will be selected on the basis of priority and then you will be invited to that event. After after we reach out to you directly or after you sign up. whenever it’s available, whenever the sports are available. There is going to have excitement along the lines of launch events. So definitely sign up on evo and in our mailing list so that we can reach out to you whenever we are ready for a tasting. And if 

Andrew D Ive 1:00:47 

you’re I don’t know a Bollywood star or Indian celebrity they should reach out to you Kartik Dixit di x it on LinkedIn or via your website and say, Hey, you know, I love what you’re doing. I really want to be involved. Is that is that a good way? 

Kartik 1:01:04 

Why Sure, boy. Sure. In fact, Andrew, this is just for you. 

Andrew D Ive 1:01:08 

And as the other and the other 15 people listening to the podcast? 

Kartik 1:01:13 

About 15 people, is it live? 

Andrew D Ive 1:01:15 

Now it’s not live, but I can guarantee that I’ve got enough family members that when it does go live, we’ll have 15 people listening to it, maybe 16? I don’t know. Let’s go crazy. No, I think you’re these three restaurants are a great starting point. But anyways, if you are a Bollywood star, if you are, you know an influencer, you can definitely reach out to me personally on LinkedIn, and you should actually post my email address as well. Well, we’ll post this within iTunes and various other places will also post the video on YouTube. And so there’ll be various ways underneath the video and the podcast where people can get your contact details. And it sounds like you’re going to tell me a top secret piece of information about a celebrity getting involved. So I’m going to stop recording. Oh, hello, something just popped up science Well, that’s really long. I can’t even read that. 

Kartik 1:02:12 

You can operate according and then read it maybe. 

Andrew D Ive 1:02:16 

Maybe I’ll put it under the podcast or under the video if it’s something you want people to, to go to. Alright, Kartik, really good to chat with you. I’m going to pause and stop the video and stop the recording. So you can tell me all about this top secret thing. And if anyone wants to find out about it, they should go register at your website on the mailing list in one way or another. You will give them your tell them the top secret thing when it’s when you’re able to publish. 

Kartik 1:02:44 

Yeah, definitely. 

Andrew D Ive 1:02:47 

Thanks. Thanks for your time today, Kartik. I’m going to stop the recorder in a few moments. 

Kartik 1:02:52 

Thank you so much. 

Andrew D Ive 1:02:54 

Thanks for listening to the Big Idea Food Podcast. I really appreciate you. Please do subscribe, then you’ll get notifications of the next podcast. If you have any questions or comments, please do reach out. We can also be found by a big and through Instagram, LinkedIn, all of those wonderful places. So enjoyed the conversation today. I hope you did too. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye 


© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021

What did you have for breakfast today? Stop and think about it – most likely you couldn’t have eaten what you did without the humble honey bee (or its close cousin, the bumble bee) as one-third of the food we eat – think avocados, nuts, and berries – grows thanks to pollination by bees. From apples to almonds to alfalfa grown for cattle feed, every year crops valued at $20 billion depend on bees, which also produce $150 million in honey on an annual basis.

So as the world celebrates World Bee Day today on May 20, we thought we’d give some appreciation to these master carpenters and providers of sustenance – of which there are 20,000 different species in the world – by recognizing some of the ingenious ag tools that have been developed. These innovations not only help these incredible insects survive, but in many cases they allow these pollinators to take a rest and thrive, all while opening the door to tremendous investment opportunities.

But first a few facts:

– In 2019, there were just over 90 million managed beehives in the world. India has the most with about 12.25 million, followed by China with about 9 million, and Turkey with 7.7 million.

– Scientists have determined that bumble bees are on their way to extinction due to “climate chaos” and threats from disease, pests, and hive problems.

– Colonies are decreasing yearly, and in fact, in 2019 U.S. beekeepers lost 40 percent of their colonies, the highest national (some losses were much higher) winter losses ever recorded.

– Bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey.

– One bee has to fly about 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make one pound of honey.

– The average bee will make only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

– A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.

– Bees communicate by dancing.

Dozens of startups and innovative agtech companies have made their mark in the fight for our proud pollinators, many of which have been featured in GAI News.


Founded by preeminent researchers, including CEO Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, ApisProtect (Apis is the Latin word for “bee”) uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor honeybee colonies via real-time hive monitoring powered by satellite-enabled sensors that are retrofitted to existing beehives. This Irish agtech innovator used its $1.8 million seed round in 2018, co-led by top-tier venture capital investors Finistere Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Capital, and including Radicle Growth, the Yield Lab, and Enterprise Ireland, to move forward with aggressive global deployment of its innovation.

In December 2020, they launched their bee monitoring technology in the U.S. with their most recent install with TJ Honey in Oklahoma. ApisProtect also has launched a hobbyist version of this technology in Ireland, with a rollout in additional European countries planned for later this year. This means that their technology has already monitored more than 100 million honey bees across three continents. Based on monitoring these nearly 450 hives, the company has over 15 million data sets.

“We have installed our monitors in locations across the world. It has been fascinating to meet and learn from beekeepers and observe the differences between the subspecies of honey bees in different states and continents,” said Pádraig Whelan PhD, chief science officer, ApisProtect. “What sets ApisProtect apart is that we do not share data with any other parties in the beekeeping value chain – all the value we create goes directly to the beekeepers.”

In March of this year, ApisProtect and CEO Dr. Edwards Murphy were featured in the BBC World News documentary Follow the Food, which highlights the importance of using new technology in food production. As Dr. Edwards Murphy noted in the interview, “Our science-based honey bee monitoring technology empowers beekeepers to manage their apiaries more efficiently, reduce labor and transport costs, and focus on cultivating larger and stronger colonies. Using ApisProtect, beekeepers can generate an additional $98 of value from each hive per year.” She also illustrated the extent of the need for bees, noting that in California – where the almond industry has 1.5 million acres of almonds and produces approximately 80 percent of the almonds in the world – two beehives are required to pollinate each acre so for the almond pollination season, over three million hives are needed.

The low-cost technology solution that ApisProtect provides allows beekeepers to double their gross margin per hive and reduce transportation costs by up to 25 percent. To-date, ApisProtect has raised over $3.6 million, with more expected fundraises in the future as it continues to test and develop its machine learning algorithms to improve accuracy and reliability.


Based in Israel and California and founded by Omer Davidi, a tech entrepreneur, and Itai Kanot, a second-generation commercial beekeeper, BeeHero was launched to answer a single question: Can technology help solve the problems bees face? With a focus on pollination, the company has developed in-hive sensors to monitor and collect data about the environment, pollination performance, and hive health.

To combat the lack of broadband coverage in rural areas, BeeHero works with Internet of Things (IoT) provider Soracom, a cellular connectivity provider that specializes in IoT and provides coverage across multiple networks and bands.

Bee Vectoring Technology

Out of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, is Bee Vectoring Technologies, which provides a patented bee vectoring technology that uses commercially-reared bees to deliver targeted crop controls through the natural process of pollination.

Poised to be a market disruptor in the global $240 billion crop protection and fertilizer market, Bee Vectoring’s natural precision agriculture system replaces chemical pesticides and plant protection product spray applications, and is noted to provide improved crop protection and yield results.

The company is gaining momentum with crops such as blueberries, strawberries, apples, and more, and in fact, the company’s invoices for the first three months of 2021 represented 18 percent more invoicing than its entire fiscal year for 2020.


Born out of an Indiana-based Beekeeping Club at the University of Indiana, BeeCorp, founded in 2016 by Ellie Symes and Wyatt Wells, was on a mission to prevent hive loss. In 2019, the company shifted its focus from preventing hive loss to determining hive strength with the launch of its Verifli product, which uses infrared technology to analyze the strength of hives. Five years later, and after securing more than $1 million in August 2020 from Elevate Ventures, IU Ventures, and THRIVE, the young entrepreneurs now employ eight full-time staff and nine interns.

Wells told Inside Indiana Business that the company has received a lot of interest from crop growers who rent bees for pollination, which spells much promise for growth. “A big shift for us over the next couple of years is going to be delivering Verifli to a wide variety of crop pollination events throughout the year. So, it won’t just be us with almond growers out in California; it’ll be berries and all these other things that get pollinated by bees in all kinds of states across the nation. So, that’s a pretty exciting thing for us,” said Wells.


In the spotlight for taking the hard work of honey-making off of bees is MeliBio, a California-based start-up making real honey without bees, which just last month closed US$850,000 in a pre-seed funding round, edging it closer to having its first product on the market, slated for late 2021.

Founded in 2020 by Aaron Schaller, Ph.D. and Darko Mandich, MelioBio seeks to claim its piece of the global honey industry – valued at US$9 billion in 2020 – with its development of a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science that replaces honeybees as a medium for honey production.

MeliBio is part of the brand portfolio of Big Idea Ventures and has lined-up 15 food and beverage companies that are committed to using the lab-produced honey.

Said Mandich in a November 2020 interview with Xtalks, “MeliBio is bringing the true story of the bees to the people because they are very important to us. There are 20,000 bee species other than honeybees, and they will never go extinct as long as we have beekeepers that keep the honeybees to multiply. The problem is with wild and native bee species that are dying, and they are dying because of huge pressures from the honey production industry and honeybees.”

Plant-Based Breaded Fish Sticks, Plant-Based Breaded Fish Fillets and Plant-Based Breaded Crab Cakes join the chef-inspired brand’s growing product portfolio

AUSTIN, Texas, May 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch® plant-based seafood, today announced the launch of a new line of innovative Plant-Based Breaded Fish Sticks, Plant-Based Breaded Fish Fillets and Plant-Based Breaded Crab Cakes. Developed to recreate classic nostalgic comfort foods, the new lineup — crafted from Good Catch’s proprietary six-legume blend (peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans) — offers a delicious plant-based solution to bycatch, mercury contamination and overfishing.  These new products are here to positively disrupt the seafood category while delivering comparable protein and the same taste and texture as their animal-based counterparts.

Good Catch Frozen Breaded Line

The launch includes:

  • Plant-Based Breaded Fish Sticks (MSRP: $5.99): Deliciously flaky plant-based whitefish sticks have 12g protein per five sticks, each coated with a light, crispy breading. They’re a convenient freezer friend for quick and easy weeknight meals. Sized perfectly for little hands to dunk into ketchup, they also make craveworthy grownup meals. Each box contains 10 fish sticks.
  • Plant-Based Breaded Fish Fillets (MSRP: $5.99): With 12g of protein per serving, our fillets have a tender, flaky whitefish texture encased in a light, crispy breading. Keep these in the freezer for savory, crunchy satisfaction, without having to even think about a drive-through! Each box contains 2 fish fillets.
  • Plant-Based Breaded Crab Cakes (MSRP: $5.99): An ideal entrée-sized plant-based crab cake with 15g of protein per serving features a lump crabmeat-like texture and sweet crab flavor complemented with bell peppers, green onions, parsley and a hint of spice. Each box contains 4 crab cakes.

“These products are game-changers for the industry,” said Chad Sarno, Co-Founder & Chief Culinary Officer at Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch, “Consumers have become more aware of the environmental impact of eating seafood and we’re proud to be a delicious, culinary-driven solution. We’re pushing culinary boundaries every day to deliver the taste and texture consumers expect from seafood. This product line has surpassed our expectations and we are incredibly proud.”

Good Catch has continued to expand its innovative product portfolio amidst the quickly expanding plant-based industry. According to the Good Food Institute (GFI), the retail market for plant-based foods is now worth $7 billion. Over the last few years, the plant-based seafood industry has shown steadfast growth. In fact, according to market research firm Fact.MR, over the next 10 years, the plant-based seafood sector is set to grow at a rate of 28% and will be worth $1.3 billion by 2031.

“This nascent industry, which is ready to surge, presents an immense opportunity for our brand,” said Christine Mei, CEO of Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch. “As we continue to grow, our focus remains on creating craveable plant-based seafood alternatives that deliver on taste, texture and comparable protein. With our new breaded line, we took fan-favorite seafood products consumers know and love, and transformed them into great-tasting ocean-friendly alternatives.”

The new breaded line will be available in June in select retailers including Giant Food, Martin’s, Tom Thumb, Randalls and Acme, as well as select Safeway and Albertsons locations. Good Catch has significant expanded distribution in retail and foodservice planned for late summer and fall of this year. Visit for more information on retailers near you.

This product extension is the latest evolution from the plant-based seafood brand, expanding beyond its portfolio of six offerings, including New England Style Plant-Based Crab Cakes, Thai Style Plant-Based Fish Cakes, Classic Style Plant-Based Fish Burgers and Plant-Based Tuna, available in Naked in Water, Mediterranean and Oil & Herbs flavors.

Gathered Foods has had an impressive year thus far, most recently announcing a successful B-2 bridge funding round, securing $26.35 million with investments from Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), Unovis Asset Management, Clear Current Capital and others. Additionally, the brand has had several launches expanding its foodservice footprint. Good Catch Tuna Melts are in all Veggie Grill locations and Good Catch Deli-Style Plant-Based Tuna Salad is now available across several states in Whole Foods Market prepared foods departments. In February, the brand partnered with Bareburger to bring its Plant-Based Classic Fish Burger to consumers through a new vegan offering called The Gulf Burger.

“We’re incredibly bullish about the future of Good Catch,” said Chris Kerr, Executive Chair of Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch. “Our products fill a void in the marketplace. We’ll continue to lead in this category and have a few more launches this year that will excite both investors and consumers.”

About Gathered Foods
Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch plant-based seafood, is an innovative food company focused on propelling change through plant-based alternatives. United by a love of good food, plant-based eating and animal welfare, Gathered Foods is on a mission to raise consciousness, reduce harm and preserve environmental resources, all while delivering a great culinary experience. The team is dedicated to creating craveworthy plant-based foods for everyone, from vegan to omnivore and everybody in between. Visit for more information.

About Good Catch
Good Catch is a chef-driven brand developing flavorful, plant-based seafood alternatives. Founded by pioneering chefs Derek and Chad Sarno, Good Catch products offer the taste, texture and eating experience of seafood without harming the environment. Good Catch products include single-serve, ready-to-eat pouches of Plant-Based Tuna and frozen Plant-Based Fish Burgers, Plant-Based Crab Cakes, Plant-Based Thai Fish Cakes available in retailers across the US and Canada, with growing foodservice partners and wider distribution planned. Stay tuned for more retail and foodservice news on Plant-Based Breaded Fish Sticks, Plant-Based Breaded Fish Fillets, Plant-Based Breaded Crab Cakes, plus more exciting product launches soon! Visit and follow @goodcatchfoods on Facebook and Instagram.

SOURCE Good Catch

Podcast 2: Uproot’s Co-Founder Jacob Conway speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a plant-based milk company

In “The Big Idea Podcast: Food” series, each week our Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

To listen to the second episode featuring Uproot‘s Co-Founder Jacob, click on the links below!


The podcast can be viewed at the links below:


Please view the transcript of the interview below.

Andrew D Ive 00:00


Hi, this is Andrew from the big idea food podcast. Today we’re going to be talking to Jacob from uproot foods. Great company. I think you’re going to enjoy this. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to myself for Jacob. Or just put a comment on any of the, you know, YouTube send podcasts and all the other places where you may see this. Look forward to interacting with you. love to get your feedback. Thanks. Jake Conway, the man the myth, the legend. Tell us tell us a little bit about Jacob. And then maybe we can get into what you and your co founder are up to.

Jacob Conway 00:39


Yes, that sounds good. Um, who’s Jacob? a bearded vegan gnome is how I’m often described by friends. But I live in New York moved here from San Francisco. Technically Providence, Rhode Island where uproot started but I am 26 I am a pretty passionate vegan, and also some. Sorry, I’m laughing because that’s an understatement.

Andrew D Ive 01:06


That is a big understatement, man. You have savaged me on more than one occasion.

Jacob Conway 01:12


And you very interested in passionate about food justice in general and ways we can improve our food system. And just educating people more generally about where food comes from, why we eat, what we eat, how it gets to us. And the best way to move forward with that, because it’s not sustainable for a growing population right now. So there’s a lot of changes that need to be made. Yeah, pretty outgoing, energetic guy, love to run. I do love to eat, I love to cook, which I think sort of brought me to where I am today working in a food company. And you have been with that group for whatever. It’s almost two years now.

Andrew D Ive 01:54


When you say you’ve been uproot, you started uproot like there wasn’t an uproot milk before Jacob Conway.

Jacob Conway 02:00


Well, yes, I I’m a co founder uproot. Kevin had given birth to it. before I’d arrived, but

Andrew D Ive 02:09


Okay, so you’re number two.

Jacob Conway 02:11


Is there in the infancy? Yes.

Andrew D Ive 02:14


Oh, I should I should have given you shit about being number two that would I’m not sure. I’m allowed to say shit. Oh, well. I guess I’m gonna have to put like, an age and age monitor thing on this on this on this video. podcast. I can cut it out. So. Okay, so how did you get? How did you get here? I mean, when I say you, I don’t mean how did you get here to the business? Jacob Conway, why are you so passionate? How did you get so passionate about these things? Was there a moment in your life where you’re just like, you know, we’re treating these animals appallingly. And I need to personally do something about it. Not everyone gets that same motivation.

Jacob Conway 02:53


Great question. Yes, it’s very, it was a very clear path, I think for me, which it often not people but my brother, my I have three older brothers, my second oldest brother in like 2015, I was still in college. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. And he had his whole thyroid removed. Cancer came back, it was normal for his type of cancer. But for the second round, the doctors essentially said, it’s not big enough for us stock break, there’s not much we can let it grow, come back to us in a year. And we’ll remove everything. And my brother and my parents and I grew up with a mom who cooked a lot and my family has always been healthy. We’ve always been active people, but never focused on any one thing. So when my parents heard that diagnosis from the doctors, my mom’s thought was just kind of this, how is that possible that it’s 2016 at this time, and you have no other options other than just let this potentially deadly thing continue to grow inside of you. So my mom dove really deep into whole food plant based diet and found incredible stories of people never doing chemo never doing radiation just switching to very cater whole food plant based vegan diet to battle their cancer. And there’s a story of a woman who had stage four brain cancer, never had any operation never had any treatment other than switching her diet and fully put it in remission. And there’s a lot of these stories out there. But they’re they can’t really be. They’re one they’re not studied well enough. And two, it’s hard for doctors who studied Western medicine to support this stuff because it’s not in their training. They weren’t. No one in medical school tells you a vegan diet can do these sorts of things. Lots of doctors actually get like 19 hours of nutrition training total when they go to medical school. It’s pretty insignificant so my parents decided to go vegan with my brother as an effort to combat his cancer. Fast forward a couple years my brother still has cancer, but he’s doing really well. He’s on a more or less whole food plant. Besides, they tried some modifications before where it wasn’t fully vegan. But at this point, they all went fully vegan. Then I started working at my brother’s cookie company, which ironically, the cookies he was selling, it was in San Francisco, on demand anywhere. And the cookies they were selling weren’t vegan, which was funny, he couldn’t even eat them. And I had not gone vegan at this point. But I’d started being more plant based just because they were and I shared recipes with my mom, and it was fun. And then the overlap for me was seeing my family and my brother, my parents and my brother do it. And then I am an avid runner, like they said, and being plant based athletes, one of the most famous ones is rich roll. He is an incredible, incredible athlete turned his life around at 40 and is one of the fittest people alive, and he spoke vegan. And my thought process was just kind of if these athletes are performing the level they’re performing and they’re fully vegan, why couldn’t I do that? So I never I didn’t originally go vegan. for animals or for sustainability. I really went vegan, it was kind of selfish. I was like, this sounds great. Like if I can up my performance, if I can feel better if I can do better, just by being vegan. I might as well try it. So I weaned myself off of animal products in July 1 2018 was my like, our date where I said, I’m fully vegan from here on out, there’s no looking back. And then once I went vegan, inevitably just looking up recipes and doing research on vegan, I guess vegan morals and become vegan watching you, you do videos, it led me down the path of animal welfare sustainability. And I realized there was so much more to veganism than just what you were eating. I mean, the ripple effect of our food choices is more than we could ever imagine. So that’s sort of how I got to where I am today. I always say I went vegan for my health, but I stay vegan for animals. You can’t unlearn that stuff once you do know it. And I got pretty pretty far down there. But I also just tell people, there’s no there’s no bad reason to go vegan, which is true. I mean, it’s more sustainable. It’s better for your health, for across the board with some exceptions, but work with doctors to figure out how you can make veganism work for you. Um, it’s better for the environment, it’s I mean, there’s just a never ending list of ways it is beneficial. But no one can really point to why it’s bad. There’s like any food diet or however you eat, there’s complications, you might come into a lot across, like across that journey, but you need to address those as they come. But you can still be vegan throughout all of that. So that was the long answer.

Andrew D Ive 07:50


That that’s not the long arm. So you you’ve given me the long answer many, many times when we’ve, when we’ve spoken where you, you know, regard me on the benefits, etc. veganism. Let’s and by the way, totally, I totally agree with you. Now, the only thing I would sort of challenge a little bit is there’s no bad reason for going vegan. It’s not easy, man. It’s not easy. You know, maybe maybe it shouldn’t be maybe I was gonna say maybe it shouldn’t be maybe it’s worth doing. It’s it needs to be a little bit of hard.

Jacob Conway 08:25


Yeah, I mean, there’s not many significant life changes you can make that are both good for you and easy to do. We just get set in our ways.

Andrew D Ive 08:36



Jacob Conway 08:37


But yeah, I mean, I think the good outweighs the bad in that, in that scenario. I mean, I, I forget, I’m vegan all the time. I was with a friend. One day eating brunch. And it was a whole we did a whole homemade brunch and we’re sitting outside eating. And I had made a bunch of vegan options, though. I was filling my plate loading it up, and I asked someone to pass the whipped cream for pancakes. And my roommates looked at me, and I was like, why are you while looking at me like this? And we’re like Jacob, that is just a bowl of dairy. What are you talking about? But because I’ve been vegan for two years, and I’ve learned how to make so many things, and there’s so many good products out there now. I don’t even think about it. Like veganism is just eating to me. It does it. There’s no restriction. I don’t view myself as ever restricted. So there’s definitely those learning curves at the beginning. But once you figure it out, it’s smooth sailing. I mean, it’s I’ve never had trouble eating. I’ve never had trouble nourishing myself. I’ve never I mean, there’s all the reality is everyone listening to this probably lives in a major city, they have access to good food. They have access, they have the income to buy good food. And when you are in that position of privilege. You can do it like it. It’s totally doable.

Andrew D Ive 09:57


And I think be IV big ventures were sort of focused on making it available to everyone. So in other words, finding the companies like yours who are bringing new, innovative products to market which don’t require people to change their, their likes, their dislikes, the flavors, they’re the kind of sensations, the textures they’ve grown up loving, they can just do it in a more sustainable way. So let’s let’s turn to uproot, tell us tell us how of all of the things you could have done to move this forward across, you know, across veganism, etc.


What, why

Andrew D Ive 10:37


uproot? And tell us a little bit first about what it does, and why why it’s special.

Jacob Conway 10:43


Yep. So I’ll serve as who we are, and then I got there so uproot, we are, we are currently a plant based milk company, our aspirations are larger than just plant based milk. But um, that’s where we got our start. And that’s what we’re focusing on right now. And our mission is to make plant based milk more accessible to everyone. And we don’t believe that you need to reinvent the wheel to do that, I think you need to, we think you need to meet people where they are. So that’s kind of what makes us different. And that’ll allow me to tell you, can you unpack that I’m

Andrew D Ive 11:23


not sure what that means. So

Jacob Conway 11:25


I’m going to So what I mean by that is right now, so many of the plant based options are just products on a shelf in a retail store, or something you order online. And there, in order to get those as a consumer, you need to go to a grocery store, read through the options, read through the ingredient labels, you kind of need to do, the onus is on you to do your research, figure out what’s going to work for you, and then purchase it at the grocery store and hope it works out, which is totally fine. And I think there needs to be some responsibility for each of us to do our own research about our food. But our goal and uproot because plant based milk has come as far as it has soy milk has been around for a very long time. Nobody is the idea of plant based milk is not foreign to anyone at this point. There’s nuance within what types you have in in protein and things like that. But everyone knows what plant based milk is. So instead of making you go to the grocery store and find it and redraw this, we’re going to meet you where you are. And that means we’re going to be at your hospital, we’re going to be at your college dining facility, we’re going to be at your convenience store, we’re going to have a plant nice soft serve option for you at the vegan drive thru or at the non vegan drive thru. So we want to bring it to people as opposed to forcing people to go find it. Um, our focus is on food service. That’s where we found a big gap in the market. As I just said, so much of the innovation has been brought about and retail, but food service has largely been ignored. So so many people are still finding themselves in these scenarios where they are trying to go vegan, they’re trying to be diligent about it, they’re trying to be good and healthy. But if you’re in the hospital, and they say we don’t have any plant based milk, what are you supposed to put on your cereal, I mean, your options get very limited very quickly once you leave that retail space. So we want to make sure that plant based milk milk is accessible to everyone everywhere. And that includes like K through 12 public schools as well. Dairy is how they can milk that students are served in schools for decades now. And I think we’ve all sort of evolved past that. And there needs to be more options for kids. So many students are lactose intolerant, and don’t even know it, or just don’t have another option. Um, and we think you should have that option. And we want to be the one to provide that to them.

Andrew D Ive 13:45


So just just so I wouldn’t say just to be clear, you guys are not coming up with something new. This is not you know, milk made from, you know, some ingredient that nobody’s ever thought of before. This is it sounds like uproot is about accessibility and distribution, about getting it into places where it isn’t right now. putting it into formats, in ways that make it much more accessible and digestible and relevant to people based on where they are. So, as you said, hospitals, schools, restaurants, yeah. Also that I guess the question is, where’s that? Where’s the uniqueness of that? Where’s the barrier to entry there? Not that you need a barrier to entry? Maybe that’s not what it’s about.

Jacob Conway 14:30


Um, first, you hit the nail on the head, we still make our own milk. And we do think what we’re offering food services is significantly better than what their current options are the current plant based milk options out there are so we’ve improved upon that. And we think there’s uniqueness in the way it can be served. So dispensing hardware and for example, coffee shops, currently still use mini fridges under the counter with cartons that’s wasteful. It’s inconvenient. It’s time consuming. We think there’s better ways to do that. And we want to bring those to market. That’s a bit further down the line for us. But yes,


it’s a good point.

Jacob Conway 15:08


Um, the barrier to entry question. I think this is something that we’ve learned as we’ve grown uproot. But because of the way our food system works, so much of it operates on this relationship, transaction. So knowing where you’re, where and who you’re getting your products from, knowing that it’s going to be there on time, knowing that they’re going to have enough for you, knowing that you can trust the quality. And you can trust where it’s coming from and how it’s made. That’s one big, I guess, differentiator for us, we are starting there. So it’s that first mover advantage, once we’re in these college cafeterias, if students are giving us rave reviews like they are, if it’s cutting down on the time that staff need to descend on refilling machines, or fridges, or whatever it is, and if we can help them reach their any facility reach their sustainable sustainability goals better by introducing plant based options and reducing packaging waste, there’s no reason for them to switch you. It doesn’t have this constant one up mentality that retail has, at the end of the day, what you’re really trying to do is affordable products that are also healthy to people and making sure they will enjoy them. And we think we’ve cracked the code on that. And the response so far has shown us that we have and will be very happy with our product. So it’s a combination of the product itself, the relationships performed with people and being the first ones to really take this approach.

Andrew D Ive 16:48


Perfect. You mentioned universities, how have you How have you gone about engaging universities around this this kind of message this product? And how receptive are they? And who of you who do you want on board that you haven’t got yet.

Jacob Conway 17:07


So as I mentioned before, one thing that works are advantages, everyone has a base level knowledge of what plant based milk is what non dairy milk is. So most of our outreach, if not all of our outreach is really just cold outreach to universities, to hospitals, to K through 12. school to small retails shops, vegan shops in New York. And all of them know what plant based milk is, but it’s this pitch of, we’re bringing it to you, you don’t have to go through a distributor catalog to figure out what plant based milk is going to be best for you. We know it, we know it really well. And we’re gonna do all the legwork to get it to you right now. And we will get we guarantee that people are going to like it. So it’s been a lot of cold outreach, really establishing early relationship with these schools and getting to know their needs. Because that’s the other unique part about food service that I think maybe is different from retail, retail, you develop the product, you get your distribution, and you just start sending it out. And to a degree, you can do that in food service. But everyone’s needs are different. Not every hospital has the same cafeteria style setup, not every college has involved in needs, all of them are a bit different. Do you really need to get to know these schools and get to know what they really want. What what’s going on, it’s gonna make everyone’s lives easier. And that’s been really bizarre to go down that path with them, because it helps influence the things we’re going to develop in the future and the products we’re making. So predominantly cold outreach to the schools, and then word of mouth. Inevitably, this is, how do I it’s not necessarily an old industry. It’s just things have always been done a certain way, and they continue to be done that way. What I mean by that is, people are perfectly happy to work with paper forms and word of mouth and the more handshake relationships that you would maybe expect, especially as a startup, as we all adopt tech for everything. This industry, food service kinda lags behind on that. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you know how to work in that space. So you need to be comfortable showing up and having a 30 minute conversation that’s not about plant based milk, but you’re getting to know your customer really well. Um, and you have that special relationship with them and dropping off samples and giving them a couple cases so that students can try it and they can get the feedback and the reality is our end consumer is not usually the person we’re selling to the people we are selling to are older, several generations older than our end consumer. So they grew up drinking dairy, they still drink dairy, but we need to sort of bring them into this fold of oat milk and what does that mean and why is it better and P milk How do you turn peas into chocolate milk? These are cognitive That you kind of need to spend time unpacking with these people. But I mean, that’s also part of appgrooves mission. And that’s why I love what we do. Because I don’t believe the change we want to see in our food system is going to come from just putting products in front of people and hoping that it works. You need to educate people, you need to people need to know why they’re making the food choices they’re making. And I don’t think those are necessarily conflicting things, I think you need to start with education. And then you can put products in front of people, and they can make those dishes decisions for themselves. But I think part of why our food system today is so messy, is because we let these brands we let these large food companies just dictate what was healthy, what wasn’t healthy, what natural men, what whole food men, and a lot of these are marketing terms that have been manipulated over the years. And people are buying things, but they have no clue what’s actually in it. They don’t know where it comes from, they don’t know why it’s good, or why it’s bad. Not to put food into those two categories only. But education is a huge part of that.

Andrew D Ive 21:07


And good taste.


Yes, good taste, it always has to taste good.

Andrew D Ive 21:12


Which uproot does, you know, you were kind enough to put an up uproot dispensing machine in the office at Big Idea ventures, which meant I spent a lot more time at the office than I should have. Basically just drinking chocolate milk on a daily basis.

Jacob Conway 21:29


It’s good to go across it’s it’s like the soda machine where you go across and get one of each flavor. You can just hop across and mix your pea milk with your selling milk with your oat milk

Andrew D Ive 21:38


and test all the flavors and they’re all really really good. Are you putting those dispensing machines in places outside of universities? Or are you trying to get into offices and things? Or is that just not?

Jacob Conway 21:49


Yeah, so if you don’t mind, I realized that I sort of skipped over the actual product. But our first product was a dispensing machine similar to those dairy big silver dairy dispensers you see in colleges where you lifted a handle, and there’s a little plot rubber spout and milk comes out. We did that for plant based milk. And that was our first product is mentioned. We launched that at Brown and Wellesley College. Last year, we had five other schools on board, and they are all still on board. But the pandemic happened and that changed everyone’s needs. And that we have gotten to our single serve launch, which we’re launching right now. eight ounce cartons of milk, which are safer during the pandemic for people would have also allowed us to access a lot more spaces like retail, like small retail and hospitals, for example, where maybe a dispenser didn’t make sense. But to your point, yes, we would like to see the dispenser in other places in office setting is one of those places. K through 12 is another one of those places where you sort of have that traditional lunch line where people are going through, they can fill cups, they’re filling cups of water, they’re filling cups of milk and juice, there’s no reason they can’t fill a cup of plant based milk as well. And then, at larger hospitals and larger dining facilities cruises are another good example when those do come back, you have this large cafeteria setting where people are serving themselves dispensers were would work really well there some larger hotel chains, where they have a consistent breakfast or lunch dining operation, those dispensers would make sense. So you’d like to see those lots of places and then we’d like to see adaptations of the dispenser versus you walk into a convenience store there’s always those creamer setups and a lot of them do have smaller countertop dispensers with three types of everyman you can try there should be a plant based milk dispenser there as well so that you can whiten your coffee with plant based milk options as opposed to the dairy options that are

Andrew D Ive 23:46


perfect. Quick question for anyone that’s kind of not necessarily got into the plant based milk space yet from a taste from a consumer perspective. What are the choices that you guys provide? And why why those choices? Why an oat versus a soy or a P or you know, whatever are the choices that you guys are providing what are the differences between them and why choose one versus another?

Jacob Conway 24:10


Do we have oatmeal, soy milk and chocolate female. And there’s varying reasons for all of them. Oatmeal is a mix of it’s just become incredibly popular in the last three years, probably three or four years. So that’s what people want. But oat milk also is a great base because it yields a very creamy and milk analogue product like milk, similar products, get that whiteness. You get that sort of I call it chug ability. Where it doesn’t feel too heavy. It’s nice, it’s cold, it’s refreshing. It hits the palate just right, though milk is a crowd pleaser. It’s great and coffee because the flavor is pretty mild and it’s just good. feels familiar to people, I think that’s why everyone likes it. So. So milk was a given or oat milk was a given. And then soy milk is kind of the, the Oji of the group, the original, it’s got that eight grams of protein that you want, you can do unsweetened oat milk, or sorry, soy milk, and it’s still pretty great. You don’t need to sweeten it that much to make it good. But with regard to protein, it fills that spot for milk. I mean, I always tell people, if you’re actually looking for a milk substitute, soy milk is where you should sell soy milk, or plain milk is where you should look. Because you want that protein content, you can get eight grams of protein and a glass of female for soy milk pretty easily. So soy No, soy milk also brings in maybe older generations where that’s what they grew up on. That’s what they’re used to. That’s what they like to have. It’s familiar to people. So it’s a tried and true one, and I think is important to have an email is another sort of newcomer, it’s even newer than old, no one is familiar with it. But again, you get those eight grams of protein, especially in something like chocolate milk, where you’re gonna have sugar content, you want to make sure you’re also providing something else that’s beneficial, which is that protein content, eight grams of protein in P is also one that’s the flavor profile is definitely I think, newer to people and maybe a little harder to get used to talk like cocoa does a really good job of masking that. So they pair really well together, you get that protein. And you could do a chocolate soy milk, but we didn’t want to pit soy against itself for the chocolate variety in the regular because then everyone’s going to go for the job. So it’s nice that they’re able to stand on their own, I think.

Andrew D Ive 26:54


Perfect. So you guys,

Jacob Conway 26:57


one other thing I want to mention Andrew just because it’s me and you know how I am. At one point, we did have an almond in a coconut milk. Um, there are several reasons we phase those out. But one of the most significant ones is those are just two of the least sustainable options. omens. 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, they take an incredible amount of water and a drought ridden state. And they also require intense pollen is pollination practices, which results in these bees that are brought in in order to pollinate these almond orchards. But they’re driving out native species of insects, natives, he sees it. He’s an environmentally it’s just not, it’s not good, it’s not beneficial. So Omen didn’t make the cut. And also almonds just don’t have a captivating nutrition profile, you don’t get that protein. Most almond milks are just water, you’re getting two almonds, two, three almonds and a glass of almond milk. You might as well just be drinking water at that point. And then coconut milk also, it’s all imported from outside the US. So you have emissions tacked on there. And then inevitably, with the demand for coconut going up coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk. native species in other countries where this is harvested, are being cut down in order to make room for these coconut farms so that we can meet this, this demand port but again, not a sustainable practice. So we found our sweet spot with these three, you can get oats, you can get soy, you can get peas, all grown in the US. Um, and they take a lot less resources to make and to transport. Um, and they just yield better. Sorry.

Andrew D Ive 28:49


No, I mean, I think that’s fantastic. I think I agree with you. 100%. So that’s uproot. Thank you for thank you for the background. You and Kevin. You are the You are the uproot duo. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about Kevin and his motivations. We’ve kind of covered

some of yours. Obviously, it’s not it’s not very cool to have you talk about Kevin’s motivations without Kevin being here. No. But you know, I don’t want the Batman and Robin of you know, milk in the universe in the university sector and more broadly than that and not being both covered.

Jacob Conway 29:25


Yes. No, Kevin is Kevin is the he get like he said he gave birth to uproot? He grew up with a milk allergy. His whole he and his brother both did. So they were raised on rice milk. And to this day Kevin’s mom still drinks rice milk. It’s pretty funny, but they sort of grew out of that allergy but continued to drink plant based milk because they liked it and because I don’t know you could have a bad day and it doesn’t agree with your stomach. But um, that was Kevin’s that was how Kevin found the inspiration for uproot. He had had plant based meals his entire life. And then in college, he saw that there just weren’t good options. I think a lot this resonates with a lot of kids our age who went to college when did and you would have to run up to the counter and beg the chef to like bring out a carton of almond milk that they were stashing away in the back in the cafeteria plan offering plant based milk was not a normal thing, you just decided that you weren’t going to eat cereal ever, because there wasn’t an option for you to put it on milk. I had phased out liquid milk in my diet in college as well. So I experienced that. So Kevin was working and he’s an engineer. And he was working at shark Ninja, they make vacuums and blenders and stuff. And Kevin was seeing products like juice era, which was short lived, but these counter top dispenser ideas. And he thought that could work for plant based milk because like I said, he had seen his mom bring home carton after carton his whole life and knew that it was wasteful, there had to be a more efficient way to do this. And that’s when he started tinkering with this idea of providing plant based milk through some dispensed option. And he was camped outside Whole Foods asking parents as they walked out if they drink plant based milk, would they be interested in a countertop dispenser doing these questionnaires and found that the market wasn’t quite there for the countertop dispenser at home for a variety of reasons. But he pivoted your food service and started talking to he went to Brown University. And while he was there started talking to the food service director. And they were very receptive to the idea of having plant based milk available to students because the future directors were seeing kids ask for it more and more. So Kevin came up with the idea. And that’s how he got to the idea of uproot. Um, Kevin also is just very smart and understands the complexities of providing this many people with food as well. And he’s a problem solver. So he really enjoys being given something like this and saying, solve it, make it make it work. And he’s very good at that. And then having an I came together because I was living in San Francisco with roommates, we’ve gone to Brown University as well. So I have this network of students who have gone to brown. And I had just finished working at my brother’s cookie company, and was trying to figure out what was next for me. And one of my friends who was having friend as well said, hey, my buddy just started a plant milk company out in Providence, Rhode Island, you should really think about he’s looking for a co founder, you should really think about reaching out to him. And I kind of laughed the first time and I was like I don’t I couldn’t tell you where Providence is on a map, let alone move there and start working on a plan, please your company. But Kevin I had a couple phone calls. And I realized, yeah, he had, he was making milk, he had something legit. And he was doing it making it happen. So I flew out on March 2019. And spent two weeks and Kevin lived on an air mattress in his apartment and I got to make milk in the kitchen with him. I mean, he was already serving Brown University and Johnson and Wales University, though we were hitting, I had a beard net on a hairnet, we were making milk by hand. And then I was sold and I went back to San Francisco packed up everything I owned into a car, drove across the country, and moved to Providence lived in Kevin’s apartment for two months before I got my own and have not looked back since. And we were in Providence for a while, obviously got accepted to be IV, which was a huge launch pad for us began large scale production of our product. And we both moved to New York. And now we’re based here and get Nick going.

Andrew D Ive 33:45


based in New York based in Brooklyn.


Yeah, Kevin’s in Brooklyn, I’m in Manhattan. But yes,

Andrew D Ive 33:51


those bricks, they didn’t look like Manhattan bricks. Maybe they do look at that.

Jacob Conway 33:55


I think it’s a bit of a newer building. But yeah, they’re, they’ve got a nice read john Gill.

Andrew D Ive 34:00


So obviously, it can’t all have been just sort of plain sailing and just, you know, making it from home. And suddenly you’ve got a business, obviously, and I don’t really want to dwell on COVID too much. Because, you know, people will be listening to this, I hope in in two years time, three years time, four years time. So you know, some of the kind of business challenges you’ve had and how you guys put your heads together to solve them?

Jacob Conway 34:26


Yes, good question. And one thing I would say this is kind of advice to it’s a problem we face in and can be transformed into advice to other entrepreneurs. When people tell you things are going to take longer than you expect. That is very real advice. No matter how confident you are, about someone saying they’re going to deliver something to you on time saying that something’s gonna go out when it should be produced when it should, even in the best case scenario

Andrew D Ive 35:03


I’m second,

Jacob Conway 35:05


Miami, baby. Yeah, baby. If you’re a small company, you’re small price you are going to get pushed, things are going to take longer than you expect them to always no matter what other people tell you. So take that advice. Um, other business challenges we face is just being flexible. I mean, even when we had a product that was going to work, trying to get it, trying to coordinate getting it in a dispenser, getting it to schools, making sure everything’s certified, um, it just, there’s so many layers to these things that you can’t anticipate. You always need to build and build, build in the unknown. And I think that’s a fairly common piece of advice. But yeah, what I mean by that is, even when you think you’ve done your due diligence, there’s more for you to learn, there’s more for you to find out. It’s never the full story until you are on the ground doing it. It’s in your hands. You’ve got a customer, it’s been sold to them. Nothing’s final till it’s final really. Um,

Andrew D Ive 36:09


so you got went? So you guys went from handmade? Rhode Island? Kevin’s kitchen? By the sounds of it. Maybe it was his bathtub, I don’t know. And then you moved. And then you moved to a commercial manufacturer, I co man, a contract manufacturer. And that. So just to credit for people listening, that contract manufacturer is a third party, who is basically making the product to your exact specifications. Correct?

Jacob Conway 36:39


Correct. We had, we had another company finalize these formulations for us. They have a countertop simulator, that that simulates this large scale production process of creating shelf stable liquid. And we have them sending us little bottles of the product to sample. And we tweaked that formula to get it just right, and then brought it to the CO manufacturer gave them all the specifications, and they made 1000s of gallons of it for us.

Andrew D Ive 37:09


So no more no more cranking it out in the in the kitchen.

Jacob Conway 37:12


Thankfully not those were long, hot days in the kitchen in Rhode Island.

Andrew D Ive 37:16


So what are you guys doing all day all the time? is you just like hanging out living the life or now that somebody else is manufacturing the product for you? How are you finding your time focused?

Jacob Conway 37:26


Yeah, good question. I’m outsourcing that to cauvin has allowed us to focus on sales, it’s allowed us to focus on our brand. So we just went through a bit of a brand refresh, which sounds funny to do it only two years old. But it was important, especially as we brought a new product to market, it really significantly changed who we were speaking to, and how we were speaking to them. So we’ve been doing a lot of a lot of marketing, a lot of sales. I think while we were hand making product, we thought we had sales under control. But now that someone else has handled it, you really realize how much goes into that. The constant upkeep of checking in on people, because even if people want your product, you’re never going to be the number one priority on their list. So you got to keep bugging them, you got to keep building on those relationships, distribution, focusing heavily on that making sure that once we do have these customers that we’re able to serve them and accommodate the growth that we anticipate seeing in the next year. I ating on future for uproot. But are we selling people when we say, bring uproot on board? Or is it really just a carton of milk? And the answer to that is obviously no, we have a much larger vision for ourselves, we want to be the go to provider of non dairy options for food services. So I’ve covered it all but creamer, softserve, milk shakes all of these things we want, we want them to have good access to those options. And we want to be the ones to provide that. One piece of advice they also did remember in a struggle we have faced is realizing that even though you are a new company, and you’re a startup and it’s 2021, and everything’s exciting, and everyone’s going plant based, the industry is not caught up with that. So you’re you’re taking this new product and this new world of plant based and trying to make it fit into an old model of food production and ingredient sourcing and manufacturing. All of those things are suited for the boom of canned foods and in little package like crackers for kids lunches. I mean, they haven’t really caught up to new forms of packaging and trying to be more sustainable and accommodating non allergen products. I mean, everyone is still learning. And like I said, you need to you need to really understand that you can’t just show up and Hope it all works.

Andrew D Ive 40:01


So question. If there are universities where uproot is not present today, is that basically? Are you? Are you going to need to get in there and speak to the purchasing folks? Or can university students who listen to this who are proactively kind of wanting these things in their own universities? Can they reach out to their own university to their own purchasing departments? How would you?

Jacob Conway 40:33


Yeah, you know, how

Andrew D Ive 40:33


should they? How should they do that? If they’re looking for this on their college?

Jacob Conway 40:37


Yeah, the answer is yes, you can reach up and tell your food service director, tell your chef, Chef, I really enjoy talking to chef just because I like food and making it but um, any of those people really have the power to raise their hand and say, we want to bring on a new plant based milk so you can go to them, you can also go to upwards website and just submit your information to us, we have a form on there a contact form, tell us what school you’re at, tell us your name. And we will get in touch with your food sewer service director or chef if you don’t want to, and let them know what we have. And that would be great. Because oftentimes, they want that proof. They want proof that their students are asking for these things. And it falls on us to show up and get the students to rally around us. But we know that the demand is there. So when students speak up, it’s it’s a huge benefit for us. Eventually, hopefully, we’ll get to a place where we are available through distributors and schools will see us as a unique option because we are the only plant based milk to be in this multi variety dispenser. And they’ll see the appeal of that. But we want these relationships to be open and direct and and intimate. So we want people to reach out we want them to know who Kevin I are, we want them to know who it is and where it comes from.

Andrew D Ive 42:01


And in terms of people backing the company who’s who kind of got behind you guys from a from a you know, investor perspective, who sort of in the in the fight with you who’s who’s trying to build this business.

Jacob Conway 42:15


So Kevin, I, we were scrappy, we have been scrappy, for a long time, a lot of our initial money was what is called free money, meaning we didn’t have to give up any equity. We entered a ton of competitions in Rhode Island, and we won quite a few thankfully, we sold them. And that was all of our initial funding. And then obviously, the funding through B IV we’re working on are closing our pre seed round right now, which is a mix of angels and some friends and family. But we have good contacts in the vegan world, and we’re hoping to bring them on board as we really skyrocket right now now that we have a product out there. Um, we want people who our mission resonates with who believe in changing the food system and who believe in creating better access to plant based products for people. There’s a lot of incredible individual vegan investors out there people who have started their own funds, and they’re small, but they really get it and there begins themselves and they have an understanding of what we’re doing and this passion where this really comes from.

Andrew D Ive 43:22


So here’s a tough one for you. And I’m not sure if the answer to this question, but would you accept investment from a non vegan?

Jacob Conway 43:32


That’s a really good question. Um, Veronica feel who was in our program, I’ve talked to her about this as well. And I mean, being, not everyone who puts only plant based and I had to grapple with that personally for a little while. But I think ultimately, it’s a combination of two things. One, it’s this sort of cheeky response of, yes, I’m glad to take money from non vegans so that I can put it towards vegan initiatives because that means dollar, if the money is going to me, it means it’s dollars that aren’t going to non vegan companies, which is a win in my book. But the other the other component of it is just the reality that we are we work in a in a broken food system as it is right now. And in order to get to where we need to be you do have to make compromises and you do have to be willing to to be flexible, not necessarily in your values or in your morals, but about how you get there. And sometimes that means taking money. When it’s not how do I when it’s not your first choice, I guess I’m in a perfect world, everyone would be vegan and I’d be fully financed by vegan and vegan people who who share this mission and this fashion but that’s not the world we live in. And it creates really cool opportunities where you can also have that deeper conversation like I’ve had with Many times about why veganism is the future and why it’s so important and why we need these products out there. And hopefully, that will have a ripple effect. And we can get people to start shifting where their money goes to more begin companies.

Andrew D Ive 45:15


Perfect. So if someone’s interested in getting uproot for their college, for their office, for their retail store, you know, for their restaurant, etc. Or if they’re interested in talking to you about your your investment round, and I’m guessing whenever they listened to this, you’ll probably be at one stage or another have an investment round. Where should they

reach out to Jacob and Kevin,

Jacob Conway 45:43


you can reach me directly at And Kevin’s is Or they can go on our website and the contact form there is the best place to reach us, it goes directly to our inboxes. So it’s, it’s just like you’re directly emailing Kevin or myself. Our website just got a nice refresh recently. So all the product information, you can see it in real life on there. And we’ll send people samples, we will, we will get it to you one way or another we will make sure of it. And then the cartons will also be available on Amazon within the coming week. So if people really, if you want it at home, if you want it for your kids, lunchboxes, whatever it is, you can get the single serve on there as well.

Andrew D Ive 46:30


And you’re selling those single cells in packs of 12. And so


  1. 18 Yep, a box of 18.

Andrew D Ive 46:37


boxes are biting. Okay. And this is all Correct.


Calm, yep.

Andrew D Ive 46:44


All right. So Jacob, and Kevin website approved I’m guessing you. I don’t know, maybe you’re too cool to be on Instagram or any of those places. But

Jacob Conway 46:56


we’re Instagram, our handles are at uproot milk. Everywhere. We’re on Twitter, we’re on. We’re on Instagram. We’re excited. We’re in the process of revamping all of that right now to reflect our new branding and our new product launch. But in the next week, it’ll all be up to speed. So take a look, please engage, follow. I mean, like I said, part of our mission is education. So if you find us on those places, hopefully you’re gonna learn something about plant based milk that you didn’t know before.

Andrew D Ive 47:25


Check goodbye. Appreciate your time. Thank you. Thank you for spending some time with me today. And I look forward to getting feedback from people who listen to this, but also I look forward to people reaching out to you directly and helping your business. You guys are doing great things. I appreciate you.

Jacob Conway 47:40


Thank you very much, Andrew, thank you for the time. Hope to see you again soon. All right,

Andrew D Ive 47:45


I’m going to stop recording. Thanks for listening to the big idea food podcast. I really appreciate you. Please do subscribe, then you’ll get notifications of the next podcast. If you have any questions or comments, please do reach out. We can also be found via big idea and through Instagram, LinkedIn, all of those wonderful places. So enjoyed the conversation today. I hope you did too. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye.


© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021

As more consumers adopt the new diet, plant-based food should offer not just the right taste, smell and price but also the right texture

Big Idea Ventures (BIV), along with Grand Hyatt Singapore, organised its first in-person and virtual tasting for plant-based foods called Tasting Big Ideas 2021.

The culinary tasting experience took place last week and was Big Idea Ventures’s third tasting event showcasing alternative protein innovations.

An image of the food at the event

BIV is a global VC firm-cum-accelerator in the plant-based food space. Its first fund, the New Protein Fund, recently raised over US$50 million.

“Working with these plant-based products is a great opportunity to share with like-minded guests who care deeply for food — things like where the ingredients come from and how it is being produced,” said chef Lucas of Grand Hyatt.

“It was like a black box competition, you receive the products, it all comes in boxes, you open and see — wow these are the products, then we think what we can create with that,” he added.

Here are the top trends that came out of the event:

Fermentation drives more options to alternative protein

Fermentation can develop everything from seafood to sustainable oils, and innovations in these areas will rise in 2021. The development of new alternative solutions entering the market will go some way to replacing their traditional products.

Examples of companies developing such products are Aquacultured Foods, a whole muscle seafood alternative created through microbial fermentation, and Farmsow, a B2B ingredients company developing alternatives to tropical oils and animal fats.

Alternative protein dine-in and take-out options growing

Plant-based options have thrived despite the pandemic, and many products have launched throughout the world.

Angie’s tempeh is a Singaporean plant-based protein tempeh company launched during the pandemic and is now available in multiple grocery stores. Haofood’s from China also developed the first peanut protein-based chicken and is now served in over six restaurants in Shanghai.

In light of the pandemic, Tasting Big Ideas 2021 and 2020 also offered a virtual tasting option where guests can opt to have a tasting kit delivered to enjoy in the comfort of their homes or offices.

Improving taste and texture for alternative protein

As more consumers adopt the new diet, plant-based foods are required to have not just the right taste, smell and price but also the right texture.

Increasingly, technologies and companies like “Meat. The End” is needed that will allow plant-based foods to be indistinguishable from traditional meats.

Cell-based products futuristic concept overseas but a growing trend in Singapore

Singapore was the first country in the world to give approval to the commercialisation of cell-based meat. In late 2020, the Singapore Food Agency gave the approval to Eat Just to sell cultured chicken to customers.

Companies from BIV’s portfolio company, such as Animal Alternative Technologies and Innocent Meat, foresee this trend and provide end-to-end solutions to scale the production of cell-based meat in a cost-efficient manner.

Image Credit: Big Idea Ventures

Podcast 1: MeliBio’s CEO and Co-Founder Darko Mandich speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a honey alternative company 

Big Idea Ventures is launching our very own podcast “The Big Idea Podcast: Food”. Each week Big Idea Ventures’ Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

To listen to the first episode featuring MeliBio Inc.‘s CEO and Co-Founder Darko, click on the links below!


The podcast can be viewed at the links below:


Please view the transcript of the interview below.


Hi, this is Andrew from the big idea food podcast. Today we’re going to be talking to Darko Mandich. Darko is the CEO and co founder of Melibio. Melibio is an incredible company focused on creating fermentation and cell based honey, honey without the bees. It is at the micro level, identical to honey that didn’t require the supply chain, the kind of weeks or months of production and the little insects that helped create it. So they’re going to be transforming the sweetener industry and the honey industry. Please find out more about Melibio on today’s podcast with the big idea food podcast. Any comments or questions? please do leave a comment or question at the end of this podcast. Many thanks. 




Mandich CEO and co founder of Melibio, how are you sir? 


I’m doing great. Thank you for this opportunity, Andrew, to talk about honey and bees and different things that make life beautiful. That’s a great, 


great way of kicking it off. Tell us about Melibio honey and bees and things that make life beautiful. 


I love talking about Melibio, because we really believe that companies today should make this world a better place. And I’ll start with saying that Melibio is the world’s first company to develop a technology to produce real honey without beef. And I strongly emphasize real honey. Because it’s not only the delicious, amazing taste that brings the complexity of different flavors and amazing indulgence of of consumption, but also the amazing benefits that are found in up to 300 micronutrients that are generally found in honey. So we have Melly bio are looking to deliver the same product like bees, just remove the bees from the equation of honey production, for many reasons, 


but I think we’re all pretty experienced folks, we all know that honey comes from bees. How the heck do you create honey without bees? It’s like saying, you know making I was gonna say making milk without cows. But we’ve done that, haven’t we? We’ve already done that. With perfect day and others. So yeah, how how do you take honey bees out of the equation. 


Honey is a very complex product. And the first step in removing bees from the equation of honey production is actually looking into bees and looking at what’s happening out there. So you basically have these wonderful creatures animals, unfortunately stucked in bee hives, and they go out from their, from their beehives, and they collect nectar and pollen from different flowers, different plants. And certain reaction is happening in their guts, where they convert that nectar into the building blocks of honey, which are fructose and glucose. So basically looking into them. We are recreating that structure in our lab, where we use the proprietary feedstock that resembles the nectar and we use certain microorganisms to help us convert that proprietary next there are two building blocks of honey, that’s just the beginning. And definitely honey is not only about fructose and glucose, it’s about many amazing micronutrients that we are also adding they’re basically delivering the same product just as these 


Okay, so it’s your proposition and I know you guys have been working on it for some time now that you can actually create something that has the look, the taste and even you know, the micronutrients down to the you know, I wouldn’t say atomic level but down to the smallest level of honey you think you can duplicate it without needing the bee 


I’m I’m proud to say that on a molecular level, we are matching what bees are doing. And we believe that it’s really important for death to be done properly because the power of honey actually lies and if details. There are companies out there producing alternative to honeys that kind of work. look alike are tastes similar like honey, but because they don’t deliver that composition, that product is not as superior as honey coming from the beach. So we have signed up for a very difficult challenge. But we are really obsessed with this product because we know the power of honey. And we are really looking forward to bring the product that allows everyone not to make compromise. You know, we see the value of Melibio doing this from environmental perspective, from sustainability perspective, efficiency perspective, but we really believe that the future of food, that is, that is animal food, but not coming from animals shouldn’t be about compromise. And that’s what our technology is helping us. 


So any of us that have sort of been interested in this space for a while, we’re being told that, you know, bees are incredibly important for our ecosystem for our ability to grow agriculture, flowers, vegetables, crops, etc. Everything is somewhat dependent on actually I’m being under I’m and I’m always always downplaying it. You know, bees are a critical component of that, that ecosystem, to the point where we’ve become quite nervous, right of what’s actually happening to the bees and the consequences that can have on our on our longevity as a species. Can you talk a little bit about that? Why are bees so important are be so important. You know, what’s, what’s going on here? 


You just made an introduction that reminds me of August 20 2012, when I was about to join the first job straight out of my business school. And that first job was in a honey company that I actually joined, buying into the vision of joining the industry that is really important, not only because it delivers amazing product, but because it is helping many wonderful creatures that are bees to survive. People hear about bees every day, there are news about bees dying in France, bees, bees dying in the United States, there’s news about colony collapse disorder. But unfortunately, I believe that public doesn’t have the entire image and entire knowledge of what’s actually happening with the beats. So, in the honey production, we use a single bee species called honey bees. And honeybees are actually not native to North America. They they were abroad on Spanish galleons in around 1622, Central America, and then they were taken up north to the current territory of United States and Canada. So honeybees were selected by humans as a species that we can easily domesticate that we can put in different beehives, and we can use them for honey production and pollination. So with the rising demand for both pollination and Honey, what happened is that many new bee hives that are being introduced in habitats, they were actually making an issue in bee biodiversity, because besides honeybees, there are other 20,000 wild and native bee species that live in smaller groups, and that are being attacked by honeybees, and their food and their territories being taken over. So, you know, like, like, it’s happened with many other things, the growth of population and the demand for something that we love, started the killing something that is really nice. So basically, with honey production, and with commercial beekeeping expanding out there, we created a huge problem. Definitely, there are many problems with honeybees like colony collapse disorder pesticides, but once we see as a long term strategic issue is that if we keep expanding commercial beekeeping, and if we only have commercial beekeeping as a sole source of honey production, that means basically that we would killing the bee biodiversity. And people ask me what will happen if we kill other bees and just have plenty of honey bees, what will happen is that we will not have the world as we have it today, because honey bees are not enough to pollinate all the wild plants out there. They’re just an average pollinators. So when I looked into this in end of 2018, and 2019, I was I was really my mind was blown away because, you know, I joined this industry, the hunting industry 10 years ago, and I felt like I’m really helping the bees but when I came across these studies, I started thinking from a different perspective. And I asked myself a question, should I be embarrassed for what I did in my in my previous career? Or should I take everything what I did as equity, and use it to change the very industry that I joined with many loves and caring about both the product and the animals, and I definitely chose the latter. 


So let me just let me just summarize what I’m hearing. Originally, the biodiversity in nature was being pollinated, pollinated by 20,000 30,000, a wide range of insects and bees and different kind of more wild creatures. Ultimately, because of our our desire to domesticate and create honey and pollinators, we took a specific insect and we we domesticated it, putting it in hives, and so on. And those creep those honeybees are pushing out or encroaching on the lap of the space and the territories of the original insects, the original pollinators, and causing them to have their own challenges. It also put, I guess, puts a significant reliance on one particular insect in terms of as the core pollinator even though it wasn’t the original pollinator it’s now becoming the dominant one. And now everything is being dependent on one particular kind of insect is that what is that? What I’m hearing, and it says you’ve got, and you said, you’ve gone through a number of studies that have figured this out? Correct. 


Thank you for summarizing that. Andrew, my co founder, Eric and I, we’ve, we’ve read many studies that we decided to put together in summarizing to a bee report. Last year, we publish as a company, the state of the bees report, where we actually explain what’s happening to the studies that are being conducted out there. You know, it’s, it’s very interesting, because the bees are an amazing world that is being open to the wider public. And we really want to be out there and help spreading the entire story on the bees, because you know, honey bees are good. It’s just that if the favourites them over b biodiversity will create a huge problem out there. So that’s, that’s definitely, you know, there’s definitely something something that’s very important. On the other hand, you know, what’s what’s going on, when you have all these big trucks packed with millions of bees being transported all over the country, they what can happen is actually that there are pathogens that are spilling over from those Pak bees into while the native bees, that’s also an issue that’s called causing while the native bee species disappear. In a study that I came across that was published in January or February of this year year, and covered by National Geographic, it was reported that in the last 10 years 25% of native and wild bee species have not been seen in the last 10 years. And you know, that’s, that’s a huge problem. Because if we just keep going like this, I think we will won’t be needing Elan musk to take us to Mars, because we’ll have the surface referred to really look like Mars. 


Thank you for that, that’s going to give people something pleasant to think about for the rest of their day. So, back to Melibio, you guys then you know you took all of this learning you previously worked in a honey company, you took all of this learning and these insights and these kind of surprising research that you found and so on, and decided that how you could help solve that problem is by creating Melly bio. Now many buyers, you said can can create at the molecular level a product which has the look taste, texture, you know, flavor, etc of regular Honey, I’m guessing you can also if you put your mind to it create all kinds of different hundreds as well, like, you know, the more expensive kinds and, and so on. 

How do you think that’s going to help the you know, biodiversity and the kind of ecosystem How is Melih bio going to save bees or save the wild bees that were there before the honeybee started to encroach? 


I love your question, Andrew. I’ll start with saying that honey is a much bigger market that people perceive only in the United States. Last year, honey market was estimated to be around $2 billion, where Nielsen reports that honey holding retail was close to a billion dollar and it had a 25 percent increase year over year from 2019. Globally, in 2025, honey will grow from around nine to 10 billion now to 14 to 15. And around 2030 is going to be a $20 billion market. So people are consuming honey, people aren’t consuming honey more and more. And we believe that providing a different way to produce honey, we can take take away the burden of biodiversity because we would actually negate the need for commercial beekeeping means to expand further, we as a company, respect and believe that there are many organic and small beekeepers out there. And that’s actually not the people that should be worried about selling their product, what we are actually after, as we are after providing a solution for large clients that are buying honey in 1000s and 1000s of metric tons, and use it across industries, from food to beverage, cosmetics, and even pharma. So we want to be a solution provider for large industries and supplied them with honey that sustainable in depth can perform the same as honey produced by the bees, but also to cater to plant based communities. 


So we’ve heard about how traditional honey bees can impact the wild, the more diverse be an insect community by encroaching on their territory. How are we treating? Maybe there are studies in this maybe there are not? How are we treating honey bees in terms of you know, as creatures themselves. 


In my 10 year career in the hunting industry, I met probably more than 1000 beekeepers across 50 countries that I visited, I’ve been to hundreds of bee farms. And I’ve met a lot of specially small beekeepers that really want one to be one to behave to be as gentle as possible. But I must I must say that from the animal welfare perspective, bees are not honeybees are not enjoying being captured in the beehives and being used to produce honey for for us that we harvest because there’s no other rule in beekeeping, that when the crop is over, all of the honey is harvested. And then during winter months, bees are being given a cocktail of sugar and water to survive to the winter months. And to be kind of hungry for when the springtime comes so that they can be unleashed from these beehives and and collect nectar and pollen. So from that perspective, I mean, you know, it’s difficult to say because I again, I think a lot of small beekeepers, they want to be gentle towards the bees. But from the animal welfare perspective, I say that this is not ideal and bees with honey bee is themselves would be much happy if they wouldn’t be packed in tightly and beehives and being kept and exploited for honey production. 


In terms of can you repeat the beginning of your question? One more time? I don’t want to I don’t want to miss anything. 


Yeah, so I mean, it was basically I’m, you know, we honeybees are encroaching on this on this areas of the kind of more natural or that’s not the right the right word. But you know, the honeybees are encroaching on the territories of the pre existing insects. And so on that were there before that we’re doing the pollination and so on. That’s one thing, but how are we treating honeybees? And I think you’ve actually, I think you’ve actually covered that. What I’d actually like to go into now is Melibio a little bit. Tell us, tell us about you and your co founder. You know, you’ve mentioned a little bit about your background, in terms of your co founder and also, how did you guys come together and decide to do this and watch the last year or two being all about? 


Thanks for asking that. I think you know, Melly bio officially started in 2020 on officially ended 2019. But in a way I felt like Valley bio started actually 10 years ago, captaining, you know, the idea was happening. And the passion was being created on two different places. I’m happy to talk about my co founder first because I really love working with Aaron and he is he’s an extraordinary scientist and he’s a very unique A person with a URI unique character because besides being a scientist with experience in lab and research for 10 years now, he is also a passion chef and gardening. And he started noticing bees five years ago when they were visiting his garden, and he started noticing different types of bees. And he was always interested into caring about bees. Myself, I mentioned that I have extensive experience in the hunting industry. I was born in I was born and raised in Eastern Europe, which is a very sound region in Europe for high production. And in 2019, when I decided to change this industry, for better I decided to pack my backpack and fight. Since I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself and I started visiting meetups in San Francisco and I met Aaron. And when you have two people in San Francisco talking passionately about bees and honey, they better start a company together. So we did that. We started working on Mally bio, in end of 2019. And actually, I’m proud to say that for almost half a year, we were working on Mally bio, and using the savings that we collected, both of us trusting that what we are working on will show progress and trusting that goal and invest investor who would support them, I’m happy to say that that first investor and lead investor who supported us was actually you, Andrew, to any event. So I’m really happy to say that it was only recently only 11 and a half months went by we were kind of very excited. Prove that we have and and a year off that we’ve been winded flock. 


So take us through some of the challenges and maybe some of the highlights of the last 12 months. your microphone sort of came in and out a little bit there. I don’t know why hopefully, it’ll stop soon. But take us through some of the highlights and some of the kind of more interesting challenges you’ve had over the last, you know, year or so since you started. 


I would say that. It it’s been a lot of questions, you know, starting a startup. It’s by by nature, I think I will switch to my other microphone just to make sure things are better. Give me a second 


shot. No, 


you’re mute. 


You hear me now? 


I can hear you now, sir. Please continue. Oh, 


starting a startup that is developing something, you know, very challenging and needed. You get to ask your you get to ask many questions every day. So in the last 12 months, we’ve been constantly asking questions and providing answers to our questions. And I’m really happy that in questioning things, we were able to create an environment where we would be where we were clearly seeing our path. And I can start with the business model. You know, when when you start developing something new, you ask yourself, should you start with b to b or b to c or D to C. And we, we realize that since around two thirds of the honey sold and consumed are actually honey built in within other products. You know, we realized that our business model would be B to B to B first. Also from the scientific perspective, we had a couple of ways how to see our scientific progress in scientific and product development. And thanks to big idea ventures and of course, other investors, we were able to decide on the best way how to approach the excel in the last year it was, you know, mostly questions are on business model and r&d. And I’m happy to say that we were able to design our r&d r&d approach to design our go to market strategy to start developing a significant IP portfolio because I think it’s very important for entrepreneurs to learn IP portfolio and building a moat that will help them increase the chances of success and attract investors that appreciate IP leverage. Beyond that, we were happy that we created a lot of buzz. I say that I say that media buzz. 


Okay, sorry, 


I definitely see that the media is really interested in what we are doing, I’d say pretty much more than the stage that we are currently in and the amount of money that we raised, because we decided to work on something interesting and probably tackle removing probably the last animal from the food supply chain. So basically, the year was, was very fruitful. It started with big idea ventures the program, it was very difficult, I need to say to entrepreneurs out there, you know, going to a very, very extensive but rewarding accelerator program, and at the same time working on your company was very challenging, but it was highly, highly rewarding. And I’m happy to say that we kept that baseline, and we managed to find a way how to quickly ask questions, quickly give responses, and move forward, you know, and I’m happy to say that we’re closing our pre seed round that we announced this week, that one chapter is, is being closed in exactly the next day, we are working, we are putting our minds into our next chapter to developing and getting this product closer to the market and preparing ourselves to raise the seed round. 


So you mentioned in the last few days, that you guys have closed your pre seed, I think you raised you know, 800 to a million dollars I hit the article said online. Now you’ve said the next day it’s, you know, next stage of the business. What about b to b customers, interested parties, it’s a multi billion dollar industry. It’s not just, you know, a product that gets put on the shelf next to the jam. It’s a sweetener. It’s used in skincare. It’s used in shampoos, it’s used in a whole range of different you know, lip balms, it’s in a whole range of products. Do you have companies that are interested in in, in trying your your product and potentially bring it into their portfolio as either an ingredient or as a part of a part of a product? 


We are Andrew indirectly in $100 billion sugars and sweeteners industry. So industry is an amazing potential for Melly bio, and takes to the approach. And Ito’s created, Why be the Avengers where from day one, we were taught to think about our customers. And not to be you know, a startup in a lab or in a garage working on something cool and you know, waiting for years to get out of the garage. So from day one, you helped us to talk to many companies out there are interested in what we are doing. And that resulted in 16 companies signing letters of intent to purchase our plant based on E as an Indian person. We are so happy to see that. Even that we are in the pre seed stage of customers that we have business perspective. And I’m really 


so 1616 one six right ello eyes. I’m guessing these are not little tiny companies in San Francisco. They’re actually you know, either national or international companies that are exploring your product. 


We have 15 companies from the United States of America of various size from CPG startups that are looking into entering plant based space and wanting honey that’s plant based, moving to mid sized companies and also large corporations. I’m proud to say that we were able to conclude an Li and sign Li last week one of the biggest Japanese food Corporation, they have. They have more than $3 billion in revenue and they don’t only cover Japan, they have operations in Asia and North America as well. So it’s it’s really exciting. I’m also not sharing now because I cannot but we have a couple of conversations with the biggest companies in there. In industries that are actually very big consumers and purchasers of honey. And we hope that in the next couple of months, we’ll have some great news to announce in terms of some major partnerships. We, as a company, want to be out there for companies of different size, being able to solve some of the problems that are specific in the industry. We talked a lot about bees and sustainability angle. But I don’t want to miss a chance to talk about the broken supply chain that we are fixing the inefficiency of honey harvesting wood champions only within a couple of weeks within a year, while smelly, biochar can produce honey all year round, and not depending on the weather conditions that specifically in the honey crop, in 2019, in Europe, where, because of the pandemic and disaster weather in Maine and June, have honey honey yields, and that resulted in higher prices, probably only one. So we believe that science and technology can actually bring exceed terms of the price that people expect and remove volatility. Volatility actually is funny to match their work is the one that we want to merge as much as providing our clients Steve price. Got it. 


So as you say that the honey industry relies upon tiny little insects doing what they need to do in a short period of time on an annual basis, any shocks to the system, whether it’s in terms of them, doing what they need to do, but also in terms of the supply chain of multiple farmers and so on bringing these little you know, bringing the in the creation back through through the supply chain. So it could be Can, can be collected, your technology allows the production of this all year round in large volume with the same product effectively at the kind of microbial level down to the smallest, you know, degree. totally understand that. One of the other things is it’s it’s it should be considered vegan, I would guess so. Because you don’t use, you know, animals or insects or honeybees to produce it. And if there are companies out there in the plant based category who are wanting to produce, I don’t know honey sources, you know, honey based sources, or honey based dressings, or whatever, that are actually for the first time ever truly vegan, this is a product they can use to do that, right. So you’re sort of unlocking a number of different things. In the product category. 


Our product is fully vegan, it doesn’t involve any bees in the production of bees or harm. So I’m really excited that we can definitely support companies out there that want to cater to plant based community, I believe that plant based is here. It’s big, it’s here to stay and evolve. And I don’t see any small or medium size or big company that is either isn’t already in the plan base base or doesn’t have a plan to join in this or next year. 


And what are your what kind of help do you need to make Melly bio a, you know, global successful business having a positive impact? What kind of support and help do you think you need you and Aaron over the next 12 months, two years, three years? What kind of, you know, how can people contribute in some way to doing what you’re doing, whether it’s individuals or corporations or investors. 


We are creating a big story. So I believe that all the big stories are created by amazing people. So I would say in the next 12 months, what I wish for Melibio, is that we cross that with amazing people that will join our team amazing scientists out there that are listening to this watching or reading and that have the same obsession with honey and bees like we do. We want to hear their personal stories related to honey and related to bees. We also want to cross paths with amazing investors who appreciate the existence of bees all the 20,000 plus natively species, and to see the value of, you know, helping a species while also changing, as I mentioned, $100 billion, larger industry. So that’s what I really wish for. Because I believe that we are living in an independent world, we, as being a team in the San Francisco Bay Area, we definitely have access to a lot of resources out there. And I really want us to attract the best people, the best employees, and the best investors that we can really talk to, because it wasn’t, it wasn’t very long ago, until we were much smaller than we are today. And being able to, you know, Friday afternoon, pick up the phone and call new Andrew or Abby or anyone from Big Idea Ventures team and get the perspective or know like, just get, you know, kind words, to help us guide through a problem, you know, that doesn’t have a price tag on it, I really hope that has growing and attracting more investors, that will be really fortunate with attracting the best people out there. Help us guide navigate the space and help us build a billion dollar company, because we believe getting to a billion dollar company, we will actually make a significant impact in helping to see biodiversity. Well, 


you’ve got my cell phone number, you know, you can always call me whenever you want to. So that’s that’s always that channel is always available to you, as well, as I’m sure Abby and me are and Tom and the other members of the team. So corporations, how can the food industry get behind what Melibio is doing? What kind of either partnerships, relationships, you know, collaborations, how are you seeing the food industry potentially being relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish? 


We want to be the solution provider for what our clients need. We are startup in pre seed stage, but leveraging, first of all my industry experience, we can really move quickly. Meaning that after introduction calls on our second cause, we get connected with the R&D teams of bigger companies. And we can easily figure out what is that they consider is honey for themselves. Because honey, there are like 320 main varieties of honey, it in the same honey that companies use in cosmetics and beverage. So we easily figure out what what’s the case study. And we work together with their team in providing what is our solution to them. And then after making an agreement, we can lay down the plan for scaling and production. From from last month, we scale our r&d team to five people now that are helping us to scale our production. And I really invite all these companies out there that are using honey, to get in touch with us to share their honey story. And we will be really, we will be able to get back to them with our solution for how they could replace the honey they currently use with our honey. And I say we bring all the safety out there, we can start with limited products with limited volume with limited launch for them to see how we perform. And as time goes, we can definitely scale that to most or entire portfolio. 


So in terms of scaling now, are you looking for or have you found a production partner who can help you scale this either nationally or internationally? And if you haven’t, and I don’t I actually don’t know the answer to this question. So I should probably have, I should probably know the answer before I ask it. But if you haven’t found a country, a production partner who can help work with you to get make this a global entity and enterprise. What does that partner look like? 


It’s a great question, Andrew. We are having currently a partner that can help us scale with the soft launch that we are planning for that will be happening as of this year. But in terms of global scales, we are definitely interested into having conversations with large companies that can offer a global infrastructure, their benefits In having productive production potential, not only in the US, but in other countries, and we are looking into, like our ideal partners would be companies that are looking how to leverage their infrastructure in bio fermentation, but are potentially coming from other products that are not necessarily close to money, that case we and then have the safety that we can collaborate using their infrastructure, but you know, being able to be really close enough, because the products are completely different. And, you know, I see, you know, I’m really happy about that potential utilization of resources that were once built for some other products, and now can actually be used for kind of upcycled to help startups to launch their products in front of those companies in startups being safe with each other in working together, because they’re not competing. 


So is this you mentioned fermentation? Are these potential partners likely to come from the beer industry or from other industries that are leveraging fermentation that have, you know, deep x x expertise in this area in that area? 


Yeah, beer industry is one of the examples definitely, I would not stop there. Whenever there, whenever there are bio reactors and bio fermentation, we can look into different ways how we can collaborate together. For us, it’s really important that on the other side, we have an honest partner who is willing to, you know, offer their infrastructure and make us safe, as really early stage startup and work with a giant now, because sometimes, the way how big companies work and operate, it’s not the details that startup founders are kind of very safe and excited about. So I hope that, you know, Big iIdea Ventures is actually I see one of the biggest roles in bigger ventures besides investing. And besides running the accelerator program, if you can actually facilitate conversations and translate the language of startups to corporations, and vice versa. I get 


that. But I mean, 




I think you have the capability of having those conversations yourself, you’re from the you know, you’ve you’ve come from the honey industry, you’ve got a decade experience in it, you’re a business person. I, you know, I think you have full capability of communicating, you keep talking, for example, about you guys being a seed stage company. And I think that label is, it means different things to different people from what I understand of your business. And you know, you and I have been working on it for quite some time. Now. You guys have the know how. And you can bring that know how to a larger organization that has the infrastructure and experience around for example, fermentation, for whatever reason, they have that experience, bringing those two sets together, you could you guys could create a pretty significant and phenomenal you know, sweetener business that has the ability to upset the, you know, the honey industry, and the multiple industries, it’s a part of when you talk about seed stage company makes me nervous that people are gonna listen to this and think of, you know, two guys in a in a shed, maybe you started off as two guys in a shed, but you know, you’re a team, you’ve been working on this for some time, your proof of concept is actually quite distant in your rearview mirror. And you guys are increasingly moving towards how do we scale this thing? And how do we make this this product A at least at a national product, and potentially not, you know, not too long from now, an international product. 


I definitely agree with you. And your labeling might be very, you know, inappropriate in some in some conditions and one size doesn’t fit all and doesn’t fit everyone. We are definitely interested into moving things forward quickly. In our strategy to become a billion dollar company with an influence I definitely say loud and clear that we don’t see any value in building you know, some facilities buying some plots somewhere building facilities and investing in bio reactors. If there are a bunch of you know, a bunch of plants in the United States or globally that could be you know, utilized for that. So we want to scale and grow providing our expertise in this industry. I co founder is has designed something that’s really proprietary, something that could even move beyond honey myself. I’ve been I’ve worked with the largest honey and largest food companies in the world. And with the right partner, we can actually take things forward much quickly and other startups that share the same label of receipt or seed each day. 


So give me a give me a prediction. Now how long will it be until Melibio ingredient, honey is either in inner product on the shelf that people can go into a regular grocery store and purchase or even how long until Melibio is in a jar on a shelf next to the jam, next to the, you know, next to the regular honey is the first vegan honey ever created. 


I believe that my co founder, who is he always, 


he always tells you to not give me a day. Come on, give me a give me a prediction. Give me a you know, is it this century? No, I’m just kidding. 


I’m definitely going to give you a prediction. But I just want to make an introduction. Because you would you would appreciate our funny moments from the accelerated program and you know, talking about deadlines and moving things forward as quickly as possible. But I can say with certainty that people will in the United States will start consuming Melibio this year, they will they will consume products that contain Melly bio as a product. So this is happening this year. We are looking for that to happen. And q3. If we miss a little bit, it will be definitely Q4 this year. In terms of like, bigger scale 2022 will be our year. We were on we were pitching to one of the biggest companies in the world. Last week, I was pitching to the entire board of directors. And I made a bold promise being measured in in, in I’d say a couple of hundreds of metric tons for us to be able to deliver next year. So that will be kind of a bigger, bigger market penetration. In terms of projecting if and when we’ll be having our standalone, standalone brand and putting it on a shelf. It’s hard to say because there are many benefits of us going out there with our own brand. But also there is impact that we have in the first place. And we believe that you know offering a chance for these large purchasers of honey to replace bulk orders with honey, a bulk orders of honey with Meibio honey that the impact is being created much more quickly. But say that we leave our doors open. Also to have our standalone brands. And I’m thinking about premium honey is there. You mentioned that there are different varieties of honey, some of them can cost around $100 per pound. And I definitely see interesting opportunity. And Mally bio purchasing Emily by pursuing that route one day, but I want to give you a timeline for that on this podcast. 


Okay, I think that’s a great kind of way to start wrapping up the the podcast the fact that 100 I think you said 100 times or did you say What? 100 


times next year? I say I said hundreds, 


hundreds of times many by next year as an ingredient. I love the sound of that and where can people reach out to you if they’re interested in you know, what you’re doing learning about the technology? And also if they’re either companies that might want to partner with you, or investors that might want to talk to you about getting involved before you guys are going to be crazy expensive from a valuation perspective. Where do where do people find out about Darko mandat and Melibio, and the rest of the team. 


People find us, I believe everywhere, but the best way how to connect is maybe either through LinkedIn or maybe by reaching out our email, which is buzz like be you and apples there at Melly and we are really happy to take how we like to say honey calls, should there be from investor perspective or from from a client perspective. And, again, I also want to emphasize that all the people out there that have connection with honey that could either potentially collaborate with us in any capacity in future feel free to reach out because again, we believe that the biggest stories out there are being created by a team of amazing people that are passionate and driven and I Doing something beyond the regular expectations of having a great job and building a company, but actually saving this world. And, and also, you know, making it a better place while also making money, which is, I’d say, the very beauty of capitalism that we should nourish and that we should build build upon in the future. 


It’s kind of ironic that the millions and millions of tons of honey that gets created on an annual basis are created by the smallest possible, you know, the tiniest one of the tiniest little creatures. And likewise, if somebody listens to this and just forwards, your name and your web address to a friend or to a friend of a friend by email or Twitter or LinkedIn, that little impact could ultimately end up having a big impact on you guys as an introduce you to somebody that’s critical or important for your business. So I totally get it. So in terms of reaching out to mellie bio you mentioned it’s bu, zz, you said Zed, Zed, but you know you’re a European you get you get to speak like that. Bu zz at Melly bio m e li, bio bi We’ll also put the contact details for the web address, which is Melly,, social media, Instagram, LinkedIn, all those wonderful places in the bottom of the podcast, YouTube, etc. So if anyone needs to get hold of Darko, which I think is just the coolest name in the world, I’ve got to have a character in one of my books called Darko at some point. Yeah, if anyone needs to reach out to Darko they can do so via the links below. What else we want to say Darko before we head off and let you go and build build an amazing business in the honey space. Andrew, I 


definitely hope that that character, your work will do something good for the world, in any any any capacity, or other worlds. Let’s see, I want to my closing remark remarks is that I want to send a message out there to other entrepreneurs. And I want to take all of thank all of them doing something amazing and great, and changing the food industry. Because I definitely believe that beyond elections that we definitely will everyday three or five times and that our votes, the end, and the ballots that we cast are kind of the bytes that we are taking. And I’m really grateful to all the amazing entrepreneurs working on producing different animal products without animals, and working together in building a future that’s better. And that future is powered by amazing investors who are mission driven and who see beyond beyond the capital who see the profits in doing good. And I hope that becomes a nietos of, of the majority, if not the entire investor space out there. 


Great point. If you’re a consumer, every time you buy something, you’re voting on the company, not just the product that you’re buying, but you’re voting on the company that’s producing it. So you know, it’s up to you to vote for the right companies and not the wrong ones because that’s the kind of planet we’re going to end up living in over the next decade, two decades. And more. So Darko, Melibio, thank you for your time today. I appreciate everything that you do. I’m so glad I invested in you guys. It’s, it’s gonna be something I’m gonna tell my kids about. Or actually, I already do tell my kids about it. So I don’t even know why I say that like that. My daughter My daughter knows all about you’re ready. So anyway, thanks for everything. Thanks for everyone listening. Appreciate your time. Thanks for listening to the Big Idea Food Podcast. I really appreciate you. Please do subscribe, then you’ll get notifications of the next podcast. If you have any questions or comments, please do reach out. We can also be found by a big idea and through Instagram, LinkedIn, all of those wonderful places. So enjoyed the conversation today. I hope you did too. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye 


© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021

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