Headed by Neil Rankin, the trained butcher and London steakhouse chef who switched to making 100% clean vegan meat; Symplicity Foods is a clean label food company that specialises in “helping chefs, home cooks, caterers and restaurants to reduce their reliance on meat”.
Becoming increasingly concerned about sustainability, Rankin took the initial approach of trying to use every part of the animal when creating his food. Eventually became “disenchanted with the solution being meat-based” and turned his attention towards plant-based options, going on to form Symplicity Foods and supply products such as plant-based burgers, meatballs, mince and sauces with a focus on fermentation techniques.
Just last month, Symplicity partnered with London’s Homeslice Pizza to open its very first vegan-only location, after the plant-based pizzas offered at the chain’s conventional site proved highly popular with the public. We spoke with Neil to find out more.
Can you give us the Symplicity Foods elevator pitch?
We’re a chef-led, clean-label food company using fermented vegetables, miso and high-quality food waste to make healthy, natural products that taste incredible.
What does it mean to be a “clean label” brand? Why is it important?
You are more than your own production facility. You are the chain of production used in all your ingredients. Every ingredient that’s processed requires more factories, energy, packaging and transport. So the more things you make yourself or that come from whole foods from places you can trust, the more you have control over those levels and the more transparency your product has to the customer.
“You are more than your own production facility. You are the chain of production used in all your ingredients.”
I think people are losing faith in heavily processed foods because it lacks that transparency, and they can see a disconnect with the idea of heavy processing and sustainability. That said, a few chemicals are generally OK, but it should be minimal (less than 1%). Chemicals don’t taste great. Food made by nature is always better. Nature does things better all round.
Utilizing fermentation techniques in alt protein production is a growing movement. What is Symplicity’s approach?
We’re not using it in the same way. We’re very traditional. We make miso for a seasoning and a fat and lacto fermentation (like kimchi) for flavour enhancement, complexity and sourness. These are methods used for thousands of years and like nature, they’re something we can all rely on a little more than a new science. The guinea pigs for this were living 3000 years ago.
You trained as a butcher and come from a meat-focused culinary background. What attracted you to a plant-based model?
There’s no challenge in cooking a steak but there’s lots to be done to make plant-based desirable to a mass market. Plant-based has been made so far with a focus on being functional or to imitate the look and feel of meat but that’s all a bit weird and not enough to motivate change… that’s not how we eat. Eating is more often spiritual and less functional.
“There’s no challenge in cooking a steak but there’s lots to be done to make plant-based desirable to a mass market”
We need to make it taste better than just OK and give us pleasure and a more spiritual satisfaction. We need to make it better than meat in every way and stop trying to copy a product that has so many flaws. It’s more than possible and I wanted to be part of that.
How has your rise to fame in the food sector benefitted the business?
It has made restaurants a little more trusting in our product, but it doesn’t get us past the tasting room. Most of the restaurants don’t list the product as ours so my involvement is of no real benefit to them.
Who are you currently working with and what collabs do you have in the pipeline?
Lots of small but very good restaurants. We’ve mainly hit restaurants selling it as an option rather than 100% vegan places. Vegan chains seem to be more comfortable with the highly processed stuff, and it still sells – so who can blame them?
Our biggest markets to hit are really catering businesses and that’s where we’re looking at now. Schools and businesses are much more focused on the health aspect and low processing which makes us an ideal fit and lunches are where people make the best choices. Restaurants are there purely for pleasure which is why it’s a slower build if your advantage is health and sustainability. So, it’s that and D2C, which we’re launching this month by ourselves with our own online shop.
Who are your biggest clients currently and how many units are you supplying?
Distributors are by far our biggest clients but single restaurants I’d say Dishoom is high up there. We sell them a bespoke sausage for their Sausage Naan and it’s over 15k units a week. We have over 200 restaurants now on the books, but a lot are small occasional users.
“If we can make use of all the waste we throw out and even make it delicious and long life, then that’s a big step forward.”
Where do you see Symplicity Foods in two years’ time?
I really want us to tap into using food waste more in our products and transition into making a scalable product to use up excess waste from the industry. We talk a lot about carbon being the problem or meat vs plants but, in a nutshell, the whole thing can be helped by producing less food all round. If we can make use of all the waste we throw out and even make it delicious and long life, then that’s a big step forward.
Outside of that, the American, European and Asian markets are our biggest target markets I’d hope to be in at least one by then.