By Tracy Morin
We know that necessity is the mother of invention—and that’s certainly true for VEDGEco, the United States’ first nationwide wholesaler of 100% plant-based foods, headquartered in Kailua, Hawaii. The company was born when Trevor Hitch, founder and CEO, was working for a Hawaiian food company and witnessed how difficult it was for independent plant-based food brands to gain traction through national food distributors. “At the same time, I saw how challenging it was for independent restaurants to get access to quality plant-based products,” Hitch recalls. “That was my aha moment—I realized there was a need that wasn’t being met. That’s when VEDGEco was born.”
For Hitch, who has personally been 100% plant-based for more than 19 years (and in the food industry for more than a decade), VEDGEco began as a passion project and organically grew into something much bigger. Today, the company offers a carefully curated selection of versatile plant-based products in foam-free, recyclable and compostable packaging, to create as little environmental impact as possible. Meanwhile, as VEDGEco foods are available to consumers, restaurants and other foodservice industry businesses across the United States, Hitch asserts that his company is “on a mission to enable freedom of food choice at mealtime.”
Hitch notes that VEDGEco has been a purpose-driven business from the beginning. “We prioritize people, animals and the planet over profit,” he says. “We are especially focused on making it easier for independent restaurants to add plant-based options to their menus. This approach not only brings in new customers; it helps their bottom line as well.” (See the below sidebar for some eye-opening stats on how plant-based is growing worldwide.)
VEDGEco stocks a range of 100% plant-based alternatives to foods like meats, cheeses, seafood, eggs and butter, and all products are available to restaurants and consumers. Its VEDGEco Plus program, designed specifically for wholesale and foodservice partners, offers volume discounts and free shipping on case packs. “Since we launched nationally, we’ve seen exponential growth, with extremely high numbers of repeat customers,” Hitch says. “Many of our independent restaurant customers have told us that the response to new plant-based dishes on their menus has been very positive and resulted in increased sales and foot traffic.”
In the pizza world specifically, several of VEDGEco’s pizzeria customers have increased their plant-based cheese orders week over week due to the positive response from their guests. “Another restaurant customer told us that the response to plant-based dishes has been so good, they have now added plant-based versions of every animal-based dish on their menu,” Hitch reports. “Now, plant-based items make up the majority of their sales!”
Hitch explains that VEDGEco chooses to carry brands based on the quality of their products and consumer demand—and everything the company carries must pass a vigorous taste test conducted by its staff. Some current best sellers include BE-Hive Plant-Based Pepperoni, Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds, Blackbird Sausage Crumbles, All Vegetarian Drumsticks, ForA:Butter plant-based butter, All Vegetarian Vegan Bacon, JUST Egg, Impossible Burgers, and Plant Ranch Carne Asada.
And, to the joy of pizza lovers everywhere, VEDGEco offers a build-your-own pizza starter kit so that customers can customize the contents to their needs. “The future is plant-based, and pizza is no exception,” Hitch says. “Two of our most popular vegan products are BE-Hive Plant-Based Pepperoni and BE-Hive Garlic Chz Shreds [a garlic-flavored vegan mozzarella]. This dairy- and nut-free plant-based cheese alternative is packed with flavor that takes your pizza or Italian meal to the next level.”
As for the future of the plant-based/vegan movements, Hitch predicts continued growth. “Over the past few years, plant-based eating has exploded with demand and become more and more mainstream in many parts of the country,” he concludes. “People are opening up to the realities of the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat, and there’s a growing awareness about the horrors of factory farming and inhumane treatment of animals.
“All of these factors are contributing to more plant-based offerings, innovative products, and a growing demand for delicious plant-based dishes in restaurants. There is no limit to how much innovation we are going to see in the plant-based food industry—the future really is limitless.”
Key Stats: The Growth of Plant-Based
● The plant-based alternatives (to conventional animal foods) retail market is now worth more than $3.7 billion.
● According to Meticulous Research, the plant-based food market is expected to reach $74.2 billion by 2027.
● According to The Good Food Institute, adding plant-based entrées can provide an important point of differentiation for restaurants by adding interest to the menu, allowing for innovation, and aligning the restaurant brand with customer values around health and environmental sustainability.
● A 2018 study from Foodable Labs found that in just 12 months, restaurant owners experienced a 13% growth in business when adding vegan options.
VEDGEco prioritizes running a sustainable wholesale operation, so the company ships its plant-based products in foam-free, recyclable and compostable packaging to minimize environmental impact. “It’s also very important that our brand partners share the same level of respect for our planet as we do, and that’s why we only sell 100% plant-based brands,” Hitch adds. “We’re also continuously opening up additional distribution centers across the United States to minimize our product’s time in transit and further reduce our carbon footprint.” Finally, the company enforces a $100 order minimum, ensuring the boxes are fully packed to reduce split shipments and stay ice-cold during transit.