In 2016, Mike and Joe Hill turned their Saturday night routine into One Planet Pizza: a revolutionary, plant-based business. Four years on, they discuss international expansion, chia seeds, and how Covid-19 may have changed consumption habits forever.
“We believed vegan foods were really growing at the time. Little did we know how much they were going to grow over the last few years,” Mike Hill, co-founder of One Planet Pizza, tells me. “But there was something missing, something like a Ben and Jerry’s in the ice-cream sector.”
Vegan since the age of 18, Hill has partly owned a vegan restaurant, run a market research company, and most recently founded One Planet Pizza, with his son Joe.
“There’s absolutely no advantages, he’s a nightmare to work with!” Hill says jokingly about leading a business with his son. With his mother heading the kitchen, and his father directing the office, Joe states they are quite a “modern family”. “But if we got through the first four years together, then how much harder can it get?” he adds.
The father and son come from a family of vegans, and Saturday nights at the Hill house regularly consisted of pizzas made from scratch.
With a rich passion for pizza, they only needed some financial fuel; so they started a crowdfund.
“It seemed to sit well with making it more of a community-type business, we got 104 people investing an average of £204 each,” Hill explains. Being the first equity-funded company in Europe, they not only gained a loyal initial customer base, but lots of media attention.
Worth over £480 million, pizza is one of the UK’s leading segments within the frozen category. Hill agrees vegans are entitled to the same choices as everyone else, so One Planet Pizza’s products are all straight swap-ins of the classics.
“We didn’t want to make them too different and fancy,” Hill says. The company now offers:
- Mediterranean Roasted Vegetable
- Funghi Feast
- Tofurkey Chick’n and Sweetcorn
- Meatless Feast
- Three Cheezly Margherita
- Gluten-free Cheezly Margherita
- The Meatless Farm Cheezeburger pizza
In 2016, Norwich proved to be the perfect launching pad for One Planet Pizza, with an immense market of vegans.
Today, its products can be found in supermarkets across the UK, including Whole Foods Market and Ocado, as well as locations in Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Malta, and Cyprus.
One Planet Pizza
Most recently, One Planet Pizza launched a direct-to-customer service, allowing UK consumers to acquire customisable packages of its frozen vegan pizzas.
Customers additionally have a choice between wholemeal, white, or, the newest addition, gluten-free dough. With a selection of up to five types per box, orders then arrive every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday between 8am and 6pm.
One Planet Pizza receives over 250 orders a week, and when these occur locally, Hill’s son Joe and his team occasionally deliver them personally.
“It’s a nice surprise for the local customers, and we’ve gotten some amazing loyal fans since we began,” Hill says. “One local lady orders every two weeks, she’s getting through a hell of a lot of pizza.”
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The company also prides itself on its premium ingredients.
The vegan replacements are all sourced through partnerships with Cheezly cheddar, Tofurky chicken, Loveseitan meat, and a Czech company that provides its Hawaiian pizza’s soy-based ham chunks. The newest menu addition, The Meatless Farm Cheezeburger pizza, also comes from a business partnership with plant-based pioneers Meatless Farm Co.
Aside from meat and dairy replacements, Hill says the only other ingredient sourced from outside Norwich is its tomato sauce.
“We get it from Italy, because there really isn’t a better country or tomato: they are definitely the best in the world,” he states.
Unlike many in the food industry, One Planet Pizza’s business significantly boosted when Covid-19 struck. Having just launched their d-to-c offering, Hill believes the orders only grew because of the stay-at-home movement and frozen food stockpiling.
“When the pandemic crept upon us, we were only getting a couple of orders a day,” Hill says. And the co-founder doesn’t think shopping habits will return back to how they were, so One Planet Pizza only sees growth in its future.
As well as customer growth, Mike and Joe Hill were astounded by the support found in the plant-based community. “Over the last four months, the plant-based businesses we work with were all working together to overcome problems and support each other. It was pretty unique,” Hill says, smiling.
But something the father and son do miss is in-person customer engagement. “Joe built up the community online right from the start, so we’ve always been strong on social media,” Hill explains. With over 23,000 followers on Instagram, One Planet Pizza pours a lot of resources into competitions, brand collaborations and special giveaways.
“We really miss the events, though.” Hill states. Instead of handing out frozen products, the business frequently catered for festivals and held cooking classes. “People loved that, hot pizzas are much more exciting than frozen.”
This August, One Planet Pizza will be at Veg Fest’s virtual festival. As close as the coronavirus will allow it to get to proper engagement, the business will be handing out special offers to a handful of lucky attendees.
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One Planet Pizza’s mission is to “save the planet one slice at a time”, and it uses a carbon-neutral delivery service to ensure this too.
“For every box we send out, [delivery service] DPD plants the equivalent amount of trees to offset emissions,” Hill says. The smaller packages are recyclable, the pizza boxes are 100% biodegradable, and the company has a 20% lower carbon footprint than the typical meat and dairy pizza.
Discussing d-to-c service on a global scale, Hill explains it would need base partners situated in each country. Deliveries all the way from the UK would only tarnish their eco-friendly brand.
With health being the leading reason behind going vegan today, One Planet Pizza’s hopes its biggest audience going forward will be those looking to reduce meat consumption. But Hill doesn’t recommend eating pizza every day. “After all, it is fast food,” he says.
However, the pizza is health-forward, as Hill reveals One Planet Pizza is the only company in the world. With tomato sauce to contain chia seeds: the protein-packed superfood. Under nutritional analysis, the company can claim that its products are a source of omega-3, highly important for vegans. “The seeds also make the sauce nice and creamy,” Hill adds.
The new gluten-free base was difficult to obtain but highly requested, and so a very important step forward.
“If you think vegans are vocal, wait until you come across gluten-free vegans,” Hill states.
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But the founder feels it was worth it, as he ultimately prefers this option. “It’s actually a lot lighter and fluffier,” he says, smiling.
Currently working on a 5-year-business-plan, Hill discusses his hopes for expansion in the Middle East, the US. And more countries across Europe; where the number of vegans is substantially growing.
Keeping up with numbers is vital, though, as it is still a small-batch production company using premium toppings.
Emphasising on Germany and Holland, the next fastest-growing vegan markets outside the UK. One Planet Pizza is aiming to grab a small percentage of the global frozen pizza market.
And it’s already growing exponentially every day. “With just 0.05% of that overall market, we will become a multi-million-pound business,” Hill states.