How Plant-Based Meat Is Conquering The Food Industry

The Peak spoke (via email) with Mitchell Scott, the CEO and Co-Founder of The Very Good Butchers, a British Columbia company creating delicious plant-based meats.

The Peak: Can you provide a brief history of The Very Good Butchers and your inspiration for founding  / becoming involved with the company? 

Mitchell Scott: Absolutely. It all started at a family barbecue in the summer of 2016. I’d grown up vegetarian, but had really never had a truly great-tasting veggie burger - until I tried the burgers that my distant relative and soon-to-be business partner, James Davison, served up at the barbecue. James is a classically trained chef who’d recently become vegan - and he’d already been selling these amazing burgers on Denman Island here in BC. I was just blown away by the taste and texture of these burgers.

My background is in sales and marketing, and I’d always wanted to start a business - but I’d never had the perfect product to go all-in on. But that day, James and I got to talking about these incredible burgers - and our shared desire to see better quality, great-tasting plant-based food on store shelves - and we made the decision to team up and see what we could do together. 

We started selling products at farmers’ markets in Victoria and after a phenomenal response, made the decision to open a brick-and-mortar vegan butcher shop - the very first of its kind in Western Canada - in February 2017. Fast-forward to 2021, and we’re now one of the fastest-growing plant-based food companies in North America - and have expanded to offer wholesale, retail and online products.

When opening your first butcher shop, what were you hoping to achieve? How does it compare to where you are now?

MS: At the time we were launching our first butcher shop, we’d been selling out of our products at farmers markets, and were really just hoping to continue to build on the momentum we were seeing, with the overall goal of making premium plant-based food like ours as approachable and accessible as possible. 

We also wanted to deliver our food through a familiar concept that the public would understand. When people think of butcher shops, they think of premium, locally-made and expertly sourced meat. We wanted to embody that essence, but do it entirely plant-based - to show that you can get that level of quality without using animal products. Instead, we butcher beans!

What we didn’t foresee was just how successful the shop would be from the get-go. We ended up having over 1,000 people show up on our opening day, and we actually had to shut down for a week just to restock! Since then, we’ve been working non-stop to keep up with demand and continue to grow our business - including expanding our model to make our products available to order online, as well as in grocery stores across the country. We actually recently moved the shop in downtown Victoria from the Public Market to a spot that now includes a sit-down restaurant and retail space, while maintaining that butcher shop feel.

While we’re continuing to expand across all verticals, our goal remains the same as it did when we opened our very first shop - just on a larger scale.

What sets The Very Good Butchers apart from other companies offering plant-based meat alternatives? What makes your products unique?

MS: The Very Good Butchers was created in response to the overly processed meat alternatives that were flooding the market. We were tired of seeing plant-based products with a laundry list of ingredients that you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce, and so we sought to create food that is only made with real, recognizable ingredients that you can find in your kitchen - like beans, chickpeas, garlic, onion and pea protein. Everything is minimally processed, with no additives or preservatives.

On top of that, we know that the number one barrier to plant-based meat adoption is taste. Each and every one of our products are made with taste and texture top of mind - to prove that you can eat and enjoy plant-based food without sacrificing flavour. 

We are also very proud to be one of the few plant-based brands in Canada that have a brick-and-mortar location. Our Victoria butcher shop offers the experience of being able to walk into a deli or butcher shop and browse the products, but in an entirely plant-based setting. This also includes a dine-in restaurant where chef and co-founder, James Davison, has created some incredible dishes that rotate monthly meaning anyone can enjoy delicious vegan meals.

Can you speak a little bit about the demand for plant-based foods in Canada? How are consumers responding?

MS: There’s no question that the plant-based market has seen exponential growth over the past couple of years. Distribution is rapidly expanding, and products like ours are becoming increasingly competitive with animal products when it comes to things like taste, cost and convenience. 

We see that consumers are increasingly motivated to purchase food that’s not only better for them, but also better for the environment. In fact, a 2019 study found that 20% of Canadians are looking to either actively limit or eliminate their meat consumption. But these consumers aren’t just looking for a plain old veggie burger - they’re looking for plant-based products that offer quality, variety and convenience. The Very Good Butchers is responding to these demands through continued innovation. 

We now offer more than 18 premium products, with more currently in the innovation stages. These include everything from steak, ribs, pepperoni, burgers, taco meat, sausages, and hot dogs and cheese - to ensure that we’re giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy a variety of different meals with plant-based alternatives. And our vertically integrated business model has been built to ensure we can reach Canadian consumers in a variety of ways - in addition to our butcher shops, we also sell our products online, as well as 800 retailers (and counting!) in Canada.

The Very Good Butchers has always been guided by our simple mission: to get millions to rethink their food choices while helping them make an impact on the world. And it’s clear that our purpose-driven approach is resonating with consumers.

What do you see as the importance of changing the conversation around plant-based eating and bringing it into the mainstream?

MS: When we started The Very Good Butchers, there remained this giant perception that vegetarians and vegans eat plain old boring vegetables - and nothing else. Since that time - and thanks to the growing prominence of quality, delicious plant-based products, like the ones The Very Good Butchers offers - this misconception is being busted in a big way.

I think this has a lot to do with how brands like ours are presenting and positioning their products. More and more, plant-based meats are being seen - and marketed as - conveniently-available foods that are not only for vegans and vegetarians but also for anyone who loves great food. You’re now seeing products like ours in grocery store fridges, directly beside animal meat - that’s a huge leap forward in normalizing plant-based meat as a viable option for a broader, more mainstream sect of the population.

As I said, the industry has made massive, inroads - but there’s still work to be done. This is why The Very Good Butchers is working so hard to make our product available in as many places as possible - because we believe that, once people have that first really positive experience, and get over the stereotype that plant-based food doesn’t taste good, they’ll be so much more open to making plant-based food a regular fixture of their diet.

What’s the latest for you and The Very Good Butchers? 

MS: Earlier this year, we launched a brand new line of premium plant-based meat products called Butcher’s Select. These products - which include sausages, meatballs and burgers - are both gluten and soy-free and pack an extra meaty taste and texture. 

We launched an expanded butcher shop in Victoria this past October, which features an outdoor patio for customers to enjoy a sit-down meal, as well as a dedicated retail space. 

As we head into the holidays, we’ve also seen a ton of demand for our Stuffed Beast and limited- edition Holiday and Festive Boxes - which helped us deliver record revenue in October of this year.

There’s so much momentum, and we look forward to continuing to build on this through continued growth and innovation in 2022. 

What do you see for the future of the company?

MS: Overall, we’re on a mission to be one of the world’s top plant-based brands. And, through our brand and products, we want to help create a world in which plant-based eating becomes the norm, and animal-based products become the alternative.

We’re seeking to fulfill this mission by continuously expanding upon our plant-based product portfolio in bold and innovative ways - including outside of the meat category. We recently launched a product line of plant-based cheeses, and we’ve been so happy to hear such positive feedback from consumers.

And in addition to expanding our offerings, we’re also looking to expand upon where our products are available. In addition to our existing brick-and-mortar butcher shops, we’re also working on launching a brand new flagship shop in Vancouver. We’re also accelerating our expansion into other markets - specifically the U.S. where we recently opened a massive production facility that’s strategically located in California. We sell our products online via our website and are in over 1,000 retail outlets across North America. We’re in talks with a number of major retailers right now and we expect to be in many more stores very soon. Stay tuned!