Nick Hazell – V2Food – Ep 20

Nick Hazell, CEO at V2Food

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Nick Hazell, from V2Food, who we will be talking to about how their plant-based meat products are helping reduce resource waste and influence sustainable food production.


[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hello, and welcome to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I’m joined by Nick Hazell from V2Food who I’ll be talking to about how their plant-based meat products are helping reduce resource waste and influence sustainable food production.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Thanks for joining me, Nick. How are you today?

[00:00:26] Nick Hazell: I’m really well. Keeping dry.

[00:00:28] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Trying your best, trying your best. Well, before we get into it, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do and maybe a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know. 

[00:00:40] Nick Hazell: Yeah, so I’m Nick Hazell. I’m the founder and CEO of V2Food, which is now I guess Australia’s leading plant-based meat company. And it’s a company that we founded about three years ago. Um, very much a startup, but we have a very big ambition, which is based around planetary sustainability problem, which is essentially caused by our love of animal, uh, meat, um, which we’re trying to solve.

So I’m sure we’re going to get into that. In terms of a fun fact about me. Um, most people don’t know.

I sing in a choir and I’m about to give a performance in the town hall of Mozart’s requiem with the Sydney Philharmonic. 

And, uh, I’ve always sung right from a treble in a, in a boys’ choir, um, all of my life, and the only time in my life that I don’t think about V2Food and saving the planet is probably when I’m singing. 

[00:01:34] Mitchell Denton: Mm. Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. We, uh, we’ve had a few previous guests that are operatic singers or musicians, so there seems to be a bit of a reoccurring thread here. It’s quite interesting. 

But on that note, let’s talk farm to fork. Getting into what you were talking about before. I’m just wondering what was the journey that led to the creation of your plant-based meat company?

[00:01:57] Nick Hazell: Um, essentially I was, uh, most of my career. I’ve been R and D director for big food multinationals like Mars and PepsiCo. And I had actually stopped doing that and I had changed my career and I was a consultant. I was an academic, uh, I started a degree in UTS around innovation, which is essentially what I’ve been trying to do most of my life, um, called bachelor of creative intelligence and innovation at UTS.

And I was consulting to people like the CSIRO to some big food companies around innovation and, um, innovation process and technology roadmapping, and all of the things that companies do to try and figure out how to innovate. 

And then I was actually asked by a group of people. One was, um, headed up the Food and Ag division of CSIRO. The other was venture capital. And the third was a guy called Jack Cowen, who is also an entrepreneur, but he’s the guy behind Hungry Jacks. 

Um, and they were asking me was I aware of this thing happening around the world? There was some companies in the US that were making some noise around plant-based meat.

Would I be interested in investigating, setting up a company, um, working together with the CSIRO? So I took a, a little bit of a look at it for about a month, uh, looked at the reason why this should be important. Is this something that I wanted to devote, a good portion of the rest of my life towards, um, and is it going to be useful?

Is this going to be a thing or is this a sideshow? Um, I convinced myself that this really was a thing. And said, said yes. And that was pretty much three years ago. 

And we formed the company on the 17th of January, three years ago, that’s a 2019. Actually on the same day that the EAT-Lancet Report was published.

And, and for those in the industry, EAT-Lancet was probably the first academic publication, which kind of married. It answered the question. What should we be eating? This is as a species on the planet in terms of our nutritional needs and what can the planet sustain? What is possible for us to eat?

And it came up with a report which pretty much said, you should be eating lots of fruit and vegetables. Well duh, we’ve been told that for a long time. but also what it said is that meat should really be reduced. In fact, you shouldn’t be eating much more than 14 grams of meat a day.

And I was thumbing through my recipe books and looking for recipes, you know, take 14 grams of meat, doesn’t really exist. 

So, and essentially the reason is, is because, meat is incredibly inefficient in terms of its use of resources. To the extent that if we all, ate the same amount of meat as Australians eat or, or Americans or any developed society.

We’d run out of land completely. You know, we really do need two planets worth of resources. And the bad news is, is that, um, our consumption of meat goes up as we get wealthier. And we’re getting wealthier. 

Um, so there is very clear maths, you just have to join the dots to say we’re going to run out of all resources and we will destroy the planet if we carry on the way we are at the moment. 

And, and that’s basically the motivation behind V2 Food. The other thing about it is that I’m not a vegan. I’m kind of an exception actually, in this business, most CEOs of plant-based and cell-based companies are vegan. I really struggled being a vegan. I had a go when I was a student and I found it too hard because I just enjoyed the taste of meat too much.

And I wasn’t prepared to, you know, I wasn’t so committed or for whatever reason. And I think that the journey that I’m on actually mirrors a lot of people. Um, it’s really hard to have a diet that is delicious and satisfying when you don’t have meat. So our job is to make sure that we can have meat.

But it’s made in a different way and we still get the same deliciousness and the same, dopamine rewards that we get from meat, but it’s made directly from plants. And that means that we’ll be up to 20 times more efficient than if we get our meat through an animal. 

And that’s the difference. If we just do that, then that’s going to make an enormous impact on the sustainability of the planet. 

[00:06:00] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, that’s great. You You mentioned earlier the alternative protein space in the US. There’s obviously some international competition that has cropped up over the years. What would you say separates V2Food from other alternative protein companies?

[00:06:16] Nick Hazell: Yeah. Absolutely. This movement started in the US with some very famous companies, like Beyond and Impossible 13 years ago, I think now and they sort of were the trailblazers initially. I think the difference really is just acknowledging that that for the vast majority of the human population, me included, we don’t want to spend more money on meat.

In fact, when I was a big meat-eater, at least a third of my grocery bill would be meat. Meat’s very expensive and I would be buying meat on special offer because I didn’t want to pay full price. Cause it, you know, it just felt too, too much. 

And given that the vast majority of the population in the world would eat way more meat if they could afford it. It seems a little bit weird for us to expect people to pay double for plant-based meat when they really would much rather just buy normal meat.

[00:07:06] Mitchell Denton: Yeah.

[00:07:06] Nick Hazell: And for us getting the cost of plant-based down. So it’s competitive and actually is cheaper than animal-based meat is absolutely important. We buy food for two reasons. One, because it tastes delicious and it has to taste delicious. I mean, plant-based has to taste better than, than animal based meat and it’s gotta be affordable in whatever market you’re operating at. 

Otherwise, what you’re selling to really is, is a, a niche which will be wealthy vegans and that’s important.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m deeply appreciative of vegans and wealthy vegans who buy our product and they do buy our product. But if we don’t get our proposition attractive for normal people and also actually for, for people who are aspiring to eat more meat, because currently they’re economically unable to eat the amount of meat they want. 

Then we won’t solve the problem on a planetary scale. You know, we’ll be dealing with a 1% and we need to deal with the 99%. So I think that’s the big thing that V2Food is focused on, right from the very start where we’re trying to figure out how can we do this and be a sustainable business economically, as well as environmentally. 

[00:08:26] Mitchell Denton: Yeah.

[00:08:26] Nick Hazell: But deliver a proposition, which is cheaper than meat and more delicious than meat. And we’re certainly there in terms of the price we’re already, uh, comparable to beef in the Australian market. Um, and in terms of taste, we are making breakthroughs all the time and, uh, we’re getting very close to the point in which.

To be honest, you would rather eat V2 than meat. And that’s when you hit those two parameters, then I think there’s a tipping point towards mass adoption, which is what we want to see. 

[00:08:56] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, that’s amazing. You definitely got your work cut out for you with an Australian audience. So that’s quite an achievement. 

Also being an Australian-based company. I see that expansion into Asia and Europe has begun. Have there been any exciting partnerships that have occurred during this expansion?

[00:09:13] Nick Hazell: Yeah, all of our work is based around partnerships, to be honest, you know, we’re partnering with CSIRO and the universities and, and really getting the science from the scientists and, and getting it into products as quickly as we possibly can. 

We partner with, um, meat industry. For example, if we’re going to scale rapidly. Our job is to, is to work with the people who already have routes to market who already have factories. So we partner, um, in order to get to scale quickly. 

And similarly, when we go out into, into Asia, we’re looking for people who are already selling already have a route to market already selling to hundreds of millions of people and working with them. 

Because if we were to do this on our own, it’s going to be decades. So our job for example, in China, uh, we’re working with a, a steamed bun company that supplies 30,000 restaurants, they’re the biggest steamed bun company in China. And we’re working with them. Uh, we’re replacing the meat that they are using.

With our meat, in this case, it’s pork. Um, so it’s a V2 pork instead of a pork product. And it goes into their steamed buns in their factory without any real change from their perspective. And then they will then be able to get that product into distribution points that will reach millions of consumers.

There is no way we could have done that without collaborating. And I think that’s the trick here. Um, seek collaborations, work with the meat industry. Don’t create enemies. We need more meat, we don’t need to destroy the meat industry. We need to actually more meat on the planet. So let’s, let’s work with existing infrastructure and that way we can scale really, really quickly. 

[00:10:56] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, no, that’s great. This is quite a refreshing outlook on a lot of plant-based alternative meats. You often quite hear the other narratives, so.

[00:11:04] Nick Hazell: Look, we’re humans, we get into tribes. That’s what we do. We support a football team at the moment I support Liverpool. It means I hate anybody who’s, you know, related to Manchester United, you know, and I watch it happen and you even see yourself do it. And you think, what is that about?

You know, your best friends suddenly is your deepest enemy. Um, we do, we really need to understand our very human behaviours and we work with that.

So I don’t want this to be a tribal, you know, vegans versus the rest of the world. Let’s all accept. We have a massive sustainability problem that if we don’t face into in the next few years, we’re toast, we are in deep, deep trouble.

So let’s unite around sustainability and wouldn’t it be great if we had a sustainable meat, as well as plant-based, that would be, that would be great as well. So I’m not as radical in that sense. Um, but I think I am quite radical. It’s just that I’m trying not to be tribal. 

[00:12:01] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely. Absolutely. What do you think is the biggest challenge you have with your products right now?

[00:12:08] Nick Hazell: We’ve got so many challenges, um, to get to scale. I mean, the geopolitics aside, going into Asia and, and focusing on China. I must be, I must be mad. It’s it’s the most risky strategy, but you can’t ignore a billion people increasing their meat consumption so dramatically.

Um, so there’s, there’s that? Um, I think that we, certainly there are people who are scared. The meat industry is in Australia is concerned. Um, and there are some elements in the meat industry that would like to see labelling changes. 

For example, in Australia, can we call plant-based meat, meat? Can we call a plant-based sausage, a sausage? 

So those arguments need to be thought through and, and, um, we’re, we’re obviously engaged in that process. I think that, uh, it’s important that we maintain momentum. Clearly the goal here is to be a really large and impactful company in a really short amount of time, but it’s always about building confidence.

Um, we don’t get big before we get medium-sized and we don’t get medium-sized before we get through some of the barriers that we are now. So maintaining that momentum is really important as a startup. 

But on the whole, um, we’ve got a lot of tailwinds, um, people do want this to succeed. Everybody’s looking at their diet, they want to reduce their meat consumption. 

I think the awareness around sustainability is gaining traction and you see it around millennials in particular, millennials are really voting with their feet and they are our biggest customers at the moment. So I think that the, the tailwinds currently are powerful.

And of course, we’re going to get startup problems. And of course we’re going to have difficulties, but so far we think we’re on the right track. 

[00:13:57] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. That’s fantastic. So from where you stand, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points or blind spots in the food industry?

[00:14:06] Nick Hazell: I think with all things, uh, you must never, ever lose sight of your consumer. It’s as simple as that, the moment a food industry, and I’ve had to experience for, for 25 years designing food products, um, it go with what people want. Um, and food is a really interesting space because sometimes we talk about, I can remember the times where people were saying, “oh, people are gonna be eating space, food, you know, the Apollo mission, we’ll be taking this stuff and that’s what we’re going to be eating.”

And I was thinking, well, I, what I like to eat is what my mum cooked for me. And actually what she liked to eat is what her grandma cooked for her. And, and food is so deeply embedded in culture, it’s deeply embedded in our, our own stories. You know, what did we like as we grew up? 

It’s really important for us to, to not try and be different. Um, we’ve got to fit in with what people like to eat. And I think the biggest mistake is for us to convince ourselves that, you know, all we need to do is for people to change their diets and everything will be okay. 

Well, no, we have to supply food to them that people love to eat and at the same time, is sustainable. And at the same time is nutritious and let’s not pretend that people are going to change their diets for the sake of the planet. That’s on us to design food, which is consistent with sustainability on this planet and nutrition. Um, it’s not for consumers to, to to begrudgingly buy a product that’s too expensive because they worry about their health. Otherwise we’d all be eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

[00:15:45] Mitchell Denton: Um, yeah. 

[00:15:47] Nick Hazell: And we’re not. So, so let’s get real about it. And, and I think that’s the biggest aha for me. But it does put all the responsibility kind of on us to deliver what consumers want to eat. 

[00:15:57] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. Is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

[00:16:05] Nick Hazell: Well, we’ve identified what we think to be the key areas that need to be resolved. So we’re very excited that the work that we’re doing in the colour space, for example. So how do we get the realistic colour? You know, red meat, you cook it and it’s starts off red and then it changes colour while you cook it.

It’s, it’s, it’s marvelous, but no one really thinks about it. What’s the chemistry happening there? So that’s a journey we’ve been investing in, in solving that problem and we’ll be announcing some stuff. Um, I’m not going to tell you when I’m going to be announcing, but will be announcing some stuff on how we’re cracking that.

We’ve got IP and patents in a number of areas around getting the texture right in our product. Uh, meat is, is so complicated. We don’t really think about it. We just say, “oh meat is meat.” Well, it’s not. Meat is a collection of lots of different things in an animal. And an animal is not homogeneous.

There’s all sorts of bits there that go into, the mince that you will be cooking every day. You don’t particularly want to think about it too much. But um, you’ve got to understand that there’s a lot going on. And our job is to reproduce that in a good way. Obviously there are probably some things that you might want to leave out in your plant-based meat.

But in general, you’re, you’re looking for that complexity. And a lot of our innovation has been in solving that and the other bit, which I think is probably more systemic and that’s ultimately what we’re doing is we’re converting plant protein into plant-based meat. 

Where does our protein come from? How is it grown? Is it grown sustainably? Does it give us the quality that we want and the attributes we’re after is, taste. Interestingly in this space, it’s not really taste. It’s kind of lack of taste that you’re after, because meat doesn’t really taste of very much and it certainly doesn’t taste a Pea nor does it taste of Soy.

And nor does it taste of any legume you can think of. It’s actually tastes extremely clean until you cook it and you start developing these lovely, meaty flavours that we just, you know, we die for. We, we should love these things. So, um, having the right quality protein in the first place, grown in a sustainable way is something which is, uh, needs to be faced into.

And that’s also something that we’re doing in Australia. Looking at, uh, growing protein with varieties from CSIRO, which are high protein, low in flavour, and looking at extracting that protein and the process, which gives you a product, which delivers you all those attributes you want in terms of flavour, but also there’s other attributes that you want, but you don’t really think about, which is sort of nutrition and fibre, and all the things you’d want to be in a staple product for all Australians and ultimately for, for all markets in the world. 

[00:18:47] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. no, that’s great. What’s one thing you wish you had known when you first started V2Food?

[00:18:55] Nick Hazell: It’s funny. Actually, someone asked me this question before and I, it really, really stumped me and I still don’t really have an answer because the true answer is when you do a startup, um, your biggest weapon is the fact that you’re stupid and, and, you know, very little, because if you knew all of the obstacles and all of the pain that you’d have to go through, you probably would be running away.

Um, so, uh, in some ways, you know, having, having a naivety, I think Steve jobs talked about being foolish and, and it really is an advantage because what you do is you, you know what you’re after, and then you go for it and to be honest, there are some things which are roadblocks which you wish you have known them before you actually invested some time and effort.

Um, you didn’t realise that something really was impossible and there’s a few of those, but to be honest, there’s more things that we’ve challenged. Other people have said, “Well, no, that’s not the way we do it. And that is impossible.” 

But actually, as long as we’re not breaking any rules of physics, quite often, it’s not impossible. It’s just that that’s not the way things are done. And, uh, knowing too much would mean that you wouldn’t even try. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna say, I’m glad that I was ignorant and foolish when I started because otherwise we would never have got to where we are today. 

[00:20:13] Mitchell Denton: Definitely. You kind of have to bang into a few walls, unfortunately to see some progress. That’s pretty cool. So Nick, we are coming to a close, but before we do, I just wanted to ask you, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?

[00:20:30] Nick Hazell: Eating meat is probably, I mean, it’s, it’s something that humans do we’re born to do it. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it. We’re hardwired to love meat, but it is probably about a third of the problem. If you’re worried about the planet, worried about all of the things that are happening in terms of carbon and deforestation and, human nutrition, et cetera, et cetera.

Meat is a third of the problem. So finding a solution is really important. And, um, what I would encourage people to do is find out what’s available. Take a look at what you’re eating and join us on the V2 journey, because it’s probably the single biggest thing that any individual can do.

Um, you know, they could buy a Tesla perhaps, but maybe most people aren’t going to be able to do that. The single biggest thing they can do is to look at what they eat and make some modifications. And V2’s job is to make it as easy and as affordable as it can possibly be so that you don’t have to give up on anything.

And you might just feel a little bit good about yourself because you’re going to do something good for yourself and good for the planet. 

[00:21:38] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely, very practical advice. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Nick, for joining me today.

[00:21:47] Nick Hazell: Thank you. It was a pleasure. 

[00:21:50] Mitchell Denton: If you’d like to know more about Nick and V2Food, check out the link in the description of this episode, make sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends. Until next time you’ve been listening to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork a PostHarvest podcast.

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