Note: THE TORCH is an interview series from Entrepreneurs for Impact. We profile CEOs mitigating climate change. Our goal is to highlight their work and inspire others. As we deal with multiple crisis, from COVID and racial injustice to climate change and economic recession, we need some of this positive light in what seem like dark times. Onward and upward.
Why did you create Rebellyous Foods? I started Rebellyous after realizing that the plant-based meat industry was being held back as a solution for climate change and other social harms due to the small scope of the industry. The US meat industry produces nearly 108 billion pounds of meat, and yet the plant-based meat industry only clocks in at around ⅕ of 1% (0.2%). As a result, production of plant-based meat products is the reason this industry isn’t making a measurable impact on climate change. As a mechanical engineer, I saw an opportunity to change this through the design and implementation of novel food production equipment. At the time, in 2017, I was working briefly for the Good Food Institute, and prior to that for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. My experience as an equipment designer enabled me to start a company based on the need for better production equipment for plant-based meat.
Who does your company serve? At Rebellyous Foods, we make delicious, juicy, and crispy plant-based chicken nuggets and patties. Our “ready to heat and eat foods” cook just like conventional chicken products, so they can seamlessly integrate into an organization’s busy meal schedule. Rebellyous Foods wants to be a solution for busy foodservice operations to be able to offer affordable plant-based meats that everyone will enjoy. We are also moving into retail so we can offer delicious plant-based convenience foods that are accessible to the masses. We do that by implementing unique food production methods in large scale production to produce affordable plant-based meat at high volumes.
What problems do you solve for your customers? Our nuggets have no cholesterol, no antibiotics, and no hormones. They also have less saturated fat and sodium than animal-based nuggets, while offering a healthy serving of protein. They’re also better for the environment, and no animals are harmed in the making. They’re a delicious comfort food that people can indulge in guilt-free.
How does your work contribute to mitigating climate change? Reducing meat consumption is one of the most powerful actions humanity can take to protect the environment and combat climate change. Yet in the more than 10 years I’ve been in animal and environmental advocacy, meat consumption has continued to rise. Plant-based meat is a powerful solution for this problem, but only if scaled. This is why, at Rebellyous Foods, we’re changing how plant-based meat is made so it can finally become affordable and accessible.
What makes your company different than its competitors? Plant-based meat has skyrocketed in popularity, and there are many delicious products in the marketplace. Yet it remains unaffordable for many, ranging anywhere from 2-5 times the cost of meat. Because we’re reinventing the way plant-based meat is made, we’ll be able to make it more affordable than our competitors, while offering a delicious product.
How are you rethinking your business strategy to get through the COVID crisis? How do you play both offense and defense? Prior to COVID, our focus was exclusively on foodservice sales. When schools, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias shut down, we had to think fast. We had envisioned going into retail in a few years, but pivoted and within just a couple of months rolled out a packaged product that is now available in eight grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be ready for our foodservice partners when they come back online.
What are 2-3 things that your industry needs most to succeed, but is currently missing? Affordability for one. It would also be helpful to have some support from the government in the form of subsidies, favorable loans, grants, and procurement support.
How are you finding growth capital this year? We closed a Series A fundraising round this spring in spite of COVID-19. Our investors remained supportive of Rebellyous in spite of the uncertainty of the food industry because we’re not just making plant-based meat -- we’re reinventing the way plant-based meat is made. On top of that, we’re seeing that consumer interest in plant-based meat continues to grow amidst the pandemic.
When it comes to addressing climate change, how do you remain optimistic? There are so many people working to address climate change and attacking the issue from multiple vantage points. I know people care and if we can offer easy solutions, like in our case, that taste delicious, are affordable and accessible, we know they’ll choose the options that are better for the planet.
What kinds of apps, databases, or software help you and your team excel? We use Wrike to manage projects, Copper by Prosperworks to manage our contacts, and Netsuite to track our sales and inventory.
What kinds of personal habits, mindset, exercise, meditation, or scheduling help boost your productivity and increase your resilience to “fight the good fight”? I am increasingly careful with my time and try to schedule almost everything I do, but I also leave open time for free thinking and trying to be creative. Most importantly, I adhere to a plant-based diet and regularly exercise by running and doing ballet.
What are 1-2 quotations that keep you focused and motivated?
“Those who spend most of their energy ‘reacting to change’ will do exactly that, expend most of their energy reacting to change. In a great twist of irony, those who bring about the most significant change in the world, those who have the largest impact on the economy and society, are themselves enormously consistent in their approach. They aren’t dogmatic or rigid; they are disciplined, they’re creative, they’re paranoid.” (Source: Great By Choice, Jim Collins, 2011)
“Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.” (Source: Great By Choice, Jim Collins, 2011)
What are you excited about now? I am most excited about not just creating an industry that can truly replace the scope and depth of meat, but also that Rebellyous is further adding to the template of ways that for-profit industries can make change. We need more businesses to challenge the status quo -- on meat, on plastics, on fossil fuels, and more. The more we learn as a company about how to do that, the more we can share those strategies with others
Who is inspiring you now? Who can other climate change entrepreneurs learn from? My most inspirational leader at the moment is Grace Lee Boggs, who, as a civil rights advocate, never gave up trying many new ways to fight for justice -- from protests, education, free press, community building, and more. For Grace Lee Boggs, there wasn’t just one way to succeed because we needed to challenge many parts of society (or industry) to achieve change. Entrepreneurs who are changing the landscape to fight climate change also need to be just as nimble as Mrs. Boggs.
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