From selling out regularly at Denman Island Farmers’ Market, to a successful mobile pop-up shop that included a stop at a Downtown Vancouver McDonald’s car park, business is booming for these plant-based protein producers, keeping busy both the bean butchers and bean counters.
This upwardly mobile progress since their start in the summer of 2016 recently included pitching to about 150 angel investors as the Very Good Butchers seek funds for a new shop and production facility in Vancouver.
The company was launched by James and Tania Davison after they moved with their young son to Denman Island from Vancouver in early 2016, where the couple met working in the kitchen of vegetarian restaurant. After their early successes at the farmers’ markets they were joined by Mitchell Scott who took charge of operations and marketing.
“I mean, It’s Pretty Crazy.” From Humble Beginnings To Incredible Success
Mitchell said: “We got our start on Denman Island Farmers’ Market [in summer 2016]. Basically, it was a husband-and-wife team making these products, selling them at a farmers’ market and selling out every weekend. That’s when I teamed up with them.
“I tried their stuff, thought it was really good, and we decided to see how far we could take this. We did a little Christmas market in Victoria, had a really strong response and while we were in that market we noticed they had a full-time retail space available so we decided to go for it.
“Two months later we opened the first vegan butcher shop on the west coast of Canada, had about 1,000 people show up for opening day and we had to shut down for a week afterwards just to restock. I mean, it’s pretty crazy.
“So, yeah, ever since then we’ve just been struggling to keep up with demand and scale up successfully, so in August  we launched a Kickstarter campaign to help with that.
Kickstarter Campaign Proves a Primer To Success
The company’s success was not limited to regularly selling out of products: the Kickstarter campaign raised $60,000 dollars from 700 different backers across North America.
“From there,” continues Mitchell, “we expanded into a bigger space, still in the public market, but five times bigger. We can offer about 10 to 15 new products, and we also expanded our hot-food menu so the concept is like a butcher-shop-deli.”
As well as vegan meats and cheeses, they also sell deli sandwiches, vegan burgers, vegan mac and cheese. Unsurprisingly, demand from Vancouver is huge. Every couple of months they load up their van with as many coolers as possible as head across the Georgia Straight to VANcouver, where they make a number of stops, including at events like the Garlic Festival in Richmond, Taco Fest in Vancouver, and, of course, ironic stops in McDonald’s car parks (let’s hope Ronald isn’t reading, otherwise he might have a Grimace on his face).
Feeding Their Growth To Vancouver
Mitchell is a graduate of the Feeding Growth program—an initiative run by a marriage of three organizations which supports progressive BC-based food brands and entrepreneurs—last fall. He studied the workshop series in preparation to help Very Good Butchers launch its second location, a shop and production facility, in Vancouver to help meet demand.
Outlining the need to grow, Mitchell says: “We can’t make enough to meet demand. I think we’ve got a waiting list of 40 different stores restaurants wanting our product. Right now we’re able to make enough for our store and then for a handful of restaurants and grocery stores. It’s been good.”
It’s been quick, too. On February 27, 2018, the company celebrated the first birthday of its Victoria store opening.
This Is All Sounds Great But Where Can I get This Very Good Food?
Aside from their flying pop-up van visits, there is no full-time retailer at present on the mainland. “Just a few local ones here in Victoria. There’s a restaurant called Fish on Fifth [in Sidney], a few independent grocery stores. Vegan Supply in Vancouver gets product when we can supply them.
“We’ve been approached by pretty much everyone from Wholefoods to Sysco, which wants to carry it for the restaurant service. But basically we just put everyone on a waiting list because we can’t make enough right now.
“Because everything is made by hand it’s very labor intensive. So that’s one of the main reasons we want to expand, and we’ve started talking to some potential investors, doing a few presentations and then we’re planning on launching a Frontfundr campaign [in mid-May], which is similar to Kickstarter but it’s for equity. So you launch your campaign and then people from across Canada can contribute anything from $500 to $50,000. In exchange for contributing you get equity in the company.”
With a list of 20 to 30 people interested in investing, and soft commits [offers that are all but signed, sealed and delivered] totalling $200,000, Mitchell states Very Good Butchers is looking to raise $500,000. He believes at present this form of funding is best for the company’s needs: it gives their customers, the early adopters of their business, a chance to be owners. Secondly, despite an incredibly fruitful first year in which the business generated about $1 million in revenue, there isn’t enough of a history for private equity investment to be that interested.
He said: “We’ve had some initial conversations [with private investors] but we’re looking at doing an angel investment round and then maybe we’ll do a Series A round in the future.” The first round of raising private equity for a business is referred to as Series A funding, then B and so on and so forth.
While struggling to meet demand is still a problem it is, acknowledges Mitchell, “a good problem to have.” It certainly beats the inverse economic dilemma of an abundance of supply but a little to no market.
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