Gooder Podcast featuring Christie Lagally
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This week on the Gooder Podcast I had the pleasure of talking with Christie Lagally, the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods, a food production technology company working to make plant based meat price competitive with traditional chicken products.
In this episode we discuss how Christie’s development of “Meatless Mondays” while working as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry at Boeing, helped her understand the barriers to plant based meat in offices and institutions. Join us as we discuss how Christie has parlayed this information into building her own company to bypass those barriers by catapulting meat alternative production toward price parity and convenience with animal-based meat.
In this episode we learn:
- The history of Christie’s brand Rebellyous, how it was started, and reasons for its existence.
- How Christie is using the pricing method to make her products accessible to everyone and why that’s important.
- How Covid impacted their company, the opportunities that came up, and how it affected their market, and how they responded.
- The importance of why brand owners should understand the purpose of their brand’s existence before they focus on the income.
- About the process of enrolling investors and partners.
- Christie’s vision she has for Rebellyous and what people should expect in the near future.
About Christie Legally:
Christie is the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods and a mechanical engineer who holds multiple patents in manufacturing technology. She spent much of her career in the aerospace industry working at Boeing. Previously Christie served as senior scientist for the Good Food Institute and covering the technical barriers in the development of plant-based meat and clean meat.
Guests Social Media Links:
The Good Food Institute is an international 501 nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs as well as cultivated meat.
Rebellyous Foods is a food manufacturing technology and production company defined solely to catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.
Humane Society is a movement leader when it comes to farm animal advocacy in The United States.
Food Equality Initiative in Kansas City Improves health and end hunger in individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease through access, education, and advocacy.
Seattle Food Tech is a food manufacturing technology and production company on a mission to “catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.”
Diana Fryc: Welcome again to the Gooder podcast, I am your host Diana Fryc. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency, I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the natural’s industry food, beverage, wellness and fitness. And as such, I decided to create the Gooder podcast to interview these great people, subject matter experts, and have them share their insights and expertize to help businesses all around the world become gooder.
I am very excited to introduce my guests today. Christie Lagally, did I get that correct?
Christie Lagally: Yes, thank you.
Diana Fryc: Yes, who is the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods, right here in Seattle, a food production technology company working to make plant based meat price competitive with traditional chicken products. Christie is a mechanical engineer and holds multiple patents in manufacturing technology. We will learn about a little bit more here soon and she spent much of her career in the aerospace industry working at Boeing. Previously Christie served as senior scientist for the Good Food Institute and covering the technical barriers in the development of plant based meat and clean meat. Welcome, Christie. How are you today?
Christie Lagally: I’m good, thank you; very, exciting day on January 20th.
Diana Fryc: I know. So I don’t normally talk about the date, but it’s a big day for the United States government. This is our Inauguration Day. And for Christie and I, it’s probably a little bit more closer to home with having Miss Kamala Harris moving forward into the VP position; so big day. How are you feeling about that?
Christie Lagally: I’m absolutely ecstatic. I think if I could spend all day just celebrating, I really, really would. As I was driving back to my home office this afternoon, I had a sudden kind of like a positive kind of flashback to the day that I heard that Nancy Pelosi became speaker, first woman speaker of the House, and that was the highest level of government; and now today. So I will remember both in my mind quite often.
Diana Fryc: I was trying to explain it to my 12 year old daughter who gets it, but she hasn’t lived it. So she’s like, yeah, I get that she’s got this role. But my daughter’s not really experienced the kind of the world without that even at 12. So I kind of have to hear in my Covidness have to rely on these conversations like this today to kind of get my excitement out, I suppose.
But onto the task of today, which is talking about the work that you are doing at Rebellyous. Now, let’s get into the very basics. I always like to start with a quick history of the brand. Tell us about Rebellyous, what is Rebellyous exist and what are you guys up to now?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, so Rebellyous Foods is a food production and a production technology company working to make plant based meat that is scrumptious, juicy, the best plant based chicken you’ve ever had, but also to do it in a way in a manufacturing setting and a manufacturing methods and equipment that make it possible to make plant based meat products that are at the same price as animal based meat. We’re working to make plant based meat faster, much higher quality and at a less costly manufacturing scenario so that people can actually afford it. We know that people really want to replace meat on a large scale.
We know that a lot of people who have a demand for plant based meat; we know that people are not happy with the chicken industry and how much it causes a lot of problems for people in and all sorts of parts of the world. But in our country in particular, where it causes a lot of inequities, whether it be essentially air pollution or all sorts of runoff from chicken farms and chicken processing, and not to mention the inequities of the chicken industry itself. So we really want to create not just a solution for people to enjoy scrumptious foods to replace chicken, but also to replace the chicken industry itself, to give it a place to grow into a modern day industry.
Diana Fryc: Why is that important to you?
Christie Lagally: Yeah. So it’s important to me for several reasons. I feel very strongly about all of the social justice reasons around plant based meat, what it’s supposed to do for us and those particular social justice issues start anywhere from human health.
That if we eat less meat overall, as a public health effort, we would actually be able to have essentially healthier people overall. We believe it’s a moral imperative around the issue of providing alternatives to meat in the school lunch program. So that’s really important. And also being able to offer these products that are made in better ways so that we’re not exposing people to things like antibiotics or growth hormones or all sorts of things that are really kind of come with the vast majority of chicken, even though you can get antibiotic free chicken, if not available to the vast majority of people. So those are really important issues to us, not even to mention the larger social justice issues around animal agriculture, animal welfare and the environment that is so heavily impacted by industrial animal agriculture.
Diana Fryc: That’s really big. So what’s important to you is even bigger than what I can see within the brand itself. I always like to do a little bit of homework about my speakers and the brand. So thank you for sharing that, because you’re kind of trying to solve a lot of problems. And we’ll talk about that engineer’s mind, the engineering mind that kind of goes into solving problems here in just a minute. But I really want to talk briefly about Kristie Middleton, who I don’t know if you want to call her your partner, your sidekick, a really good friend, all of the above. I know she had her own journey to get here, but how did you guys connect and why did you guys decide to do this together or did you do it together? Did you come along behind you?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, Kristie Middleton was a huge inspiration to me to originally start the company and then she joined our company shortly there. I’d say about a year or so after I started the company. So but she was a huge inspiration all the way back in 2015 before times, I should say. I was actually a volunteer for a program that Kristie Middleton ran, which was a Meatless Monday program in large institutions and I was working at Boeing. And so I connected with her to really understand how I as a volunteer could help bring Meatless Mondays to my Boeing cafeteria. Which I did in an unusual fashion I would say; we brought a meatless meal and it was the only meatless meal that got served about 100 times. But so it was definitely meatless. But it was kind of like a narrow scope.
I met Kristie in person and her, I think, boss at the time, Josh Balk, who were running the Farm Animal Protection Division of the Humane Society of the United States, where I actually still volunteer as a state council member. They do amazing work. There are a national animal welfare organization and really believe in the vast majority. Sorry, I really believe in the plethora of things that they are doing and that’s really important to me. But one of the things that they helped us people do like me was bring these different programs.
But at the time, they had a really interesting insight into the world of essentially Meatless Mondays and people who wanted to replace that at institutions like schools and hospitals and universities. And those institutions kept saying if plant based meat was just the same price as is the same quality as animal based meat, then we would buy it in a heartbeat. Like, we don’t really have a problem with reducing our meat consumption. It’s not the meat that we want. It’s just the products that works for us; the convenience, the ease of it, the holding of it, just essentially having in the freezer at any time. And so if we can replicate that, that would be great.
Up until now I suppose, although we’re still working on it, that has been quite elusive to the plant based meat industry. And so what we’ve been doing, I started the company in late 2017 after a couple of years or after a couple of months, I say of pondering this idea that, yeah, it seems like if this is a problem with just manufacturing high quality products, then we should be able to address that with the manufacturing skills of a group of engineers. And so I started the company based on this idea that if we redesigned the manufacturing methods of making plant based meat, we could genuinely bring down the cost. So it was one for one with animal based chicken products.
Diana Fryc: What I love about this story is we’re starting through the lens of institutions. One of one of the things that we know of, it’s a huge barrier for people who aren’t already consumer of these types of products is trial and preparation.
And what is amazing is going through the door of the institution where somebody could try the product, whether at a school or a hospital or at their office, prepared for them to try it. And if they don’t like it once, no harm, no foul. But if they love it, which most people do, suddenly we’ve introduced somebody into a new product in a new way of looking at food that they would have traditionally maybe walked past for a number of reasons outside of just trying it, but even the expense of trying it.
Some people will talk about this later, but some people don’t have the discretionary income to try new things. And so the hesitation to try something healthy, if it was on par from a price perspective, is still a challenge, because if the family doesn’t like it and they don’t eat it, then that’s money wasted. So I love this way into the household and way into the diet, through the institutional platform, I guess is the best way to do it. Is that kind of how it’s showing up for you all?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, certainly it is, and I think there’s some benefit to Rebellyous now having both CPG products or consumer packaged goods products as well as food service products. So they do get the chance to try really good products in the food service realm. And then also if the institution does use our name, then they’ll have to go look for that in the grocery store as well and that is really beneficial. We wish we could offer it one for one in price quote yet but we’re working on that part.
Diana Fryc: It’ll get there.
Christie Lagally: But we’ll get there and the more we bring it down, the more people we add to the customer acceptance list, and so it’s not a black and white situation where it’s like unless you bring it down this much, you’re only going to get the top one percent of wage earners or something. That’s definitely not the case. So the more we bring it down, the more people that can afford it and it continues to spread from there. So that’s really key to what we’re trying to do. A lot of companies are trying to reduce their costs, but they mostly do so in a way that’s just depending on scale and we’re taking a different tact. We’re really trying to stop manufacturing problems with plant based meat.
Diana Fryc: I love that. So let’s just step into or out of the year 2020. It’s been kind of chaotic for everybody. There was a lot of what do we do now? And we’ve had enough time now. We’re coming up almost on 12 months. I can’t believe it of this Covidness and I’m wondering I know when we spoke, you mentioned a couple of things but I’m wondering if you are able to share with us what opportunities became available to you or maybe expose themselves in a new way for the brand. Did you see the market differently? Did things show up? And then how did you guys respond?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, so Covid obviously made a really big impact in our market. We always used to say we run two companies. We were running a manufacturing company to make food service plant based meat, and we’re running a technology company to make it faster, better and cheaper. Because of covid-19 and the fact that we could no longer sell into the vast majority of our food service customers almost overnight because we were selling to schools, hospitals, dormitories, corporate cafeterias, you name it, they were shut down and sooner in Seattle, no less as the pandemic really seemed to take the year fast and then spread outward from there.
Nevertheless, it really kind of added a third dimension to our company because we realized we needed to go into the CPG market or the consumer packaged goods market and that really had to happen posthaste. And in every single one of our advisors and Kristie Middleton really led this effort along with Sandra Gray, our product development director. And everybody was telling us, well, this is going to take a year. This is going to take a while to get into CPG and everything like that. Well, we didn’t really have a year. We had like six weeks max and we had to convert all of the stock that we had in our warehouse and our production facility to start to make products in for the CPG market. So we had to quickly change a lot of things. We changed the shape of the product. We got new nutritional statements. We made a small packaging order and then Kristie got to work getting it into every mom and pop store from here to California and we did it. It is kind of a testament to what can happen when you kind of have control levers, I would say.
Because a lot of people don’t necessarily know that making a product for one market in order to change that, you have to go back to your manufacturer and have them change it on the schedule and everything we didn’t have to do that. We could pivot on a dime almost, if you think about it that way. But at the same time, we just had gotten into our facility. We were just starting to set up for a different plan, which was larger scale production in this particular facility and we really had to pivot that effort. That was where I think we were most concerned about, about just how is this all going to look by the end of 2020?
So we really had to make a decision after our first CPG launch, which again happened in very short order about really staying in the CPG market. So by essentially adding a new CPG line and the intention to go into with multiple SKU’s go into large scale grocery stores, we often say that we added a third dimension to our company now running CPG, food production and technology development companies. So that in and of itself is a challenge. Sometimes we all have to kind of figure out how all of us integrate together.
But I think the power in doing so, the power in working together is what can fundamentally change how plant based meat is made and received in the market. Because we actually again, we have all the levers at our fingertips and that’s what a lot of companies don’t have. Even if they’re just running one of those three companies, they’re either working with the technology, but they can’t deploy it. They’re manufacturing, but they don’t have any technology development or CPG access or running a CPG. They don’t run their own production and certainly can’t bring down the cost of production. So all three is very complicated; it makes for some strange challenges, but we’re doing it.
Diana Fryc: I want to kind of change the topic a little bit here now and kind of go back to this outage of accessibility that we talked about earlier. I have found that in the last couple of years that the natural’s industry that’s better for your industry, very attractive to see a lot of money coming from tech. Sometimes tech doesn’t understand that food tech can’t move at the speed of tech, especially when it comes to revs and manufacturing. But one of the things that I’ve noticed about the natural’s industry is that from a price perspective, we are now creating products that are out of reach of a good portion of the United States from a price perspective, but then also from a desire perspective, a lot of the brands aren’t necessarily talking to the average consumer that may or may not be interested in a healthy lifestyle. They don’t see themselves represented. The flavor profiles aren’t there. And I don’t know if it’s on accident or on purpose, but I wonder, this audience that you are targeting is outside of the traditional natural consumer target audience, isn’t it? I know you don’t mind those consumers but I think I see you reaching into this area over here to people who haven’t been traditionally marketed to or had products developed for?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, and I think that’s really important because first of all, it’s certainly a market that is desiring these products. So in a lot of ways, if we don’t go after that market, which is leaving both economic opportunities, as well as essentially moral opportunity on the wayside and that sounds silly. But I take your point running a food company is difficult. There’s already enough difficulty in it. There’s enough difficulty getting any margin at all and I think that even though plant based foods has had a pretty incredible moment over the last five years or so and with beyond its IPO showing so much promise. I think there’s a lot of belief that that could be shifting in general and so it does actually bring even more investor interest. But at the same time, I think you’re absolutely right that investor interest definitely has to come with a deep understanding of what it actually takes to reach that market, because everybody wants to go after the half a percent of the market that is buying plant based meat right now.
And just for reference for listeners, in the United States, we produce over 107 billion pounds of animal based meat is projected for 2021 and yet we only produce about less than a half a percent of a plant based meat by comparison. So it’s kind of like saying everybody should drive their car less for climate change reasons or their health, and yet everybody if you just average it over just the US population, there’s only about one meal of plant based meat per person per year. That’s a little there is. So there’s definitely just even though some people maybe access these types of products quite frequently, there’s a vast majority of people who maybe have never tried them; a lot of people never tried plant based meat. And so making sure those people have access definitely it’s also not like intended to really be just a one off sale.
The intention is that we can do a lot more good if we make this product genuinely meet the needs of people and as a result, that’s a different business model. Then if you’re investing in a natural’s brand that either has a fast return, which I don’t know if there are any, but as you said, food is hard to develop as a company or that you really essentially have to be able to expand that market out to people who really need that lower price point in order to afford the products. So like I said, investors really need to understand kind of the complexity of that.
But if we do meet the complexity of that, we start to- I hate to use the word disrupt because I don’t think we’re disrupting the meat industry, but I think we start to transform the meat industry into a different industry. And that should be really exciting to investors because that is an enormous economic opportunity to essentially make products that are better for the environment, are easier on us, our human health, but lower the cost of these industries from a socioeconomic perspective. If people are less sick, they’re less dependent on public health system. If there’s less pollution in the air, people get less sick. You don’t have to clean it up.
There are so many reasons that reforming and transforming the chicken industry makes a huge difference for us as a society, and so that should be really interesting investors. And if you’re not convinced by that, well always think of it this way; the meat industry, that’s 107 billion pounds of animal based meat is one of the biggest sectors of the food industry and chicken is the largest sector of the meat industry, making it really one of the largest sectors of the food industry overall; because everybody eats chicken. I mean, I don’t, but a lot of people do.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, and one of the things that I was reminded by or not reminded by, I think I was exposed to just talking about this market, I’m going to call them the underserved market when it comes to kind of healthy and plant based products; is I’ve learned from this woman who runs the Food Equality Initiative in Kansas City, and she serves low income people who have food allergies. And so she provides food services to people who can’t get access to allergen free foods- Celiac for people who are celiac and have food allergies. And what she discovered in the work that she’s done is that it doesn’t matter where you are on the economic spectrum, you always have some discretionary income and it’s different.
The people who have less money are less inclined to try something new, because if they don’t like it, it doesn’t fit for the family, then they’ve wasted money. However, if they find something that works for them, they are loyal fans, because they don’t have the discretionary income to be fickle the way our current half a percent or one percent that you’re talking about, where one day I’m trying this and the next day I’m trying that. And it doesn’t matter if I don’t like it because I’ll just buy 14 more other things. We’re a little bit more promiscuous. The higher you go up financially, the more promiscuous you are with your brand loyalty versus somebody who has less. So there’s some opportunity there. You don’t get as much sales from each individual household, but the commitment to the brand is fierce and much stronger, and I think a lot of people, a lot of brand owners don’t take that into consideration.
Christie Lagally: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point and it’s certainly one that moves the needle on the larger social justice issues. I actually was speaking to somebody the other day about kind of the difference between working in the nonprofit world versus working in the plant based foods world, and I have been remising the number of companies that have come and just come and go and in just our short life; and I feel for them deeply because it is so hard to run a plant based foods company. But at the same time, part of what we wanted to do at Rebellyous, is to not necessarily have a situation where we definitely got bought. The purchase was good for that one time purchase, but that we could create something that truly met people’s needs so they would stick with that brand loyalty. They know that they could depend on it and that’s what really moves the needle when they aren’t any longer going to that big ticket, frozen chicken aisle, but finding what they need to feed their family of four or five from the plant based chicken aisle.
Diana Fryc: Well, I’ve spoken with many entrepreneurs about this topic kind of offline and I feel for a lot of these entrepreneurs who say, “Diana, it’s unrealistic for me to produce this high quality product in this natural’s product in an accessible price from a price point perspective standpoint, because I don’t have enough scale or I’m not big enough to command any kind of good pricing on ingredients or my cost of distribution is so expensive.” I have a POV on it, and I think it’s about how you look at the problem. How do you respond to that? What’s your response to that sentiment when you’re thinking or when you hear it?
Christie Lagally: Well, I think the sentiment is, first of all, they’re right. Definitely that is true. There’s no way to really get around it. It does cost a lot to make these products. They don’t always come out the other end of the cogs equation matching and I think that’s just kind of the reality of it. Now, that doesn’t mean you should stay in business doing things the way you’re always doing it, because then you’ll just burn through your business, and then, of course, it’s over. And sadly, I think that’s what happens is people get into this thinking, oh, it’s going to be super profitable and in fact, it’s not profitable at all and that’s terrible. It doesn’t do anything for all of our larger motivations to make the world a better place.
But this was actually something I was really keenly aware of, oddly enough, actually really early on when I was learning about plant based foods world and things like that, which was what you needed to be selling plant based meat at in order to meet those larger markets was pretty low, and if that is the case, then we had to do something different. And so I think most of my perspective on this is I hear you 100%, and if you aren’t doing something to change that equation, it’s not going to change magically by scale. Some things might change. We always talk about it. At Rebellyous there are two types of ways to bring down the cost of plant based meat. One, everybody can bring it down by scale as long as they have enough investment. I think in possibles like hovering at like a billion dollars of investment at this point. Imagine what we can do that.
So definitely you could put it as an investment in it and it scales and you make a lot of it and you’ve lowered the cost just by unit economics, economic units. But unfortunately, at least according to our equations, that actually doesn’t bring us down to the cost of chicken and plant based meat down to the cost of chicken. Not quite. It’s close, but it doesn’t get us down to where we’re actually getting those consumers that we’re really trying to reach.
So the national school lunch program, kids and that market, the schools, universities and hospitals who are buying chicken nuggets or chicken tenders or chicken patties, we need to get to that point. And as a result, the fundamental problem lay in the manufacturing of plant based meats. It just costs too much. There’s too much labor, there’s too much time, there’s too much floor space, there’s too much sanitation costs overhead overarching. And as a result, we realize, well, that’s the problem we have to solve. And that’s why when I started this company, I started as a technology company, because replacing those things actually does move the needle.
So once we take that manufacturing costs down and what we like to call it is, it’s a per pound price problem, meaning if you make a thousand pounds or you make 10 pounds, it costs the same per pound. Now, there’s a component of the cost of goods sold where scale matters. And you can bring down the price for that. But that reaches the floor. And then once you hit that, you hit the per pound price problem, which is that there’s a total physical work that goes into these products and it’s going to require that much work no matter what, with the tools you have.
So at that point, you’ve got to change the tools. And that’s fundamentally where I think that the natural’s industry could really benefit, is that there’s real opportunity to change the tools. I mean, this is what the train industry did. If we raised and slaughtered chickens the way we did in 1930, we would not be raising a slaughter 8.5 billion chickens in the United States every year. But we don’t, we raise them in big warehouses. We ship them on trucks, in crates, and then we hang them from shackles and we put them through a slaughterhouse in immense amount of machinery. And it’s incredibly automated. This is what the meat industry does. And this is exactly what we need to do in the natural’s industry as well, because it doesn’t diminish the natural products to make it in an automated fashion. It just makes it more available and affordable.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. And so along this route, of course, as you are moving forward with your mission and I’m sure you’re attracting a lot of conversation from other entrepreneurs that are in alignment with what you’re doing or simply coming up behind you and wanting to create different products. How are you coaching these folks or what kind of advice are you giving these other leaders or these other up and coming entrepreneurs about filling those needs? And it doesn’t have to be the same way as you.
Christie Lagally: I would say, first and foremost, definitely know your numbers, know what you’re getting into before you start. And that’s probably good advice no matter what. Those numbers will be rocky sometimes because you’ll have to essentially adapt what you know more and the market will change. And all sorts of methods of manufacturing will change and the regulatory environment might change. So know where you think things stand and then continue to be willing to refine the process.
And I think probably one of the most difficult conversations where I haven’t really been that helpful to entrepreneurs and I only of this as a contrast is for entrepreneurs who are really, really dedicated to one scenario, one product, this is it, this is like the ultimate thing. And that’s where I think that if people don’t understand how much, they’re always going to need to adapt every day, every hour and adapt to their customers needs, adapt to the market, that you can really get caught. You may have a very valuable product. And that’s great if you do. But undoubtedly at some point you’re going to need to adapt it for something.
And being willing to accept that need for adaptation is an important part of kind of getting through it all and making sure it’s successful so that the company is successful and the workers still enjoy their jobs and all those things are really important to us. And then you’re genuinely offering a good product that meets customer needs. I mean, I think you can almost just think about it as product market fit, but it’s also like company market fit too.
Diana Fryc: Well, on my other 12 hats that I wear working for brand development firm, a lot of times what we see from entrepreneurs is sometimes they get so focused on myopic that they don’t realize that that flexibility that you’re talking about actually will result in them meeting their goals sometimes in a faster or even bigger way.
Christie Lagally: Exactly. Yeah. And I think that that can be unfortunate because it may also be that, you may even reach the bigger goal by going through a small steps to start with too which can feel a little different at first. But as long as you don’t think about it that way, it takes a long time to build a castle.
It’s not something you can really always do overnight. And that’s how I feel at Rebellyous too. Of course, we’re not hitting the price points we want to be able to sell into every school in America, but we’re getting there. And little by little, we’re showing that we can do it. And bringing down that per pound price is the key to it.
Diana Fryc: One of my favorite things about you when I was first learning about you is that you are an engineer. And that’s so close to me because my dad was also a mechanical engineer. My sister’s a civil engineer, literally engineers all over in my world. And I would say engineers are just about as creative as us brand marketers are because you guys are fixing problems and some are often unknown. You have to develop the solution. It’s effectively what your brand is doing. You’ve identified something you didn’t quite know how to get there.
You’re still on the path to getting there. But it’s through the lens of what is this goal that I’m trying? What is the end game? What is it that we’re trying to fix? And that’s everything from the accessibility to all of the environmental impacts that you’re trying to do. And I wonder, like when you first came into this, now you are, of course, in Seattle were big tech industry here in Seattle. And then we also have a lot of plant based tree hugger environmentalists here in Seattle. So I’m just wondering, when you first came up with this idea, was it easy to enroll investors and partners in this or were there some big — you can talk about that?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, I’m trying to think back. When we first started the company, we had a different name that we went by. But it’s actually still our name. It’s called Seattle Food Tech. And so we were first launched as a technology company and then added the name Rebellyous Foods as the brand name. So when I was talking to investors, it was pretty clear to investors that this technology company work and we were working on hard tech manufacturing technology tools. So there was a little bit of understanding at that point. We don’t often go by the name Seattle Food Tech, but that is our corporate name and it is our corporate identity. And then after that we added the Rebellyous name and we obviously just do with Rebellyous now.
So for early investors, it was kind of clear. But at the same time, I think that the idea of hard tech manufacturing technology and food is not something a lot of people had ever encountered. So they had seen in the market that Beyond Meat and Impossible and even Morningstar and Tofurky, we’re all doing really, really well. So plant based meat must be a great bet. And it is, I think, a really great bet. I think people want it. There’s no doubt that demand is out there. It gets documented every month, every year. It seems to grow more and more, which is fantastic.
But trying to convince investors that all of the big names had not addressed the manufacturing problems was a hard sell. And it tends to be a hard sell now because we often assume that if somebody is really successful at business or the company is really successful, they’ve sold all the problems out there. And that was definitely and often is definitely the case. And yet here we’re three years on in Rebellyous, we’re I think, 10 years on at the start of Beyond, nine years on from the start of Impossible. And there’s a general sense that they still tell the media, our next step is that we’re going to bring down the cost. Well, we feel like the cost needs to be designed into the process from the beginning. And that’s why we started there. Like I said, it’s still baby steps to getting there.
But I think it takes a savvy investors to understand what we’re doing, especially because not a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about manufacturing tools that make other products, which is what we do. So it’s kind of hard to explain. Like if you have a truffle, how did that truffle get made? And what automation tools were used to make that truffle and things like that. So same kind of thing with plant-based meat, that’s a very unusual product. How did it actually get made? And are those tools really optimal? And are those tools contributing to the overall cost differential in the market compared to the animal based counterpart competitors? And once I could get an investor to stay on it long enough and listen to all that, that is why I started to really attract some investors who care deeply about what we were doing.
When we enrolled in the Y Combinator program and we were lucky enough to have that opportunity. And so being that that was such a tech centric opportunity, we did get a pretty good reputation for at least a technology company. And so those were the times that I was definitely gathering more investors who kind of understood the technology opportunity.
Diana Fryc: Well, you’re in good company. Seattle started to grow that food tech with Joywell and a few others that are starting to kind of anchor themselves here in the northwest.
Christie Lagally: Yeah. It’s exciting.
Diana Fryc: Exactly. I love her. Madelyn, she’s really amazing woman. I love what she’s doing over there. Can you share what’s next for you or Rebellyous? Is there anything that you can tell us? What can we plan for?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, so 2021 is going to be the year where everything happens. That’s what we’ve decided, we’re just like, okay, we made so much progress in 2021 that it was kind of a nonstop whirlwind of having as much markets and setting up this pilot line and this new facility and establishing a research lab and bringing on a big engineering team. So much happened. And now we get to realize the end products of what we’re doing. So it’s been a few weeks here, we’ll be launching three new SKU’s in the mainstream CPG market. So that’s brand new for us. And then we’ll be launching that along with — we’re really excited about that.
So it’ll be the new Rebellyous Tender, Rebellyous patty and then a replacement of the classic Rebellyous nugget, a new Rebellyous nugget, which I think people will love even more. So we’re launching three new SKU’s in the next few weeks. And so they’ll be a fun marketing campaign that is essentially — I don’t know what to say. It’s kind of Covid friendly because it was all filmed with the help of supporters and watch out for it. It’s pretty fun because you can’t really have advertising taste testing right now because it’s too dangerous given the pandemic. So we worked with a great group of people who are interested in helping spread the word from home. So that was kind of fun. So that’s pretty exciting.
And then we are finishing up installation of a really amazing production line in our production part of our company bringing on more and more fantastic production workers and technicians who are really starting to realize the scale up of these new products and the products that we had ready for last year, which was with a national school lunch program nugget that could be used in the federal government’s national school lunch program and child nutrition program. And so that’s a really important product too, because as schools do come back online, we’re hoping to finally get to see that out in the market because we launched it, I think a week before the pandemic started. So it was like couldn’t have been worse timed, but who knew there was going to be a global pandemic?
And then on top of that, in our technology development, we are rapidly prototyping a bunch of new pieces of equipment that seriously reduce the labor of making plant based meat. So essentially automated tools, continuous production tools, tools that have less than half or not even half, like a fraction of the sanitation time to get them pristine clean. And these are all really important things when it comes to manufacturing, is that you got to have tools that work for you and not that you work for them. They shouldn’t cause you more problems. They should cause you less. And that’s why we’re really excited about getting those tools fully prototyped, put together and showing that we can fully automate dough making, which we’re fairly certain we’re on track to do. So 2021 is when we get to see all of that realized and it’s all happening at once in 20,000 square feet west Seattle. So it’s busy.
Diana Fryc: Well so great. I am just super excited. I mean, I think I met with Kristie last year maybe a little bit longer than a year ago, and I was excited about what you guys are doing then and been watching you all along and really excited about what you’re doing and just the way that you’re looking at the opportunity that this is more than just an initiative to make a lot of money. You’re really serving an audience that really can use that healthier lifestyle and you’re pointing at them is really great.
We’re just about done. There’s always these really fun questions I like to ask at the very end, first of all, and you’ve shared so many facts, but I wonder, is there kind of, I like to call it a happy hour fact that you can share with us. Is there something that you like to share about your business or the industry that people might find interesting? And it’s just an easy sound bite to share?
Christie Lagally: I think I already said it, is it okay?
Diana Fryc: Of course.
Christie Lagally: Well, for me, one of the most interesting things about the plant based meat industry, not the plant based foods, but plant based meat is that if you look at it from a totally equalized market, meaning everybody in the US could buy these products, everybody would only get one plant based meal per year. It’s unfortunate and it makes me think about like how rare it is to be able to get like wind power in your house or solar power, it’s like these things do take time and maybe they shouldn’t take as much time as they do, but they do. I like to just kind of think about it as so much of societal change is also about opportunity for consumers.
We want people to do something different, like maybe drive their car less or choose a different option for their transportation or choose a different option for their meal or just treat themselves healthier in general. And I think the natural’s industry really believes is, it really is about giving people those opportunities, because otherwise, even I don’t eat very well if I don’t have access. And I think that so much advocacy that has been done either around, kind of the green movement or other things like that has somewhat kind of put it on the shoulders of consumers to make better choices. And that’s fantastic from a kind of like a focal point of view that we’re all like educated and can look for recycled paper and try to avoid plastic and things like that. But if it’s not available, if we don’t have it right at our fingertips, oftentimes most of us won’t make that choice just because we’re just kind of boxed into a corner sometimes.
You’re at the airport, you still need to eat lunch and whatever’s there, is what’s there. So I really do believe in the power of companies to take a moral stance on a lot of the issues that we all care about because they’re not that disparate. I think there’s nobody who’s like, “Yes, more plastic in the ocean.” There’s nobody fighting for the vast majority. There are industries that obviously do have to change oil and plastic. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t change into something better. And there’s really interesting opportunities if we think of industry not just as a way to enrich ourselves, but as a way to enrich the world and to enrich our future.
Diana Fryc: Well, along the route then what other brands or trends do you have your eye on? Who are you watching right now?
Christie Lagally: I’ve always been a big sideline fan of solar energy. Actually, are you asking me in food space?
Diana Fryc: Just anything.
Christie Lagally: I’m a big fan of the foods, the energy space in terms of just really kind of democratizing the issue of energy. And I think the more that we invest into solar really does do that. It’s one of the areas of energy production that makes it possible for it to happen on large and small scales, which you can kind of do with wind energy as well, but not quite as well as you could do with solar energy and put in small products. And then the other area that I’m absolutely fascinated with and maybe one day I’ll start a company around this is essentially universal access to birth control and manufacturing of birth control, because I think that more than anything else, the more we give people the option to choose their families and when they want to have families, that can be very much a product problem, trying to make sure that people can have affordable birth control or the right type of birth control. And I think that being able to make sure that particular issue is also democratized, scaled, effective worldwide can go a really, really long way to addressing social justice and climate change issues.
And I’m starting to see more and more nonprofits talk about the issue of giving both men and women the ability to control their own reproduction. So I really hope one day and not even actually just that, even as wildlife specialist, giving us the opportunity to even provide it for situations where we’ve got wildlife conflicts.
So birth control can be a really, really powerful way of essentially kind of reducing overall harm if harm is happening with wildlife or just giving people true freedom to live their lives in the way they would like to live their lives so that they can choose when they have families and things like that. So worldwide, that isn’t universal. It may be a little more familiar to Americans, but not worldwide.
Diana Fryc: Along that line, are there any other women leaders or any women kind of rising stars that you are interested in elevating or that you’re just following along? It doesn’t matter what industry either.
Christie Lagally: Yeah, let me think about the rising star question and. I do have a friend who runs also a plant based foods company who I’ve been really, really impressed in her ability to set up a manufacturing facility, we kind of go through similar things at the same time. I really do feel like she’s also a rising star in the alternatives to dairy. It’s Spero Foods and always been really, really excited to watch her grow. And she’s one of those people who cares about all the issues we all care about. But at the same time, Spero is kind of a different type of plant based food. They make their products out of seed and see the opportunity to kind of work up the supply chain when it comes to alternative proteins and alternative fats and things like that.
So I love those kinds of companies that kind of not only think about what their product is, but where it’s really well sourced. And so, Phaedra is the CEO of Spero Foods, and I’ve always been a big fan of her. We actually went through a company together, but would have been a big fan of her no matter what, because of that broader thinking is, I think, really, really powerful.
Diana Fryc: Well, how are you keeping sane these days?
Christie Lagally: 2020 was a hard year for everybody. It was a hard year for a company. We ran into a lot of other roadblocks besides just pandemic. For me personally, I had two really, really tragic deaths in my family almost simultaneously, and it was really rough. And I only mention that because it just made the year even harsher. And I know a lot of people lost loved ones last year. So I think one of the things that came to mind was really understanding the power of mentors. I think I’ve really learned last year that even if I have to ask for help every single day, I should ask for help every single day. And I know where we have a little bit of video here, but I even have this right on my desk that says, every hour, ask for help. And I think that’s important because it’s so easy for us as women to just be like, “Well, I just asked for help. I shouldn’t ask again.”
But when you’re doing a lot, you might need to ask for help a lot. And I do. I ask for help all the time. And then sometimes I get scared and I don’t do it for like two weeks or a month and I’m like, “Oh, I really need to just ask for more help.”
Diana Fryc: Somebody told me one time this thing, and I don’t know if this will help you or not in that or help somebody who might be listening, but I remember saying, “Well, I don’t like to ask for help.” And they said, “If you don’t ask for help, you deny somebody the opportunity to help you.” And we as humans like to help. And so they could just framed it up as, by you asking for help actually, you get to help somebody else just by the simple ask. And I was like, “Oh, totally new perspective on asking for help. Totally new.”
Christie Lagally: So very, very true, and I think that there are often so many opportunities to be impactful in the world and if we don’t get to engage with each other.
So I think people do really benefit when they’ll be happy to help with that, just the opportunity. I know that’s how I feel when people come to me.
Diana Fryc: Before we go, if somebody wanted to reach out to you, do you have a preferred method or are you a LinkedIn person or do you prefer they go through your website?
Christie Lagally: Yeah, you’re welcome to use LinkedIn to get to me, to reach out to me personally, that that seems to be a really, really good way. And we also have an firstname.lastname@example.org that they’re welcome to reach out if they have questions about the company or anything like that.
Diana Fryc: Wonderful. Well, thank you. That’s the end of our time. Thank you so much for joining me today. And I thank you so much for the work that you were literally doing. I know Kristie well, she’s probably cringing when she hears me use the word literally right now. But I literally mean literally and I really look forward to a drink or just the next time that we connect together. Thank you so much.
Christie Lagally: I would love that.
Diana Fryc: Well, we’re so close by. Let’s make that happens post Covid, of course, but we can make that happen.
This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural’s brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.