“Ours is an act of positive rebellion against a system that has brought us climate change, environmental destruction, factory farming and slaughterhouses,” says VFC, the vegan fried chicken brand, based in the UK and already successfully taking over mainland Europe, before the rest of the world. “Our way to dismantle this destructive system is with great food. This is our sit-down protest.”
Vegconomist readers will already be familiar with VFC founder Matthew Glover and will have followed the VFC story, that of phenomenal growth since its outset just a few short months ago, to a point right now where demand is already far exceeding expectations. The sky is seemingly the limit for this mission-driven company with plans to literally and seriously disrupt chicken farming on a global scale.
We spoke with the man in charge of expanding VFC on an international level – a process which is already taking place at an astonishing speed. Stewart McGuckin is Director of Sales Rebellion at VFC.
First of all please give our readers a short intro to your background and your role at VFC
I started my career at Nestlé and spent over ten years working within the commercial functions (Sales, Strategy, Marketing) with my last role being responsible for the KITKAT brand. It was a wonderful experience to be able to work with such amazing brands and products and across different parts of a truly global organisation. Following Nestlé, I moved to 2 Sisters Food Group to lead the turn-around of their GOODFELLA’S pizza brand ahead of the sale to Nomad Foods at which point I took the decision to finally ‘scratch the entrepreneurial itch’ I had had for a long time and joined GREEN ORIGINS to lead the establishment and scaling-up of their superfood retail business.
After four wonderful years building and leading teams, brands, product pipelines and, most importantly, gaining a much deeper knowledge and understanding of natural foods and sustainability, I jumped at the opportunity to join VFC as Sales Director where I am privileged to be leading our commercial to bring our mission and products to as many people around the world as possible.
You used to work for 2 Sisters, one of the biggest chicken processors in the UK, and now you’re helping to promote a brand disrupting the chicken market. How did the transition between the two take place?
I was fortunate to meet and work with a lot of wonderful people across the 2 Sisters organisation, however working within a predominantly animal protein business did allow me to learn about the processes and conditions involved across the supply chain which, quite honestly, I had been ignorant to before joining. This experience and knowledge has stayed with me ever since and having the opportunity to now challenge the animal farming and processing system. To be part of the effort to try to make it obsolete – with VFC – is truly motivating and liberating.
To be part of the effort to try to make it obsolete – with VFC – is truly motivating and liberating.
As Sales Director how do you plan to push the brand forward and into the international market?
At the moment, I’m not having to do much ‘pushing’ as the brand is resonating with consumers and potential partners around the world and many are contacting me! Longer term, we want to find and work with partners who share our passion and determination to make a positive change in and on the world and who can support us to bring our fantastic products to as many people as possible across all potential routes to market.
Why are you the perfect brand for retailers?
The most successful brands offer great products with a compelling story that resonates with a large number of people. As an activist brand that happens to offer delicious food, VFC ticks all of these boxes. And based on the feedback we’ve already had from some of the world’s biggest retailers (who have already confirmed their interest in stocking VFC), it is not just my opinion but that of key industry stakeholders around the world – the people who ultimately decide what is stocked in their stores and on their shelves.
Tell us about your first two months with VFC and the growth you have witnessed in the short time since launch.
One word – extraordinary! The sales success is obviously fantastic but the best thing about the first two months has been receiving and hearing unanimously positive feedback and interest in the business, brand, products and our mission. I’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the world, with some of the biggest brands and have spoken to many, many people from all over the world in the course of my career and I have never known such a response – it truly is inspiring.
I’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the world, with some of the biggest brands and have spoken to many, many people from all over the world in the course of my career and I have never known such a response – it truly is inspiring.
What is the current VFC product range and what will come next?
Our current range consists of our unique VFC Fillets and Bites and we will shortly be launching a new popcorn chick*n to support families looking for a convenient mid-week meal solution for all the family. All products are – and will be – available in both Retail and Bulk/Food Service formats.
I can’t go into too many details about our future pipeline however I can tell you that it looks awesome! We will continue to bring exciting product and format innovations to the chicken category however I’m also really excited about the work we’re doing on NPD across other huge grocery categories. I’m sure people will be as excited as I am when I’m in a position to share more.
You are already meeting with some of the largest retailers in the UK, what are they saying about the product?
The feedback we have had from retailers has been incredibly positive. They’ve told us that they haven’t seen products or a brand like VFC and so are very excited to bring something genuinely different to their customers. Our challenge is to get it to them as soon as they’d like us to!
Where do you expect the company to be by the end of this year? Can you reveal any big plans on the horizon for VFC for the near future and beyond?
Where do I not expect us to be?! With close to 70 billion chickens being needlessly slaughtered each year, we have a huge amount of work to do to spare as many of them as possible, and as quickly as possible, because this figure continues to grow year-on-year. To that end, we want to be able to offer a viable alternative to fried chicken – and more – to everyone and anyone around the world who may or may not be currently open to it.
I appreciate that we are very early in our journey and mission but we have the energy, passion and never-say-no attitude to make rapid progress. My plan is to have VFC available on every continent by the end of this year. History will judge if we are successful but time is of the essence…billions of animals – and the planet itself – depend on us doing the best job we possibly can.