Aussies lose it over $1b burger empire
IT'S only been available for a few short weeks - but the Aussie company behind Hungry Jack's newest burger is already on track to become a billion-dollar business.
Last month, the fast-food giant's Rebel Whopper burger was launched with much fanfare - because while fans are convinced it tastes exactly like the real thing, it's actually entirely meat-free and made of legumes, sunflower oil and coconut fat.
The patty was created by v2food, a plant-based "meat" company that has partnered with the CSIRO, Main Sequence Ventures, and Jack Cowin's Competitive Foods Australia, which owns Hungry Jack's.
Despite only being rolled out across Australia's 400-odd Hungry Jack's outlets in mid-October, it has already wowed meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
It is now on track to launch in new restaurants and in supermarkets in the near future and is set to become a "billion-dollar company" within years.
It has also just raised a record $35 million Series A funding round - the largest in the growing plant-based meat sector to date.
V2food founder and CEO Nick Hazell told news.com.au the company was created to address the "existential problem" of trying to feed the 10 billion people expected to live on earth by 2050, which would be "impossible" to do with meat.
"It will be a massive industry over the next 30 years to provide 'meat' for people that's not going to be from animals," he said.
"That's clear to everybody, and we want to be part of that solution.
"There's a major sustainability crisis, and that's feeding into the (plant-based) movement. We're about giving consumers a choice that tastes as good as meat and means they don't have to change their behaviour - they can still eat what they like but can choose a v2food version … that's tasty, convenient and good value."
Mr Hazell said the company's ambition was to become as big as possible in Australia in order to become a major global player.
"It's a good opportunity for Australia to be making food the world eats in a more sustainable way, and it's a great thing we can contribute to," he said.
He said the vegan, vegetarian and plant-based movement was in its "early days" in Australia, but that there was "no reason" why it wouldn't take off Down Under at the same rate it had in other nations across the globe.
"In some ways the vegan and vegetarian market is growing faster in Australia which points to the fact that consumers are wanting to do something good," he said.
"We're focused on meat eaters who are concerned about nutrition and sustainability, and all indications so far are that we are looking to be in line (with other countries) and maybe even to have a bigger consumer pull."
He said the $35 million funding would help the brand expand into supermarkets and other restaurants, export overseas, hire more staff, conduct more research and move beyond a "boot-strapped start-up".
"It has been a tough 12 months, but it has been enormously fun and rewarding to make so much progress in a very short period of time," Mr Hazell said, adding the plan was to grow v2food into a "billion-dollar company".
"That's the level of ambition we have to have - given the size of the global meat market, if you're not talking billions, you won't be making a difference," he said.
Mr Hazell said the Rebel Whopper had gone crazy on social media, and the response had gone "fantastically well" so far, with v2food hitting all benchmarks.
"There's a lot of talk about how you can't tell the difference between v2food and a meat burger, and that's coming from a mix of meat lovers, vegans and vegetarians - we're getting a lot of positive reaction from across the whole spectrum," he said.
"People are genuinely surprised when they try the product and find it's a veggie burger that tastes like meat, which is why people love it.
"It tastes great - if you're a sceptic, you've got to try it."
He said most beef purchased in Australia was picked up at supermarkets, and the company was hoping to enter the grocery sector in future.
It is also set to enter other Australian eateries, including popular plant-based burger joint Soul Burger this Friday.
The new partnership between the chain and v2food will be launched at 6pm at Soul Burger's Glebe restaurant in Sydney's inner west, with a free burger for the first 50 customers.
Mr Hazell said Soul Burger's support was a "big vote of confidence" in the company.