After having worked for many years in restaurants, then in the agrifood sector, François Cardinal decided to follow his instincts and start his own business developing, then selling his own plant-based meat products.
The path that led Cardinal to his career has very early beginnings. A child from a family of restaurateurs, at the age of 8 he had already started to help wash dishes in his father’s restaurant. He bought his first restaurant with his father when he was 17, and bought another completely on his own when he was 18. He then purchased a coffee roasting machine, which led him to launch a business under another banner.
Tired of the pace imposed by all these ventures, Cardinal went to work as an employee in sales, though he remained in the food sector. He worked for St-Hubert for five years in its retail division until it was acquired by Ontario’s Cara Operations in 2016, at which point he was approached by Fleury Michon, for whom he agreed to handle the company’s North American sales. “Since they were having supply management issues, I anaylzed the market in order to predict future trends and find out what consumers were looking for. I travelled throughout France, the U.S. and Canada—these trips opened my eyes to interest plant-based foods outside of Quebec.”
An idea on the back-burner
Faced with this demand for plant-based foods, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, Cardinal recognized the idea was something worth thinking about. While enthusiasm for these types of foods had only barely surfaced in Quebec, he felt an analysis of the sector was called for and even recommended to the food sector giant he worked for that they import such products from the other side of the Atlantic.
Changes in his employer’s business model were what finally convinced him that it was time to bring his idea to life. Having had the idea in mind for months, the entrepreneur first considered buying already made products and marketing them. But finding the products on offer to be unimpressive and others to have disappointing sources, he quickly opted to develop his own recipes. To accomplish this, he enlisted the services of a food research and development technician who specialized in flavour blending and vegetable proteins. Thus was born Vegeat’s first two products, a plant-based burger and plant-based ground meat.
The recipe for success
Although his ground meat recipe had not been completely finalized, the Vegeat Foods founder decided at the last minute to participate in the DUX 2019 contest (which awards the best innovations in achieving health through nutrition), earning him a prize in the category New Products – New Companies. This “extraordinary showcase,” according to the entrepreneur, enabled him to attract the attention of grocers and investors, who immediately presented their offers. Soon after this unexpected initial success, Cardinal reached an agreement with a partner to distribute his products throughout the country.
Cardinal attributes his success in part to the rigorous market analysis he performed before launching his project, but also to a particularly well-timed and partly unexpected trend in the market. “I made the right decision at the right moment. But with the arrival of the new Canadian food guide [which recommends vegetable-based foods]… I had a product that responded to a sudden demand in the market. I would never have thought this possible six months earlier. It was like a dream. Who doesn’t dream about having a sought-after product so quickly?”
The final touch
Vegeat’s two products, the plant-based ground meat and patties, were launched in June of 2019. To ensure their production, the entrepreneur decided to work with a transformative partner who would provide copacking services. The plant he chose, which is well established, is very familiar with food processing and produces both raw and cooked products. This choice of partner has influenced Cardinal’s decision to continue developing his product range. In fact, he plans to launch 15 new products in the coming two years—an ambitious project, despite the fact that several of those products will be derived from his original recipes.
“You have to bring something new to the market and respond to interest in this kind of food.”
Though the company is currently still localed in Mirabel within its founder’s home, it will soon need to change locations. In order to keep costs reasonable and be able to invest the most amount of money possible in developing new products, Cardinal decided to keep his offices modest, but he plans to structure his team and organize his workspace as soon as orders pick up.
Due to the many opportunities faced by the company, Cardinal also quickly established a board of directors to support his decision-making and help him prioritize. “Being an entrepreneur means being a multitasker, except the stakes are big, so it’s important for me to have a structure in place with experienced people who can ensure the survival and credibility of the company and with whom I can discuss our next steps.”
So what has he learned so far from the experience? “I’ve always loved the freedom of being able to bring the ideas in my head to life,” explains the entrepreneur. “This is why I’ve been working full-time for a year and a half to develop my first two products. I would have had a lot more barriers to overcome if I had been working for someone, but instead I can take advantage of the luxury of working according to my own schedule.”
Vegeat in Numbers
80: Number of tonnes of primary plant material required this year to produce Vegeat meatless meat
3: Number of people who work with Cardinal at his company
15: Number of new products planned for the next two years
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Visit the Vegeat website