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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Exclusive — TheVeganKind CEO Scott McCulloch: ‘We made a leap into the unknown’

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Ahead of the supermarket’s first own-brand product launch, TheVeganKind co-founder Scott McCulloch talks the new warehouse and comparisons to Amazon.

If you’re vegan, there’s little chance you haven’t heard of TheVeganKind. It’s a ubiquitous supermarket that stocks every vegan product imaginable in the UK. What you might find in a far-off Waitrose but not in your local Tesco, or maybe exclusively in a Holland & Barrett, or only as a six-pack online, you’ll find at TheVeganKind. Every vegan brand — new or existing — wants to be listed on there. It’s almost like a vegan Amazon.

Scott McCulloch laughs at that admittedly risky comparison. “Hmm. Yeah. I don’t know, ” From a business success standpoint, the co-founder of TheVeganKind believes that could be intended as a compliment.

“However…” he continues, laughing once more. “Amazon’s ethics are called into question, quite rightly. A lot of people — more and more nowadays — are trying to avoid shopping with Amazon. Because they see it as taking the little guy out of the equation. I don’t think I’d want anyone to think of TheVeganKind and Amazon as being comparable.”

And it’s the little guy — the small, artisan, local brands trying to find a place in this world — that TheVeganKind wants to ensure they can continue to support. One of the ways McCulloch is planning to do that is with an online marketplace next year. “For brands that might be too small for us to list on TheVeganKind’s supermarket, we would encourage them to list their products on our marketplace. They can then benefit from our name and traffic, but list the products themselves and fulfil their own orders.”

the vegan kind
Karris McCulloch, back in the beginning when TheVeganKind was a home operation.

It’s a tried-and-tested model employed by some of the biggest retailers in the world, Amazon included. But few have done it exclusively for vegan products, and it’s this trailblazing effort that defines the UK’s largest plant-based supermarket. In January, it launched its membership programme, TVK+. This month, the retailer is launching its first line of ready meals through its sub-brand Love Plants. It will also see the conclusion of an investment round that will bring on a seven-figure sum. The possibilities are endless, and McCulloch is looking forward to that.

“We’ve been almost entirely bootstrapped as a business for seven years, and this raise will give us opportunities we’ve just never had before,” he tells me. A contributing factor is the 35,000 sq ft warehouse the TheVeganKind shifted to last year, a move that was years in the making.

The team wasn’t planning to move to the facility in 2020, but the pandemic accelerated the timeline. “We ended up in a situation whereby our warehouse was doing a maximum amount of orders every single day. We could have been doing a lot more, but there just wasn’t enough space,” recalls McCulloch. “We were having to turn our website off whenever we maximised on the day. People were relying on us to get vegan food, and we were turning them away as we had hit capacity. That wasn’t good enough.”

So they made a “leap into the unknown”, a dangerous, risky manoeuvre. “It might seem crazy moving in the middle of a pandemic,” admits the CEO. “But we thought if we don’t do it, we might regret it and never forgive ourselves. And true enough, in our new warehouse, we’ve been processing order volumes that were simply impossible in the old space.”

Case in point: January 2021 saw a 240% increase in sales from the year before. McCulloch attributes that to the early move, as the much larger warehouse can stock more product lines and hold more logistical equipment. It’s also brought the company’s forecasting forward, as it’s looking to reach its 2022 and 2023 targets this year or early next year.

“We wouldn’t have moved if we weren’t ambitious. We know that the vegan and plant-based sector is really in its infancy, and to cope with the next wave of products while continuing to support the existing wave — it just made complete sense to move warehouse and keep scaling up.”

thevegankind supermarket
The new facility has what’s believed to be the largest vegan fridge in the world.

It’s often part of businesses’ launch strategies to be listed on TheVeganKind when they set foot in the UK market. Consumers rely on the supermarket to stock new products. But what kind of brands does the retailer look for?

Veganism is increasingly fragmented and can be exclusionary with every layer of thinking added on. But McCulloch’s brand tries to keep it simple. “We try and not be too egotistical or central about what veganism is to anyone else,” he tells me. “So as long as the product in and of itself is vegan, we want people to have access to it at TheVeganKind.”

And that’s why a company doesn’t have to be certified vegan to be stocked by the retailer. However, there is a vetting process in place. “Our buying and listing teams double, triple, quadruple-check every single product that comes in here to make sure it doesn’t contain any animal-based products in the ingredients.”

Does that not dwarf the individual brands’ own direct-to-consumer services? “Not really,” says McCulloch, explaining: “Not everyone will go to a brands’ website where they can only buy their products, and at a £30 minimum basket value. Many people just want a brand as an item within their overall shop. So there’s room for both.”

It’s true: a majority of people wouldn’t want to pay so much money for one single brand. And it also gives other companies the opportunity to make their way into consumers’ baskets. That’s why the retailer has wide-ranging bestsellers at the moment, including THIS Isn’t Bacon, Applewood vegan cheese, VEGO chocolate bars, and Mouse’s Favourite Camembert.

Read our story about how vegan cheese producers are replicating dairy.

scott mcculloch the vegan kind
‘Bringing children up on a diet that excludes all the negativity in the food chain is quite empowering.’

The brand has a lot more to come this year. It’s a great place for McCulloch and his wife and co-founder Karris to be in. They started the brand in 2013 out of their kitchen, months after McCulloch followed his wife into veganism, as a result of an “explosion of vegan products”.

They’re even raising their two kids vegan. “Bringing them up on a diet that excludes all the negativity in the food chain is quite empowering,” notes McCulloch. “From an ecological standpoint, the future is theirs. We all wonder what the world’s going to be like in 50 years’ time when we’re all a lot older and on our last days. Our grandkids will be in their 20s or 30s with the whole rest of their lives ahead of them. It is important we all act now so their future is more stable.”

The couple has a third child on the way, and they want them to grow up in an empathetic, compassionate and kinder world. It’s built into their brand’s ethos too. “We want anybody who is making any step towards veganism — whether it’s a day a week, two days a week, one week a month — we want to be really inclusive to everybody,” McCulloch states. “The hope is that one day, everybody will go vegan.”

Anay Mridul
Anay is the managing editor of The Vegan Review. A journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.