The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many businesses out of whack.
Disruption to supply chains, bricks-and-mortar retailers closing for weeks, and the implementation of COVIDSafe business practices have all been costly.
But in this new economy there are some businesses that are not only surviving but thriving.
Heading into the pandemic, Integrity Food Co founder Mathew Stillone (pictured) was not only managing the development of a new soy-free, gluten-free vegan mince range called Flexible Foods (more on that soon), but the company was in the dumps.
Coming out of a successful 2019 Stillone found himself in the midst of Integrity Food Co’s slowest month on record.
“There were some days where we were running six day productions and double shifts as well to running four day productions in on shift in January,” says Stillone, who was named the number 36 Top Young Entrepreneur of 2019.
“This was frightening for me, considering the amount of infrastructure we have.”
Looming quietly in the background at the time was the threat of COVID-19, which, back in January, was shrugged off as a threat Australia wouldn’t have to deal with.
When that shock manifest itself in Australia, Stillone went into damage control.
“How am I going to roll out redundancies? How am I going to give people jobs and keep them employed? It was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been,” says Stillone.
But then the miraculous happened: Integrity Food Co did a full 360 and ended up scoring record sales and quadrupling its revenue during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We were already fairly strong with e-commerce for some of our brands, so that in itself was a blessing,” says Stillone.
“So we’ve seen a massive spike in online sales, but with Integrity Food Co. being a product development and manufacturing business a lot of our clients started exploding as well because they’re all in similar spaces.
“And then we’ve seen the rise of a lot of businesses now wanting to make immune boosting products, so we’ve been doing a lot of development for businesses that want to make those products. But it’s really hard for me because we’re silently celebrating in a time where people have lost their jobs, their businesses, their houses.”
While Stillone might be reluctant to outwardly celebrate Integrity Food Co.’s success during this period of time, he certainly isn’t shy about the launch of his new vegan line: Flexible Foods.
The product is a soy- and gluten-free meat substitute product that can act in place of mince.
Flexible Foods is due to launch sometime mid-June to an ever-growing vegetarian and vegan market, with a range of flavours to suit a variety of cuisines like Indian, Italian and Mexican.
The product is, on paper, perfect for those time-poor, flexitarian eaters: the meat replacement is made out of texturised vegetable protein and can be cooked in five minutes simply by adding water and heating it. Stillone envisions it to be used in dishes like stir fry, bolognaise, tacos, and more.
The anticipated June launch follows around two years of development, during which Stillone experimented with other vegetable proteins like mung beans, fava bean, and soy, before settling on the texturised vegetable protein base.
Even without the product having launched yet, and in the midst of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, Stillone has already received considerable interest from stockists looking for to expand their growing vegan and vegetarian options.
Stillone says Integrity Food Co. was initially looking at running a 5,000-unit production trial run, but after speaking to some of his distributors they suddenly received orders for almost 10 times that amount (45,000 units).
“This was before we even had the product, which is insane,” Stillone says.
And while vegan and vegetarians will obviously be interested in the product, Stillone hopes to attract a growing crowd of ‘flexitarian’ eaters; those that are looking to cut down on meat consumption for dietary, ethical or sustainability reasons.
“I didn’t want it to make it intimidating,” says Stillone.
“I wanted it to talk to all kinds of consumer groups, and I didn’t want to pigeonhole the brand. I want this for anyone who is looking to reduce their meat intake or try something new in their diet.”
The Integrity Food Co founder also sees tremendous opportunities during COVID-19 for Flexible Foods to really take off.
“So what I see is people at home at the moment and they’re learning how to cook,” says Stillone.
“They’re kind of forced to be a bit more conscious about eating at home and they’re getting experimental.
“The whole world’s thinking about health right now, we’re thinking about our immune systems and how we can do better. I think it’s given a lot of people some deep reflection and hopefully we will all come out of our homes healthier and happier.”
Business News Australia