The plant-based chicken producer is focusing on profitability while bringing a clean ingredient product to the masses.

Daring’s new CEO sees the company as a ‘bright spot’ in a contracting category

Permission granted by Daring Foods

Since its launch in 2018, Daring Foods has been on a mission to rethink plant-based chicken by incorporating a short list of simple ingredients and providing a better-for-you product. 

Now with founder and former CEO Ross Mackay stepping down to start a beverage company, the brand is at an interesting place. Many plant-based companies are trying to refocus as sales have slid in recent years, and Daring is no exception, with its new CEO having a keen eye on profitability for 2024.

“If we go back to 2021, a lot of venture capital dollars flowed into the space. Generally, if you said you were starting a plant-based company, you received funding for it,” said new CEO Jeffrey Gendelman in an interview with Food Dive. 

“That was good in some ways, because it brought great attention to this category, but it was also dangerous in that products flooded the market that did not deliver on what they promised.”

When Gendelman joined the Daring team in 2021, he was hired as the company’s head of commercialization. 

Since meeting the founder and former CEO Mackay while cycling in Los Angeles three and a half years ago, Gendelman has worn multiple hats at the company. From commercialization, to vice president of business and most recently chief operating officer. As he ascends to the top in his role as CEO, Gendelman is focused on one main thing: profitability. 

Prior to Daring, Gendelman was the director of international business development at Califia Farms, and has seen firsthand how the plant-based space has evolved.

Most consumers gravitated to plant-based meats because of curiosity and perceived health or sustainability benefits, according to Gendelman, “and what we saw was that products did not taste good, did not deliver on health and left us with 40 to 50 ingredients on the back of a label,” he said, “this dissuaded consumers from the category. 

In 2021, Daring, like other plant-based companies, had a growth-at-all-costs mindset.

Gendelman said that Daring has not been immune to the headwinds in the space, and as far as plans for 2024 go, “first and foremost, we’re going to try to control the things that we can control,” he said, “which sometimes involved having to make the tough choices at the sacrifice of growth.” 

The category has gone through significant operation changes overall, whether that be closing plants, layoffs, or shutting down business altogether. 

“We’ve migrated back towards what businesses should be built on, which is a sustainable business model,” he said.

So far, it seems to be working. 

The company grew in revenue by 24% in 2023, according to data from the company, and is now the number one company in the non-breaded plant-based chicken category.

Gendelman predicted there to be some consolidation in the future for the space, and he believes Daring can capitalize on that. 

Drawing from his experience in the plant-based dairy space, Gendelman sees a similar movement occurring in plant-based proteins. 

“There was a premiumization of the category where folks like Califia and Oatley came to market and really spearheaded that next wave beyond the Blue Diamonds and Silks. Impossible Foods and Beyond have sort of gotten that started,” he said, “Daring represents that next new wave of, cleaner ingredient plant-based protein, but we do aspire to incorporate other types of ingredients in the future on the protein side, beyond soy as well as different oils,so we’re not perfect and we’re not trying to be.” 

Daring’s products contain a soy protein-concentrate, vegetable oil — sunflower and/or canola — salt, natural flavors and spices.

Late last year, the company launched into the frozen aisle, which Gendelman believes opened them up to a much wider net of consumers.

“The reason we ventured into this space is because it’s a $9 billion dollar category. All plant-based meats, I believe, is around a billion and a half,and so it just allows us to play in bigger pools of capital and consumer dollar wallet,” said Gendelman. 

The company also plans to capitalize on the downfall, and maybe even the consolidation of leading players in the space. 

“We believe we are in a perfect position to be able to capture market share as those big brands continued to decline,” he said.

Morningstar and Gardein are number 1 and 2 in frozen but are declining, according to Gendelman, and Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — known as the plant-based pioneers — have faced significant headwinds in recent years. 

“We believe they’ve declined because those products don’t deliver on taste, nutrition or sustainability,” said Gendelman, “it’s just like any market cyclicality — there’s a lot of money that flows in, underlying thesis works out and comes to fruition, and then the long tail of brands come off shelf and the remains a few players that have done a great job to sort of have a right to continue to plow forward.”

Correction: In a previous version of this article, former CEO Ross Mackay’s name was misspelled. New CEO Jeffrey Gendelman’s name was also misspelled. 

 

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