How Canada's first plant-based meal kit firm grew to millions in funding
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Meal kits have been the biggest disrupter to grocery shopping in recent years, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. With pre-portioned items and easy-to-make recipes, just about anyone can cook like a five-star chef.
That was exactly what Conor Power discovered on a 2019 trip to Los Angeles: while staying with a close friend, the North Vancouver native was whipping up a different HelloFresh meal every night — until a vegan joined the group.
It was then and there the 27-year-old saw a gap in the marketplace and began conceiving the idea for his company Vegano: a weekly meal kit delivery service that was exclusively plant-based.
“[My Vegan friend] Luca would always cook for us — and I was like, ‘why don’t we create a brand around this?'” Conor recalls of the 2019 trip. At the time, there wasn’t a meal kit solely aimed at those subscribing to a plant based diet in the Vancouver market.
“We’ll say to people, ‘Have you heard of HelloFresh or Blue Apron? We are the same thing but vegan,” he adds, describing Vegano as an “innovative food technology company.”
“From all my e-commerce research, the best practice for business is monthly recurring revenue — a repeat customer on a subscription based model. It makes sourcing products a lot easier and helps with waste control,” he explains.
Conor got a taste for entrepreneurship as a kid, when he had a newspaper route. The Handsworth Secondary grad recalls wanting to buy a bike for $647 — and swiftly figured out he could outsource more paper routes to kids who thought his job was “cool” — for a profit, of course.
“I’ve always loved business — creating a product and commercializing it, seeing it come to fruition then people using it,” he adds.
After high school, Conor got a job at the Park Royal Lululemon store where he oversaw the men’s department.
“It was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had working for a company. They let you run your own section how you want — for a whole quarter, I was the top sales associate,” he explains, noting that the company also had a lucrative stock option plan.
“You could invest into their stocks, and I was putting pretty much half my paycheque in. Over time, I’d be making more money on the stock and it continued to grow. And so it really got piqued my interest in having my money work for me instead of working for my money and putting my investments in products that I’m going to use,” he adds.
From there, he began investing into popular companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. Conor got his first taste of financing with Aurora Cannabis, using his earnings from the stock market just as the cannabis industry was starting to take off. Another successful investment was in a vegan baby food company, Else Nutrition.
By 2020, he was ready to venture out on his own — launching Vegano with a variety of easy chef-created recipes, including a vegan mac and cheese, eggplant parmesan and teriyaki stir fry. The company initially launched to the Vancouver market, and has since added Vancouver Island to the docket.
They’ve just also received a serious cash infusion: raising a Series A seed funding of $4.2 million, bringing its total funding to $6 million.
“People in Vancouver are very health conscious, but they also love beautiful design and good branding…for people like me who aren’t vegan, we’re definitely curious about the plant based trend and the diet, and it does feel healthier in some respects, too,” he tells Daily Hive.
The sleekly packaged blue boxes with the Vegano logo have certainly proved to be Instagram friendly in recent months.
“We have have 2,000 members who have signed up — and it’s consistently growing with more and more people. We’ve been able to scale it and grow the business to be successful here in Vancouver,” he adds, revealing the team already has plans for expansion to Toronto and Los Angeles before the end of the year.
Conor is also looking past meal kits: the site has recently launched a plant-based marketplace where shoppers can load up on a la carte grocery items like vegan cheeses, oat milks, baked goods and pantry essentials. The company intends to launch their own private label items like soups and pasta sauces, as well.
“We have companies interested in partnering with us because we have a niche audience….I would love to have around 30% of our revenue in meal kits, 40% to our online market place and the last 30% focused on the mergers and acquisitions side of the business,” he tells us, hinting at big moves in Vegano’s future.
“Customer acquisition cost is the hardest thing in any business is to acquire customers so I wanted to build a community of vegans,” he explains. Community is the backbone of Vegano in more ways than one: the company has made it a mission to work with local farmers as much as possible.
For the present, Conor and Vegano are focused bringing as many new recipes to their growing customer base as possible. The crew is currently working with a Le Cordon Bleu trained vegan chef to experiment with different flavors and dishes.
“We have a test kitchen, and we do testing every Friday. Our chef is always coming up with cool things…inspiration comes from all over,” he adds.
Feedback, however, has been key in Vegano’s first few months as the company continues to adapt. “I think feedback has been key — we’re really open to feedback on how the food tastes and what people want to see differently,” he says.