We spoke to Christie Lagally of Rebellyous about crispy plant-based chicken nuggets and patties.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christie Lagally: Staying safe and healthy. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rebellyous.
Christie Lagally: I started Rebellyous after realizing that the plant-based meat industry was being held back as a solution for climate change and other social harms due to the small scope of the industry. The US meat industry produces nearly 108 billion pounds of meat, and yet the plant-based meat industry only clocks in at around ⅕ of 1% (0.2%) of that volume. As a result, the production of plant-based meat products is the reason this industry isn’t making a measurable impact on climate change. As a mechanical engineer, I saw an opportunity to change this by designing and implementing novel food production equipment. At the time, in 2017, I was working briefly for the Good Food Institute, and prior to that, for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. My experience as an equipment designer enabled me to start a company based on the need for better production equipment for plant-based meat.
How does Rebellyous innovate?
Christie Lagally: At Rebellyous Foods, we make delicious, juicy, and crispy plant-based chicken nuggets and patties. Our ready to heat-and-eat foods cook just like conventional chicken products, so they can seamlessly integrate into an organization’s busy meal schedule. Rebellyous Foods wants to be a solution for busy foodservice operations to be able to offer affordable plant-based meats that everyone will enjoy. We do that by implementing unique food production methods in large scale production to produce affordable plant-based meat at high volumes.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Christie Lagally: First of course, with the utmost safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers, we had to modify our business operations internally, first establishing a work from home policy for non-essential workers and creating safety measures for those employees who were needing to report in-person. We worked with experts in Washington State to implement our plan.
Next, because our sales were focuses on the foodservice market (schools, hospitals, sporting arenas, and corporate cafeterias), our sales essentially evaporated overnight. This led us to make some critical business decisions. We had intended to go into retail in a few years, but the new opportunities with people doing more home meal preparation and not reporting to the aforementioned establishments made a pivot to consumer packaged goods a no brainer.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Christie Lagally: The move to CPG was an obvious one, yet still beleaguered with uncertainty. Our team would have a steep learning curve – learning about a whole new industry, building new relationships, creating packaging, and focusing more on our efforts and financial resources on branding and marketing. Yet they rose to the challenge, and we’re proud to have launched with just a couple of months and are now in 20 stores in the Pacific Northwest.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Rebellyous in the future?
Christie Lagally: I have a team of 20 people — and our investors — relying on me to make the best business decisions to ensure our company’s viability. There are new challenges every day. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I first try to recruit my team’s help to help step up and sort out challenges together. They always come through. Personally, I enjoy jogging, dancing ballet, spending time with my dogs, and reading to help learn more about how to be the best leader I can be.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Christie Lagally: While there are many delicious plant-based chicken products in the market, we see animal-based chicken companies as our biggest competition: think Tyson, Perdue, etc. We are reinventing the way meat is made and will be able to produce delicious, affordable, and widely available plant-based meat that everyone will enjoy, and that will be better for the environment, animals, and communities. We know people care about their food and where it comes from – increasingly with each passing day. They want to support companies who share the same ethos, and the old guard simply doesn’t and can’t meet those consumer needs. We do, and that’s how we plan to stay relevant.
Your final thoughts?
Christie Lagally: Plant-based meat is a viable solution to reducing the extraordinary load of greenhouse gas emissions that animal agriculture (including the chicken industry), which drives human-driven climate change. But this is only true if we can effectively scale this strategy. At Rebellyous, we are working to make this solution a near-term reality for everyone who wants to reduce their meat consumption and help cool our warming planet.
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