This “bean butcher” makes plant-based products so delicious that even committed carnivores are tempted to give up meat
Fed up with the overly processed meat alternatives available on the market, Mitchell Scott and James Davison launched The Very Good Butchers in Victoria, British Columbia, in 2016. Their goal was to demonstrate just how delicious plant-based eating can be. Since then, the self-proclaimed “bean butchers” have appeared on Dragons’ Den, taken their fledgling company public and seen their products skyrocket in popularity across North America and in the UK. They recently launched their new Butcher’s Select line: premium gluten-free, soy-free, plant-based products such as the Flippin’ Good Burger, Cajun Sausage and MMM...Meatballs, all packed in 90 percent renewable packaging.
We talked with Mitchell Scott about how the company started, why veganism is important for the planet, and more… Mitchell Scott (left) and James Davison (right), the Very Good Butchers
E911: How did The Very Good Butchers start?
Mitchell: I’ll take you back to spring/summer of 2016. There’s this guy named James, classically trained French chef from England. He moves to Vancouver, starts working in a plant-based restaurant there called Heirloom, starts learning a bit more about veganism, watches some documentaries, ends up going vegan, has a kid, all in a pretty short time period.
And then he ends up moving to Denman Island—two hours north of Victoria, little Gulf Island, population about 1,000 or so. Gets there, very quickly realizes there’s no work for him. At the same time, he’s missing the taste of meat and just isn’t impressed with what’s on grocery store shelves. Everything’s very processed, full of ingredients he can’t pronounce, and basically he wants to create something he can feed his young, growing family and feel good about. So he goes to the kitchen.
Months later, comes out with two products: English breakfast sausages and a classic veggie burger. A combination of beans, whole foods, veggies, herbs and spices, and a bit of wheat gluten to bind it all together. Takes it to the local farmers’ market, sells out in about 15 minutes.So that summer, he and his wife are spending the week making these products, selling out every weekend, and that’s when I come into the picture. There’s a tenuous family connection there: James’s wife’s brother is married to my sister. So we are step-brothers-in-law once removed, something like that.
I’ve grown up vegetarian, had a lot of not-so-great veggie burgers over the years. I was just blown away when I tried his products. I’d always wanted to start a business but never had what I thought was a really killer product or idea. We decided to team up and see where we can take this.
Our first event together was in Victoria. It was a pop-up holiday market, once again had some great success. While we’re there, we notice they had a full-time retail space available, and just kind of decided to go for it. A couple months later, we opened the first vegan butcher shop on the West Coast of Canada. Had about 1,000 people show up on our opening day. Had to shut down for a week after that just to restock everything. And since then, we’ve just been struggling to keep up with demand and to keep growing. We did a Kickstarter campaign. We were on Dragons’ Den.
Our whole idea from the start was, we’re The Very Good Butchers. We butcher beans and create these tasty plant-based meat alternatives and have that kind of selection that you might find in the traditional butcher shop, so not just burgers and sausages but ribs, pepperoni, deli meats. We have a full selection and sell it in the butcher shop, sell in grocery stores and also sell it online.Brodie FrehlichE911: Tell me about the Dragons’ Den appearance.
Mitchell: They were filming the Christmas 2018 episode, so we cooked a fully vegan holiday meal for them with our Stuffed Beast as the centerpiece and a bunch of other sides incorporating our products. Had a great response on the show. I think five of the six Dragons put in an offer, ended up doing a handshake deal with two of them. Unfortunately, as is apparently quite common with Dragons’ Den deals, it didn’t end up working out in the end. But it was great publicity. We ended up doing a FrontFundr campaign, which is kind of like a Kickstarter but for equity, raised about $600,000 from our customers, fans, supporters across Canada.
E911: Is everything you sell vegan?
Mitchell: We’re 100 percent vegan.
E911: Is everyone who works at your company vegan?
Mitchell: No. We’re much more lead-by-example. Many of our people are vegan—they want to work somewhere that aligns with their values—but we definitely don’t force it on anyone. And I think everyone’s on different stages of their journey.
E911: How important is veganism for the future of the planet?
Mitchell: It’s crucial. We need to shift to eating more plants. Obviously, it’s better for the environment. You’re getting way more yield if you’re using land to grow crops and feeding them to people than if you’re using land to grow crops and feeding them to animals and then converting that. There’s a lot of environment benefits. There’s a lot of health benefits. And, of course, there’s the ethical benefits as well.
E911: How important is it for your company to be eco-friendly with regards to things like packaging?
Mitchell: It’s really important. It’s something we’ve tried to be really good about since day one. We are using plastic to package our products—at this point, it’s a food safety thing, because there’s not a lot of recyclable food-grade plastic available in North America—but for all the plastic that we put into the world, we work with an organization that pulls the same amount of plastic out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For our e-commerce orders, it’s very sustainable. We use fully compostable mushroom-based insulated packaging and reusable ice packs or dry ice.
E911: What changes have you noticed in your business during the pandemic?
Mitchell: We saw way more people ordering online, so it’s nice that we were already set up for online orders, and we saw a lot more interest in plant-based eating. There are a few factors at play there. One, there was some fear over the virus coming from a wet market. A lot of meatpacking plants got shut down because of COVID cases, so there was a shorter supply of meat, which drove meat prices up and led to shortages as well.
And I think over the past couple of years, plant-based foods have just gotten a lot better. As I mentioned before, I’ve had a lot of bad veggie burgers over the years. It’s hard to find a bad veggie burger these days. There’s just so many great products hitting the market. You’ve got large companies running Superbowl ads promoting plant-based eating.
I think once people get over that old stereotype of plant-based food not tasting good, and they have that first really positive experience, they become a lot more open to trying more plant-based foods. They may not go vegan overnight, but all of a sudden they’re doing a couple of meat-free meals a week.
E911: What’s your bestselling product?
Mitchell: I think the two top-selling products are those two that James made at the farmers’ market, so our Very Good Burger and our English breakfast sausages, the Very British Banger. Our Very Good Taco Stuff’er, which is like a lightly spiced ground round, is also very popular.E911: What do you use in your gluten-free products to replace gluten?
Mitchell: It’s a blend. We’ve got a few different protein sources: some pea protein, some fava bean protein. We’ve got organic veggies in there as well. Our number one customer request was a gluten-free product line. It took us a good year and a half or two to come up with something that is meaty, is delicious, but is still true to our ethos of using real veggies, real beans, real food in our products.
E911: How do you convince a dedicated carnivore to try your products?
Mitchell: That’s something we think about a lot. And I think the big thing for us is: how are we presenting ourselves and our products? That’s one of the reasons we went with this butcher shop angle. It’s something familiar. People know what a butcher shop is, what to expect when you go in there. You come into our butcher shop, there’s big cases filled with our meats and cheeses. It’s a familiar shape and form. People know what to do with a steak or a burger or a sausage.
And then we have a casual restaurant attached to it, which basically is trying to create the tastiest plant-based comfort foods around—deli sandwiches, burgers, mac and cheese—and show that you don’t have to sacrifice anything. You can still have a juicy burger or steak and not have to be giving up meat or those experiences you’re familiar with.
And then the other thing is just not being preachy in the way we put ourselves out into the world. So leading by example and saying, "Hey, these taste great, they’re good for you, they’re good for the environment, we’re having a great time, give it a try." We get lots of people coming into the restaurant who aren’t plant-based. They just heard we have good food and they want to give it a try.
E911: What is your long-term goal?
Mitchell: We’re trying to get millions of people to rethink their food choices. Long term, we want to go into someone’s fridge or pantry and replace all the animal-based products with a healthier, tastier, better, plant-based version.