Is meat free the future for the food industry?
Are you daring enough? Mike Meyrick investigates
The Food and Drink Industry is under pressure to evolve. It’s not enough to manufacture the basics. Consumers are politically savvy, have specific preferences and are demanding food that is made safely and with the planet in mind. This means working on established brands and also constantly coming up with new products.
So, enter the new kids of meat free meat products. Welcome to Daring.
Their foods are composed of simple and natural ingredients. What looks like and behaves like chicken in your pan is nothing more than wheat and potato protein. It has been created to deliver that meaty chew many of us love and essential nutritional properties.
Not only is Daring’s food packed with soy proteins the brand is completely devoid of Palm oil. They are also GMO free, and use just a fraction of the water and land in production compared to animal meats. With a gluten free option too, their claim is that Daring’s meat free product is better for us and for the planet.
With claims like that I thought I should catch up with founder Ross Mackay in New York to talk to him about the philosophy behind Daring Foods.
Firstly, I asked Ross Mackay what lies behind a brand like Daring.
“In my view it’s time for challenger brands to take away a share from big brand dominance. It’s obvious the food ecosystem has to change. Population growth and climate change are big issues affecting future food production. We all know consumers love the taste and texture of meat. The opportunity exists to offer something quite different; so we grabbed it. Our mission is to create something that’s good for you, good for the animals and the planet without sacrificing on taste. We made the decision to replicate a white meat alternative as our core product.
MM: So what makes you different from others that have come before?
RM: You only have to glance over social media to see that millennials are all about experience. It’s not just about product and brand but about the experience you have with that. When I spent time as a vegan the thing I really missed out on was not meat per se but the conviviality and experience that goes around a meat eating lifestyle. It’s the impromptu BBQ, the late night kebab and the nights out that got to me. It was if by removing animals from the equation we almost compromised our enjoyment around food and occasions.
MM: I have to ask, is that all you are about?
RM: Definitely not. The ethics and purpose around what we are doing is at the core of the company and not an add on. We know that 90% of consumers swap their choices if they know a brand has a social purpose and we want consumers to find it much easier to make the shift towards eating less or no meat. That has to be done ethically and with a sizzle!
MM: So how did you become so driven?
RM: When I was growing up I played sport for my country and ate a lot of protein, basically to be big and strong. I was encouraged to eat milk and animal protein. Society dictates this and has done for so long. I was eventually told 5 years ago that I was eating far too much meat and that actually it’s not healthy. I was in that mind-set where a meal is not a meal without meat. Someone dared me to go meat free for ten days and I went for it. Imagine my surprise when I felt better, recovered faster and lost weight. This challenge turned into a month, 6 months and then a year. When I was training I recovered faster and slept better. It needed education to understand that meat had an impact. Up until then I didn’t think about what I was eating and in general I don’t think people do give too much thought about the animal when they eat meat.
MM: Is this a societal shift therefore or just a personal mission?
RM: It’s probably both. A lot of sportspeople are driving dietary change and let’s face it Millennials are influenced by social media celebrity status too. That’s having an effect. Ironically though meat consumption is still on the rise but we have to actually eat less.
MM: What were your biggest hurdles?
RM: One of the biggest challenges in food manufacturing is finding a factory to handle your new product. If you want to scale it’s always volume based. We had to find a manufacturer who had capability. But there is no free space in most factories and we have to be super rigorous regarding cross contamination.
What we struggled to find was a manufacturer that truly understood the opportunity. When you get into discussion with a factory that produces mince and sausages we actually represent just a minute percentage right now. So taking the ingredients and recipes to manufacture and securing a deal at scale has been tough. Price too is important for scale. We have to get into supermarket and on a plate at a certain price.
MM: Did you have to compromise in any way?
RM: Definitely not; there was a lot of ingredient sourcing but at no time did we ever even think about compromising on quality. People were going to ask, ‘ If it’s not meat then what is it? Consumer wants to know and has a right to know. We didn’t want to produce something that had too many ingredients. So we are a transparent clean label product with nothing artificial. We use two ingredients, water and soy protein and add nothing else at all. Yes, it’s a shorter shelf life but I believe the consumer is willing to understand it’s better that way. You can imagine the battles we’ve had as a small start up that wants to make a product like this and at a price we are not willing to sacrifice
MM: Is there really a market for this?
RM: Absolutely. 80% of our customers are millennials and they are driving our growth. They are beginning to ask the questions, ‘why is this so cheap? What happens to make it so cheap? How can we sustain a system where 3 million chickens are eaten in the UK every day? The culture of our company is very important. We want something different. We move very fast and are typically agile, flexible and creative. It appears to me the traditional food industry appears to be anything but. We’ve found our t-shirt and jeans culture can even be a barrier to entry!
MM: So how is your culture different?
RM: Our aim is to have a great culture. We take inspiration from a brand like Patagonia for example. We have done our level best to create jobs around people and not vice versa. We have a big office in Glasgow and have lots of breakout spaces and different working hours. The culture and life perks are more important to our staff than just salary. We have share options and fabulous opportunities.
My life long ambition was to know that a company I ran was the place where people would say, ‘I really love what I do.’ Like I said, ethics are at the core of everything we do and is not seen as a constraint. We are on a mission. We believe the food industry needs fixing and we definitely want to change things.
It was an exciting interview and I thank Ross for his time. Certainly there are a number of really salient points here that might well be taken on board, even by more traditional arms of the industry. As we’ve said before, the food industry is likely to continue to be shaken and not stirred by challenger brands. What’s your view? I'd love to know.
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