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04/23/2021

The bean butchers

The Very Good Butchers lives up to its name with nutritious and delicious vegan alternatives
Photo by Tanya Goehring

Mitchell Scott, CEO of The Very Good Butchers remembers the first time he tasted what would become the company’s signature plant-based burger made by his co-founder, chef James Davison. “It was 2016 and I was at a family barbecue. I tried these burgers and I was blown away. I’d grown up vegetarian and had had a lot of not-so-great veggie burgers, but he really nailed it in terms of taste and texture.”

Davison originally created the bean-based burger for his young family while living on Denman Island north of Nanaimo, B.C., after being unable to find nutritious meat alternatives that weren’t overly processed or filled with preservatives. He and his wife then began selling the burgers as well as vegan breakfast sausages at the Island’s farmers market, with great success.

“My background is in business and marketing sales, and I’d always wanted to start a business but never had what I thought was a good product,” says Scott. “And when I tasted this burger I thought, ‘This is delicious!’ So I just started talking to James and his wife and we decided to team up.”

Success was swift for the fledgling company, and after building a customer base at the Victoria Public Market, Scott and Davison opened the West Coast’s first vegan butcher shop. “We had about 1,000 people show up on our opening day, and we had to shut down a week after that for a week just to restock,” says Scott. “That was February 2017, and since then we’ve just been struggling to keep up with demand, scale up the business and grow.”

The company’s The Very Good Butchers brand of meat alternatives currently retail in roughly 300 stores primarily in Western Canada, including Quality Foods and Safeway, and a distribution deal with UNFI means they’ll soon be expanding across the country. To help meet demand, the company has opened a new 40,000-sq.-ft. Vancouver facility, allowing an initial 30% increase in production capacity.

Scott says what makes the brand unique in the increasingly crowded market for meatless options is the taste and texture of the products. “It’s really about the quality of the ingredients, and the fact that we’re not using any additives, preservatives or isolates,” he explains. “You’ll find a lot of vegan products on the market have 25 ingredients, and eight of them are things you can’t even pronounce. And then others are just using powders or dried extracts. James’s sole ethos when he was making these products was to make them with real foods, so just beans, vegetables like onions, beets, celery, garlic, herbs and spices, and bit of high-protein wheat flour to bind it all together.”

Depending on the product, the company uses different bean varieties and spice mixes to imitate the flavour of meat-based originals. “My personal favourite is our adzuki bean pepperoni, which we basically spice to mimic the seasoning of a meat-based pepperoni,” says Scott.

The company has a seven-product core lineup for retail, including bestsellers the Very Good Taco Stuff’er, the Very Good Burger, and the Stuffed Beast, which Scott likens to a “big stuffed turkey.” There are an additional eight products available online and through its shop, which also features a fast-casual restaurant offering vegan varieties of comfort food like deli sandwiches, poutine, and macaroni and cheese. “Our tagline is ‘We butcher beans,’ so we’re trying to bring a little bit of fun to it, and show that plant-based food ingredients can be approachable and familiar,” says Scott.

As well as scaling up their Ribz and Very Good Steak for a wider retail launch, Davison and his R&D team have been busy working on what Scott calls “the next generation of products,” including a line of gluten-free items. “Gluten-free products have been the biggest demand for our customers, so we’re very excited to share this innovation.”

In February, The Very Good Butchers completed its acquisition of Vancouver’s vegan cheesemaker The Cultured Nut, marking another milestone in the company’s evolution. “We loved the ingredients, we loved the team behind it, and we think they have a very complementary product,” explains Scott. “So the plan is to help them scale up their operation like we’ve just scaled ours, and really help grow the brand.” It’s part of a larger goal to become “an umbrella company for plant-based brands of solid companies, with high-quality products and ethics. We’re interested in complementary products, so maybe there’s something in plant-based sauces or snacks. There are some pretty interesting categories we’re looking at right now.”