Dare to eat plant-based chicken?

Carina Linhares
August 26, 2022

It's time for this week's rundown of the My Biggest Lessons podcast! Chris Meade sat down with Ross Mackay, founder and CEO of Daring, to chat about what it takes to break into the plant-based chicken industry and the lessons that he's learned along the way. Check out the full episode below! ⤵

Plant-based foods are all the rage right now as consumers have the desire to eat clean and sustainably more than ever before.

This actually wasn’t the case for Ross Mackay, who had been eating plant-based food for almost 10 years. After having suffered a bad tennis injury when he was 16, Ross began to really focus on what he ate. He was told that animal proteins were the way to go to build strength and muscle, and shorten his recovery time. But when diving deeper into the animal protein market, especially beef, he saw a huge gap in a better-for-you product that didn't comprise 40-50 ingredients.

He turned his attention to the chicken market and why consumers loved it: the taste, the texture, and most importantly, the health benefits. From there, Ross created a 6-ingredient product that took on all the features of ordinary chicken but was instead plant-based.

Daring was launched at the beginning of 2020 and has since become available in over 10,000 retailers and 1000 restaurants. What started as a personal mission for Ross to rethink chicken is now being enjoyed by plant-based foodies nationwide. Wondering how Daring is featured in so many supermarkets and dining spots around the country? Keep reading to find out!

See ya in stores! 🛒

Daring’s slogan is “Plant Chicken for Chicken Lovers”, and rightfully so as it coincides with their supply and retail structure. Ross says, the focal point for reaching their core consumers is found within two channels: retail (like food and grocery) and food service (like restaurants). From the beginning, Ross made sure that Daring products could be found where chicken buyers go, including some of the largest grocery chains like Walmart, Kroger’s, and Target.

However, one thing Ross points out is that being placed on the shelf in a supermarket doesn't really mean anything at all. For a business, you need to build out a proper retail strategy to make those sales and to get customers to actually pick up your product off the shelf. Daring did just this with the help of their marketing lead, John. Having previously worked at KIND Foods, John knew exactly how to build brand awareness and drive retail velocity really well, all while helping split the marketing teams across specific ROI and shopping tactics to drive in-store sales and brand building (like celebrity campaigns; hey, Kourtney and Travis!).

As for the food service aspect, a large percentage of their business will be focused on continuing to grow their presence in restaurants around the US next year. Ross says that having Daring in restaurants has been super successful for them, especially because having their name branded right on the menu drives retail velocity. It’s a chain reaction: the consumer tries the product at one of these restaurants, the chef prepares the (plant-based) chicken really well, and then they're compelled to buy the product themselves to continue including it in their meals at home.

Breaking into the food business 💥

Although Daring was a hit from the get-go, Ross still needed to learn and work through navigating a new food business during a global pandemic. If you’re trying to make your way in the food industry, Ross insists that you have to be super nimble, especially with supply chain issues and other things like COVID still moving the goalposts of your business plan without you having any control over it.

Remember that Daring was founded at the start of 2020, and Ross was only focused on selling into restaurants, which were pretty much shut down early in the year. It was definitely not a good time to sell into the restaurant space! Because of this dilemma, Ross had to pivot away from his initial idea and go hard into retail, which later brought the company the most success. Being flexible, malleable, open-minded, and able to change direction when required is super important for their strategy.

It’s all about teamwork 🙌

In terms of building a strong team, Ross follows a method of hiring on aptitude vs. experience. On a resume, 20 years in a certain field might look good, but with a new company, is the candidate gonna roll up their sleeves, hit the streets, and help grind to build up the business? In addition to this, it’s important to shape the company with the people you want to stick around for 5-10+ years. Making your values clear will make your team feel good and happy to perform their best.

Another important takeaway is by also having people on your team that aren't afraid to tell you that what you're doing might not be a good idea for the business. Encouraging open and direct communication is key to success in the company. Every person on your team, including yourself, is going to be continuously learning new strategies and finding areas to improve, so it pays off to allow others to have their ideas heard.

Want to learn more about ecommerce growth through the personal trials and obstacles of industry professionals? Subscribe to the My Biggest Lessons podcast on YouTube, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.