Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Reed.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
We started our parent company (Chicago Vegan Foods) back in 2001 as a way to further our vegan activism. Our founder Ryan Howard came from a background in food process engineering, having put time in at General Mills honing his craft. Spending his days at General Mills and working nights and weekends on a business plan and setting the early stages for our manufacturing facility (in the Western Suburbs of Chicago). All with the goal of saving animals and educating consumers through great tasting vegan food!
We launched our first product, Temptation Vegan Ice Cream, in 2001 as a foodservice product, eventually selling it retail at Whole Foods and other natural retailers. In 2007, we launched our second product line, Teese Vegan Cheese into retail and servicing pizza places all over the country. We spent the next few years formulating and preparing for our biggest product to date, Dandies Marshmallows. We launched Dandies to consumers and bakeries all over the country in 2009.
Dandies Marshmallows continue to grow the company and our footprint in the retail world. Dandies are made with all-natural ingredients, are gelatin free, kosher certified, and Non-GMO Project Verified. We continue to bring great joy to people looking for a better marshmallow to treat themselves and their families to s’mores, hot cocoa, crispy treats, and snacks!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
If the road has been smooth, something would be wrong that we’ve been ignoring….
Our biggest challenges have been around being a privately funded company. We continue to grow and gain market share for Dandies Marshmallows, but it’s come at the expense of having to cut our other retail lines (we continue to market and sell Temptation Vegan Ice Cream and Teese Vegan Cheese in foodservice). Was incredibly tough to make a decision to cut product lines that were growing, but were too resource intensive given our size to continue with, given the trajectory we’ve been on with Dandies Marshmallows.
Another challenge has been scaling a product that is so novel and unique in the market. There’s no guidebook for making vegan marshmallows. By removing the gelatin, we put ourselves in a position where there’s much to learn about making a product without its key ingredient!
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Chicago Vegan Foods – what should we know?
The core principle that drives our company is ethical veganism. We’re not vegan as a diet, we are driven by making changes to the food system to save animals. The core team behind Chicago Vegan Foods have nearly 100 collective years of veganism under our belt (with most having 20+ years each)!
For many years, vegan food had gotten a bad reputation as food made to mimic traditional foods that really didn’t hit the mark. Anybody remember brown soy milk? We do! We set out with the goal of showing people that you can have vegan alternatives to the traditional foods you have known and loved in the past, that can be just as tasty with all the same textures and mouth feel that you’re used to.
There is nothing more disappointing than crappy vegan food.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There have been many companies and individuals from those companies that we’ve crossed paths with that have shown us that it’s possible to grow and not sell out your core ethics. Locally I’d look at Enjoy Life as having been a big influence.
Our team has been a big driving factor. We’re a relatively small company (less than 30 total employees). We’ve seen many grow ethically and change their eating habits and ways of thinking about the food they eat and the decisions they make and how they impact the environment. It’s inspiring to know that we’ve been a part of that.
Finally, seeing our customers become educated and changing their habits as they learn more. Besides making the best quality product, it’s also our job to educate people about why the foods we make are important and they should consider us over the other (many times cheaper) options. Teaching our customers and seeing some make a permanent change to their life is one of the proudest parts of our jobs.
- Dandies Marshmallows – all natural, vegan, $4.99 retail. Available at Whole Foods, Plum Market, Mariano’s, and most natural & health food stores.
- Website: http://dandiesmarshmallows.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/mydandies
- Facebook: facebook.com/mydandies
- Twitter: twitter.com/mydandies
- Other: http://chicagoveganfoods.com