From the Rebel Whopper to global domination: A year in the life of plant-based meat startup v2food

v2food burger

A v2food burger. Source: supplied.

Just over a year ago, Aussie plant-based meat startup v2food burst onto the scene, born out of CSIRO and Main Sequence Ventures, and with backing from Hungry Jack’s boss Jack Cowin.

Now, 13 months later, its products are on shelves in more than 1,400 Aussie supermarkets, as well as in Hungry Jack’s outlets, Burger King in New Zealand, and even in meal delivery kits.

Needless to say, for this Aussie startup, it’s been a hell of a year (and a bit), and an epic growth journey.

So, we’ve taken a look at what it’s been up to, step-by-step.

October 2019

In October last year, v2food made its first appearance on the Aussie meat-free meat scene.

With backing from CSIRO, Main Sequence Ventures and Jack Cowin, and with former aerospace engineer Nick Hazell at the helm as chief executive, the startup had big ambitions right from the offset.

A matter of weeks later, v2food meat-free meat was available in Hungry Jack’s stores all over the country in the form of the ‘Rebel Whopper’.

November 2019

Having sold more than 1 million burgers less than two months later, v2food scored $35 million in Series A funding.

Hazell didn’t disclose at the time what a million burgers translated to in terms of a dollar figure, but did admit, “for a startup, it’s already generating significant revenue”.

December 2019

Before the year was out, v2food announced it had signed on the dotted line to build a $20 million facility in Wodonga, close to the New South Wales-Victoria border.

February 2020

Before too long, v2food’s meat-free burger patties were available at Burger King outlets throughout New Zealand, as well as in Soul Burger and Burger Urge restaurants.

However, fast-food chains selling meat-imitation burgers came under fire from the vegan community after it transpired they were cooked on the same grill as their meat counterparts.

In the US, Burger King even faced a class-action lawsuit from a group of vegans, who claimed their plant-based burgers were ‘contaminated’.

At that time, the chain’s online menu reportedly included a footnote explaining that for guests looking for a meat-free option, “a non-broiler method of preparation is available upon request”.

April 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic saw more Aussies confined to their homes and getting creative in the kitchen, v2food signed a home distribution deal with meal-kit delivery business Marley Spoon.

The partnership saw v2’s plant-based mince product included in meal packs, for recipes such as chilli ramen and plant-based ragu.

June 2020

During Meat Free Week, v2 forged a temporary partnership with Deliveroo, with some 70 restaurants across Australia switching out the meat products in some of their most popular dishes for plant-based alternatives.

At that time, Hazell told SmartCompany the startup was on a “hockey-stick” growth trajectory.

He suggested that the global pandemic sparked a shift in behaviours, including eating behaviours, and showed that one person’s actions can make a difference in the world.

“People’s habits don’t change very often. When they do change it’s normally when something throws their life into flux,” he said.

August 2020

In August this year, v2 made its debut in supermarkets, rolling out in the meat aisles of 61 Drakes stores in Queensland and South Australia.

That followed research from YouGov suggesting 49% of Aussies want to cut down on their meat intake, and would be happy to see plant-based options alongside traditional meats.

September 2020

Drawing closer to its first birthday, v2food made a significant hire, appointing internationally recognised food scientist Martin Cole as its chief scientific advisor.

Cole joined from CSIRO, where he was deputy director of agriculture and food, leading the programs on supply chains and plant-based proteins that ultimately led to the creation of the startup.

“As a nation, we are globally competitive on grain and meat exports, however, we can be delivering far greater value out of the raw commodities we produce,” he said at the time.

Later in September 2020

Just a matter of weeks later, v2food’s mince and burger products hit the shelves of more than 600 Woolworths stores across Australia.

According to a v2food spokesperson, within three weeks, an unforeseen spike in demand saw the product sell out.

October 2020

Just last month, v2food announced it had closed a $77 million Series B funding round, with backing from international investors including Temasek, Sequoia Capital China, Horizons Ventures and China Renaissance.

That funding is pegged for completing the Wodonga factory, growing the v2food team and expanding into new markets, including a push into Asia.

“This funding is a pivotal step towards v2food’s goal of transforming the way the world produces food,” Hazell said in a statement.

“It’s imperative that we continue to scale quickly because this global issue needs an immediate solution.”

November 2020

And finally, this week brings the news that v2food products are being rolled out in 800 Coles stores too.

Notably, this means v2’s mince and patty products are available to Western Australian shoppers for the first time.

What’s next?

V2food isn’t disclosing its revenue stats or valuation at this time. But, it’s clear this business is growing fast.

It’s hired 23 people within the last quarter, including a sales director for ANZ and a partnerships and events manager.

The new plant is expected to be up and running within a matter of months, meaning the startup will be able to scale-up fast. The logo is on the wall, we are assured.

In fact, v2food expects to be exporting to other Asia Pacific regions by early next year.

For this startup, 2020 was about growth on home turf. Next year is all about going international. Watch this space.

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