John Foss had big plans to introduce Australians to his snacking brand Fancy Plants, before the global pandemic upended it.
Despite the tumultous 2020, Mr Foss managed to get his three dessert snacking pots into Woolworths and Coles in October, and in just 150 days he’d raked in $2 million in retail sales.
The Western Australian is no stranger to the food industry though, having started Chia Co almost two decades ago.
Now, he’s on a mission to make plant-based foods mainstream — addressing issues like taste and texture — with millennials a big target.
So far Fancy Plants has three chilled dessert-style products, a chia pod pot for $3 and a two pack vanilla rice puddings for $4. The bestsellers is the chocolate silky pots for $4, which come in a pack of two, and also in a caramel flavour.
“We really see that people are looking for snacking options that are both delicious and have functional benefits, so they are looking at nutritional benefits,” he told news.com.au.
“So there’s traditional flavours of chocolate and caramel, but we have added nutrition with things like prebiotic fibre in the pots.”
But the 52-year-old, who has a farming background, insists Fancy Plants isn’t some “hardcore vegan brand” but instead wants to capture the rise of flexitarians — people who are choosing to eat less animal products in their diet.
“Almost half of Australians identify as flexitarian and they are choosing more plant-based products,” he said. “It’s a global trend but Australia is at the forefront.”
Branding has been a huge part of the process as Mr Foss looks to set Fancy Plants up as a “provocateur”.
“We wanted to have a brand that stood out and was strong and typically in dairy snacking, the colours have been black and silver and that is a premium, but we are trying to have a premium look that spoke about fun and was about challenging the status quo and being a provocateur,” he said.
“So the packaging is hot pink inside with bold greens, and the green is a nod to plant-based, but it’s using fonts and imagery that is a lot lighter and a lot more fun. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously and it’s about saying you can have better choices and eat a plant-based lifestyle, but you don’t have to do it every day, and you can choose Fancy Plants and feel good about it.”
It’s only the beginning for Fancy Plants too, which is predicted to make $50 million in the next three years in Australia and $100 million globally as it is also stocked over in the UK in major retailers like Tesco and WholeFoods.
It’s part of its grand plan to shake up the dessert aisle, according to Mr Foss, particularly for millennials who care about what they are eating and take the time to look at the ingredient panel.
“Typically, millennials don’t shop the chilled dessert aisle as it’s heavy in sugar, fat and gelatine and artificial products, and our goal is to reinvigorate that space and make it permissible indulgence … So here’s an offering that is plant-based and not loaded with sugar or dairy fats or gelatine and we’ve seen the loyalty data, and we have the most loyal product in that category with millennials compared to one that is usually shopped by retirees,” he revealed.
“It’s a big challenge to reinvigorate a whole category but we starting with millennials and Gen Z as they are leaders in food and trends and fashion, so communicating with them is the right place to make change.”
Next up for Fancy Plants is more flavour combinations and also injecting more nutritional benefits like protein into the pots.
The Australian plant-based industry is worth $516 million in sales annually, according to the IRI Shopper Panel, and another Aussie plant-based business is cashing in on the boom.
Fable, which sells plant-based meat crafted from shiitake mushrooms, made $1 million in its first year of business after launching in December 2019.
It’s a product that was first used by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, Fable’s co-founder Michael Fox told news.com.au.
“He used it as an alternative for beef and pork and he’s famous for the scotch egg, which is egg wrapped in meat and crumbed and fried, and he’s done a vegetarian scotch egg,” he said.
“He’s also done some really non-traditional things, like a snail porridge where he replaced the snails with Fable and he’s got a Vegemite icecream dessert and he caramelised the Fable product and added it as a crunchy texture into the Vegemite icecream. He’s used it in really creative ways we would never have imagined the product being used, which is super exciting.”
It’s success is continuing with the major supermarkets snapping up more products.
Coles launched four new Fable products on Monday. The ready-made meals, which will cost $10, include a goulash pepper stew, teriyaki, stroganoff and rogan josh.
Meanwhile, Woolworths will be adding to its Fable range on April 26, with the goulash pepper stew and honey sesame soy.
There’s a lot of trends going on in the mushroom space, which feeds into plant-based, with the vegetable being used in everything from coffee to chocolate, adds Mr Fox.
“Australians only eat 3.5kg of mushrooms per person per year, compared to 14.5kg in Asia, so we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to our northern neighbours, so hopefully Fable can help,” Mr Fox said.
“The average person eats 110kg of meat per person per year and 3.5 kg of mushrooms, so we want to help try and close that gap, help people improve their health and diets and help eat more sustainable and ethical products as well.”
Mushrooms are one of the fastest-growing sectors for startups and small businesses in 2021 too, according to global creative platform 99designs by Vistaprint.
Demand for mushroom-related branding and design increased by 100 per cent in the last year alone and 62 per cent of consumers are open to trying mushroom-based products for their reported health benefits, the research found.