At the end of 2020, it was announced that industry leader Ana Silva had departed Daiya, where she served as Chief Financial Officer for five years, to join fast-growing Canadian plant meat stars The Very Good Butchers in her new role as President which she stepped into from this January, to take this brand to the next level and, in their words, “unlock our collective potential”.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Ana about this transition, her unique industry insight and her thoughts about the future of plant-based.
Congratulations on your recent move over to VGFC as President. What prompted the move and why was this the right moment? Thank you, I am very grateful to Mitchell and James for this opportunity with The Very Good Food Company (VGFC). Food is a passion of mine, specifically plant-based alternatives and companies in a stage of high growth. I have always considered myself a very “operational” CFO, holistically looking at the business from different angles to find growth and profitability opportunities, and this opportunity was the natural transition. The timing was perfect for my career.
You’ve joined a rapidly burgeoning company, having gone public on both the Canadian and U.S. stock exchanges. What excites or inspires you about VGFC and your new role?
The plant-based foods movement is here to stay; fortunately, it is not a trend. Not only have we seen a significant shift in people’s food preferences, but awareness of the impact that food supply has on animals and the planet has grown alongside it.
VGFC’s vision and purpose inspire me, and their tremendous potential excites me. The possibilities of helping a plant-based organization grow its current portfolio of tasty and healthy food choices to make them available to everyone everywhere is what drives me.
You’ve recently departed Daiya, which was the fastest-growing plant-based food company in North America during your time there. What were your most significant achievements at that company? Daiya has seen many accomplishments over the years, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the story. During my journey at Daiya, my favourite achievements were the organization’s scale-up, the sale to Otsuka, and the Burnaby facility build-out. Specifically, it was fulfilling professionally and morally to align two major players’ core values to strengthen the world’s viewpoint on using food as a health preventive measure. This included a build-out of a 400,000 square-foot food manufacturing plant in British Columbia.
There are so many challenges and rewards that go along with being a part of a high-growth company. It invigorates me to contribute to a company that is making a difference in the plant-based sector.
And what do you think were the lessons you learned which will serve you best in your new position? Years of firsthand experiences have provided profound growth, personally and professionally. This was especially true during my time at Daiya. I learned that people are the single most crucial resource in an organization – they are the “it” factor. Secondly, I learned that relationships matter! Relationships extend to our team members, our consumers, and our key partners.
Thirdly, product excellence is key. It is not enough for plant-based products to meet expectations, they have to exceed them in all categories: texture, taste, ingredients integrity, applications, and more! In an industry that has been plagued by the predetermined perception that plant-based products do not taste good, I am happy to report that tremendous progress has been made by companies like The Very Good Food Co. and Daiya. And…there is still much more to come.
You’ve been at the forefront of the plant-based business world for some time, what are the most significant changes you’ve seen during your career? The biggest one I have seen is the shift in consumer’s preferences. We are not just talking about vegan or vegetarian dietary choices. Plant-based has become more mainstream as consumers gravitate, even if only one day a week, towards plant-based protein. Innovation and technology in this area have developed immensely over the last few years. Innovation has helped companies to deliver consumers the taste they are craving.
Consumers were prepared to switch, for different reasons — purpose, health, balance — to plant-based, but not necessarily prepared to compromise taste. Technology helped companies to overcome the last barrier in that shift. That is one of the reasons I believe that plant-based is a permanent shift. It’s here to stay and grow.
The other shift I have witnessed is a broader awareness in consumers of the impact that our global supply chain has on the animals and the planet.
You will lead the company through the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. To what extent does the global situation affect your plans for the company? Similar to many organizations, we are navigating unprecedented waters. There is no playbook for how to navigate a global pandemic successfully. We are all learning and developing the playbook in real-time. We are fortunate to be in the food industry, which has been somewhat sheltered by these events.
However, we are not impact-free, and we foresee roadblocks related to resources and timing on significant projects, namely, resourcing construction-related projects and respective permits issuance. We are mitigating these challenges, and so far, we have been very fortunate and are on the right track.
Could you tell us about your vision for the broader plant-based food landscape? I envision the plant-based food landscape continuing to grow globally. We already see its growth in North America and Europe in a significant way, becoming more mainstream. That is the good news. Naturally, the implication of being a growth-attractive category is that we can expect intensified competition. Brands playing in this space can expect numerous small brands and big traditional CPGs looking for sources of growth entering the space. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that big CPGs playing in this space will shine the spotlight on the plant-based movement.
And finally, can you let us know about any upcoming developments, such as innovations on the horizon for VGFC? Our incredibly talented team is driving forward several important projects for the organization, such as significant capacity expansion in Canada and the U.S. and flagship stores in Victoria and Vancouver. We are also launching Steak and Ribz in additional retailers and regions, followed by a new product line soon. We are very busy at Very Good Food and having a blast.
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