Co-founded by Iona Campbell (CEO) and her sister-in-law Kalie Marder (COO) in early 2019, Renegade Food makes organic plant-based spicy chorizo (Spanish-style smoked sausage); smoky soppressata (Calabrian style salami); and sweet Toscana (Tuscan-inspired salami) using a base of wheat gluten, olive oil, and red miso paste, and a wide variety of herbs and spices.
The refrigerated products – which recently launched direct to consumer via the Renegade Food website – are currently manufactured at a commercial kitchen in Sonoma County, with a new production facility in Petaluma due to come online by the end of the year, said Campbell, who is currently raising money for a seed round.
“We’re also working on greater shelf-stability while still maintaining our clean labels and commitment to whole food ingredients.”
Culturing and smoking
The products contain liquid smoke, but are also smoked ‘for real’ using applewood, said Campbell.
“We also play with fermentation, I’ve been very into fermenting different tempehs, and between culturing and smoking, those are two techniques where we’ve got a proprietary process that really enhances the texture and flavor of our ingredients. There are some other brands out there doing vegan chorizo such as Tofurky and No Evil, but we’re getting a lot of positive feedback that people love our products, plus we’re also organic, which is a point of differentiation.”
At $39.95 for a bundle of three salamis, the price tag is higher than conventional premium charcuterie, but should come down as the company moves to a larger facility and scales up, she said.
Gourmet salami… that happens to be made entirely from plants
While Renegade Food spells out on the front of the pack that the products are ‘made entirely from plants,’ the packaging and branding emphasize the products’ gourmet credentials and flavor profiles, and target anyone looking for premium charcuterie products, rather than narrowly focusing on vegans and vegetarians.
“We’re targeting flexitarians, meat eaters who are trying to eat less meat or just want to try something new,” said Campbell, a long-time vegetarian turned vegan with a background in operations and business development who started formulating the products for friends and family a decade ago before deciding to take the plunge and launch a business in 2019.
“We get feedback that this has more flavor and is even more enjoyable than traditional meat salami.”
The brand has been helped and supported by many people along the way, but one of the most instrumental has been Ryan Bethencourt - co-founder of petfood brand Wild Earth, partner at Babel Ventures and co-founder at IndieBio, a biology accelerator and early stage seed fund – who helped the company attract pre-seed funding from VegInvest, said Campbell.
“I met Ryan at a Future Food event; he tried the products and said they were amazing and became a mentor of sorts; he really encouraged me to just go for it and helped us map out how this all works; he also helped us get our first round of funding last November.
“We joined an incubator in Berkeley [the now-defunct Wild Studios, developed by Wild Earth and VegInvest], and got to work with all of these food scientists, understand how to launch a new food company, and scale it quickly. Ryan was so generous with all of his staff and co-founders.”
The go-to-market strategy
Given the company’s proximity to wine country, it made obvious sense to try and get the products onto charcuterie boards typically served with wine during tastings, said Campbell… who had a series of partnerships lined up at the beginning of the year… just in time for COVID-19 to descend upon the nation and thwart - temporarily at least - many of the startup's best-laid plans.
“We were due to launch in March 2020, and had received orders for the week that everything shut down, so we pivoted and decided to launch online instead. However, many wineries are now open again. We’ve also built a lot of relationships, so we’ve got an upcoming collaboration with a vegan wine club, we’re also excited to get in with some industry-leading websites, creameries and restaurants, some delis and some grocers.”
'We’re looking to take over the deli space'
“We’re looking to take over the deli space, and we’ve other salami varietals and deli items, different cold cuts, in the pipeline, as investors are looking for that bigger picture plan for the company,” added Campbell.
“There’s so many plant-based burgers and sausages out there that need cooking, but we’re providing cold cuts that you can just take out of the fridge, throw into a sandwich, and take on a hike, or take to work.”
Right now, the focus is on moving to the new facilty, spreading the word, and continuing to explore new partnership opportunities, said Campbell, who is in talks with a vegan cheese company about a potential collaboration.