ASHEVILLE – Back in 2014, Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky pooled a bit of savings and rolled a cooler full of “made-from-scratch” plant meat to their local Asheville farmer’s market.
As it turns out, there were a lot of people interested in meat made from plants.
“We sold out on the first day,” they recalled.
Fast-forward to today: No Evil Foods, the company founded on the mission to empower people to make positive choices for themselves, the planet, and the welfare of animals through artisan plant meat, is now available in over 5,500 stores nationwide at retailers like Whole Foods, Target and Wegmans, among others.
Their firm joins such big brands as plant protein stars Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat which are generating big headlines – and big sales.
WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam got the chance to ask Schadel for an update. Here’s what she had to say:
- Tell me about No Evil Foods, and how it got started.
No Evil Foods was born from a belief in the power of an individual (in our case, two) to enact global change, and it started several years before we ever made our first sale at an Asheville farmer’s market in 2014. People say that change starts in your own backyard, and for us, it literally did. What would eventually become No Evil Foods started with a homesteading adventure that led co-founder Mike Woliansky and I to take a deeper look into the origins of our food and other consumer purchases.
Mike and I parted ways for a bit, each on our own journeys (he was working on tour for musician Billy Squire while I spent seven months in South America volunteering on organic farms) and when we returned, we decided to move to a basement apartment on a dirt road in my hometown in rural upstate NY. It was there that we deepened our understanding of the role food and consumerism in general played in the sustainability of our planet and the health of our global community.
We began growing and making as much of our own food as possible. We sold our organic produce to local restaurants, learned season extension techniques to lengthen the short growing season so we had produce nearly year round, we began fermenting and exploring other methods of food preservation, and producing maple syrup from our trees each spring. To minimize consumer waste we were making as much for ourselves as possible, from deodorant to toothpaste. But one of the things we were still purchasing at the store was our plant-based meats.
When I started looking at that with the same consumer lens that we were applying to the rest of our purchases, we began having our reservations about them. We noticed that not only did they underperform from my standards as a passionate home cook, but they were made with some seriously processed, sorta sketchy ingredients. We knew that animal agriculture was the leading cause of carbon climate, we know that the standard American diet was making our communities sick, but we also knew that people LOVE meat – the texture and taste of it – and that if we were going to have a fighting chance of impacting either of those areas, then there needed to be a healthier meat-alternative that was good enough to appeal to everyone – even people who love meat.
I ran with that idea and applied the same DIY mindset that I’d learned through farming and growing up in the punk rock community and started making meat from plants myself.
A few years later, while living in Asheville, we decided we wanted to have a chance at making an even larger impact, so we rolled a cooker full of Plant Meat to the farmer’s market. We had no idea what to expect or whether anyone would even buy it. As it turns out, there were a lot of people interested in meat made from plants! We sold out our first day, within a few months we were sold at local independent grocery stores, and within seven months we were sold locally at Whole Foods. Nearly six years later, we’re in over 5,500 stores nationwide.
- How did you come up for the name of the company? What’s reaction been?
The name actually came to us before the idea to start a company did. We were traveling in Hanoi, Vietnam and were walking down a street not much wider than an alleyway. Every store was selling the same thing, hand carved wooden stamps, so many of them from each vendor that they spilled into the streets. I picked one up and saw three skulls etched into the wood, each with hands gesturing See No, Speak No, Hear No Evil. We loved food and joked that we could have a company called Eat No Evil, then immediately rescinded, and said no, that’s no good. What about No Evil Foods?
When we came closer to launching our business the name stuck. We learned that there’s a fourth lesser known wise monkey named Shizaru, commonly referred to as the “Do No Evil” monkey. It really fit with how we wanted to build our company and now that concept of do no evil has become a driving force for how we do business. It’s not really about doing “no evil” as that’s an unobtainable goal. It’s more of an aspiration. It’s about consciously choosing to “do good” as much as possible. For us it’s all about how we act on our mission to empower people to make better choices for themselves, the planet, or the welfare of animals through healthy food.
One of the best parts of being an entrepreneur is having the freedom to shape the world how you believe it should be. Some of the choices we’ve made aren’t always financially smart decisions in the life of an early start-up – prioritizing a living wage (certified since 2017), offering full benefits, providing paid time off for our hourly team members, donating 1 percent of our annual revenue charitable organizations and animals rescues, providing second-chance employment opportunities for people who were in the criminal justice system, etc., – but we see the success of our company as an opportunity to have a much louder and bigger voice for justice, and we’re damn well going to use it.
Our name is a conversation starter for sure. People connect and/or react to it and often make their own assumptions about what it means. But for better or for worse, it raises people’s eyebrows, it gets them talking, it prompts them to ask questions and examine their choices. We’re not afraid of a little controversy. Sometimes you gotta ruffle some feathers to shake up the status quo.
- Have you done any fundraising? If so, how much?
When we started No Evil Foods, we were making our Plant Meats at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a food incubator space on the campus of AB Tech in Asheville. It was an 800 square foot, shared use facility and it hosted us for the first five years in business. About four years in, despite our team creating some genius efficiencies, we really started to burst at the seams there. This led us to a small friends and family convertible note round following by a Series A to fund our transition to our own 16,000 square foot facility which we moved into in April 2019. We’ll likely raise our Series B in late 2020 to allow us to expand production even further, buy larger, more efficient equipment, and launch several new products over the next few years.
We’re looking at a huge opportunity in the marketplace to increase availability and access to our Plant Meats. Taking advantage of the opportunity to step up to that demand supports our mission to take animals off the plate and improve the health of people, planet, and animals in a massive way.
- How do you make meat from plants?
There’s been a lot of media attention around a few companies who are using some very interesting science to replicate the experience of animal meat, but that isn’t us. Because our mission is to better the health of people, planet, & animals, our focus is not only to create a similar taste and texture experience, but to do it with clean, recognizable ingredients and simple processes.
Where we really shine is the intersection of clean label plant-based food and true meat experience. No one else is doing that right now – certainly not with a label as clean as ours. We utilize the protein from European wheat to give us a stranded, whole muscle, texture and combine it with whole foods like chickpeas, kidney beans, tomatoes, and organic herbs and spices. We use the right combination of mixing techniques paired with a proprietary cooking process to turn plants into Plant Meat!
I set the bar for ingredient inclusion for our products like this: if an ingredient can’t be made from start to finish in a home kitchen, without a food science degree or a ton of specialized equipment, then you won’t find it in our products. How many other companies can say that?
- Where is your product currently being sold?
We’re now sold nationwide in over 5,500 retailers. Look for us in the produce or the frozen aisle at retailers like Whole Foods, Target, Wegmans, Walmart, Publix, Fresh Market, Kroger, and more, including a huge number of independent grocers and coops.
- What’s your vision for the company going forward?
We are at the brink of a climate crisis. How we eat has a huge impact on the world around us – that impact can be positive, or it can be negative – but we get the opportunity to make that choice at least three times a day. I want to keep making the best damn Plant Meat on the market and really show the world what we can do through the power of food. I want to continue to innovate clean label, minimally processed foods that not only serve the people who consume them, but support the world around them, too. In order to do all that, No Evil Foods will continue to grow, we’ll continue to innovate.
Mike and I are both committed to using the success of No Evil Foods as a platform to amplify our voices so we’ll continue to stand up and speak out on matters we feel are important. We’re going to keep working to build a company that defies odds and provides opportunity and we’re going to bust our butts to give this planet a fighting chance.