A vegan food retailer/distributor based in Hawaii is planning to expand to the mainland U.S. with an e-commerce service offering rapid delivery of bulk, frozen plant-based foods to both businesses and consumers.
VEDGEco Hawaii, which was launched last year in Kailua by brothers Trevor and Tyler Hitch to serve growing demand for plant-based foods in Hawaii, is planning to open two distribution facilities in the continental U.S. in the next two months, Trevor Hitch told Specialty Food News.
“We’ve chosen two strategic locations, basically one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, that will allow us the flexibility to ship in one to two days via ground,” he said.
The East Coast hub is scheduled to open Aug. 1, and the West Coast hub is slated to follow on Sept. 1. Hitch declined to reveal the exact locations of the two hubs, but said that VEDGEco would be able to reach 85-90 percent of the country from the facilities within two days. A third location could follow based on customer demand, he said.
The company is eschewing delivery via air because it is more harmful to the environment, Hitch explained. VEDGEco is also using environmentally friendly packaging and dry ice to ship its frozen orders for the same reason. Customers will be required to place a minimum order of $100.
The goal is to make plant-based foods more accessible by offering sharp pricing, Hitch explained. VEDGEco — which has been described as a “Costco for vegans” — will offer a wide range of plant-based foods in bulk from several top brands, including All Vegetarian, Alpha Foods, Beyond Meat, Daiya, Field Roast, Follow Your Heart, Gardein, Impossible, JUST, Lightlife, MorningStar Farms, Plant Ranch, and Tofurky.
“We’re trying to accommodate customers on an on-demand basis, whether it be chefs who need plant-based proteins for their menus, or heavy users who want these options for their families or their communities,” Hitch said. “We are trying to make it accessible and affordable to everyone.”
Hitch, who has been eating a plant-based diet himself for 18 years, said he hopes VEDGEco appeals to consumers with a range of dietary preferences.
“Even if they eat one plant-based meal a week, we’re stoked,” he said.
In Hawaii, customers have been about evenly divided between consumers and businesses, he said. Early on in the pandemic, Hawaii shuttered restaurants for indoor dining and issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from out of the state. That led to a sharp decline in VEDGEco’s foodservice business, but its direct-to-consumer business took off.
“It was basically 10 times the volume overnight,” Hitch said. “Individuals were panicking and looking for [savings], so we came onto the map very quickly.”
VEDGEco has also been receiving 20-30 requests per week from potential customers on the mainland seeking bulk orders, Hitch said. He’s hoping the new venture will be able to accommodate those customers and more.
The Hitch brothers can expect that competition will be fierce, said Bob Goldin, a partner at food industry consulting firm Pentallect.
“We know that the market [for plant-based foods} is growing, but when the market grows, the mainline players take notice,” he said. “Everyone from Whole Foods and Sprouts, Kroger, Walmart, Albertsons and Costco—they can very easily expand their offerings, including with family-sized bulk items.”
Launching the new venture with frozen foods and with the increased focus on sustainability present additional obstacles, Goldin said, citing the high costs involved in managing any type of perishable inventory.
“It’s a tough row to hoe,” he said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s a very narrow business with a high cost to operate.”
Hitch said he understands that shipping frozen foods will not be easy, and the company is being cautious about investing in infrastructure.
“Spending $100 million to build a fancy warehouse doesn’t help us at this point,” he said. “It’s not the right move.”