Armed with a master’s degree in computer science from California’s Northwestern Polytechnic University, Sunny Gurnani was working for tech giants like eBay. He was poised for a career in technology in Silicon Valley, but keen business sense and a kind heart led him to co-found a plant-based dairy company instead.
Since its launch in 2019, Vancouver-based Plant Veda (CSE:MILK) has developed award-winning plant-based dairy alternatives. The firm’s cashew milk, dairy-free coffee creamers, lassi (drinkable yogurts) and PlantGurt cashew yogurts have landed on shelves in more than 200 stores, with demand outstripping supply.
The engineer-turned-entrepreneur reveals that he and his wife committed to the vegan lifestyle epitomized by Plant Veda a decade ago.
“My wife was expecting our first child and we had gone to a vegan restaurant in California. It had flashcards that described the way cows in the dairy industry were treated,” says Gurnani, Plant Veda’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.
“For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth, so the cows are constantly impregnated. When the calves are born, they are taken away from their mothers. Male calves are often killed straight after being born. My wife and I were expecting our first child – it was horrifying to see the animal cruelty.”
Unsettled, Gurnani drilled deep into articles and documentaries on the dairy industry. Haunted by footage of animal cruelty, Gurnani, who was vegetarian in India, turned vegan and has since abstained from animal products like dairy and eggs.
“I studied vegan diets and their nutritional value, and around a year before this information my father had died due to his heart condition. I felt such regret as my father could have reversed his heart disease by shifting to a whole food, plant-based diet,” says Gurnani.
In 2012, Gurnani wanted to start his own company in the US, but his H-1B visa immigrant status had him tied in the knots. Legally, the couple couldn’t launch a start-up in the US, so they built a certified organic plant-based dairy company called Go-Vegan, and later Nutriva, in India, while holding down jobs in California. Go Vegan preceded Plant Veda and made soy milk, ice cream and tofu.
“By day I was an engineer in Silicon Valley and at night I was running a plant-based dairy in India. My wife got a permit and was running a vegan food truck in California, where she started selling her plant-based lassis and yogurts.”
Tired of waiting for US Green Cards, the enterprising couple immigrated to Canada with their business blueprint for Plant Veda.
“We wanted to do well by doing good. A plant-based business is ethical, good for the planet and has several health benefits,” says Gurnani.
“We decided to move to Vancouver and registered for Canada’s largest vegan and vegetarian show, the Veg Expo, even before reaching Canada. At Veg Expo on May 5, 2019, we launched Plant Veda’s drinkable yogurt cashew lassi in five different flavours.”
Plant Veda’s breakthrough creamy lassi, a traditional yogurt drink cherished in South Asia, was the right product at the right place. It won the Veg Expo Product of the Year award in 2019 and the Clean Choice Award from Clean Eating Magazine in 2021.
To be a heavy hitter in the $900 million specialty beverage market, Plant Veda has positioned itself as a “healthier, wholesome and sustainable” plant-based dairy company.
“We don’t use artificial flavours. Our mango lassi is made with cashew yogurt and chunks of whole alphonso mango. Our lassi contains a special blend of 10 billion probiotics,” says Gurnani.
Plant Veda’s lassi line of drinkable yogurts has five flavours: mango, blueberry, strawberry, saffron cardamom and turmeric ginger.
Plant Veda Co-Founder Vanita Gurnani, Director of Product Innovation, says that working out how to emulate the texture, taste and appearance of the plant-based products took patience and good ingredients.
“I was born and raised in Anand in Gujarat, which is the dairy capital of India. I grew up loving dairy products so after becoming vegan I was missing all these things. When we started Plant Veda it was very important to get the right taste and texture,” says Vanita.
“We also wanted our products to be healthy and that’s why we always use wholesome ingredients such as Canadian maple and agave to lightly sweeten our products. There are no artificial sugars, high-fructose corn syrup or oils in our products. They are wholesome, tasty and healthy.”
The Plant Veda Innovation Centre is a 25,000 square foot facility on Annacis Island in Delta, British Columbia. It’s a springboard for new product development and large-scale production. The ongoing Phase 1 upgrade will bring annual yogurt production to 2.5 million litres, up from 100,000 litres.
In a nutshell, the Delta facility will propel the production of $10 million worth of products a year, according to the company. By 2022, Plant Veda says that with “minimal additional upgrades” the facility will be churning out 15 million litres of product. The expansion could catapult Plant Veda’s annual revenue to $60 million in a few years, according to the company’s growth blueprint.
In addition, the Delta facility will be a plant-based go-to-market hub for innovation, production and distribution.
“We’ve invested considerable capital and effort to convert the facility to a fully plant-based innovation centre with designs, upgrades, equipment and processes best suited for plant-based beverage R&D and production,” says Plant Veda President Michael Yang.
Yang says Plant Veda is developing “strategic partnerships with technology vendors” that could also make the Innovation Centre a co-manufacturing facility in Canada.
Dairy is a $490 billion dollar market globally, and the alternative dairy sector is tipped to grow to over $52 billion by 2028 – a 156% leap from $22 billion today, according to Grand View Research.
Ultimately, the popularity of Plant Veda’s lassi catapulted the firm’s products into Whole Foods.
“We are growing our store presence and are in over 200 stores with more chains stocking Plant Veda products in Western Canada with UNFI, Pro Organics and Sysco as our distribution partners,” says Plant Veda Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer Mayur Sajnani.
“We will expand our presence and expect strong growth in revenue in 2022 as we list our PlantGurt probiotic yogurt line in stores,” Sajnani adds.
The PlantGurt product line was launched in November 2021 in three flavours: plain unsweetened, mango and blueberry.
One tub of PlantGurt yogurt contains billions of probiotics. The recent boom in probiotic products reflects an effort to re-introduce bacteria believed to promote good health. The global probiotics market size is expected to reach $95.25 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research.
After establishing itself in Canada, it is coming time for Plant Veda to go full-circle and move into the US market. “As we expand geographically to the US from Canada, we are going to see explosive growth and are working on setting up a distribution centre with a third party in the US,” says Sajnani.
This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.
Learn more about Plant Veda Foods at https://www.plantveda.com/