A South Florida small business is looking to grow nationwide with a crowdfunding platform designed for people who want to invest in the startups they support.
Now anyone can own a piece of Vegan Fine Brands, Inc., the parent company of the Vegan Fine Foods retail store in Fort Lauderdale. The company, which began offering franchising opportunities in late 2019, recently launched a campaign with StartEngine, an equity-based crowdfunding platform, and has raised over $40,000 to date.
Vegan Fine Brands founder and CEO Stephen Smith launched the company in 2016 with the goal of offering customers a wide selection of healthy vegan fare.
"After I gave up fried foods and meats to become vegan, I found that it was very difficult to find the products I needed," Smith tells New Times. "I started Vegan Fine Foods based on the challenges I faced as a vegan. I wanted to create a one-stop shop for anyone who was plant-based."
The flagship Vegan Fine Foods is located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk entertainment and business district. From its grocery aisles to its café, bar, and health- and beauty-care departments, the 5,000-square-foot shop sells only vegan and plant-based products.
Vegan Fine Foods aims to separate itself from the vegan-focused pack via its commitment to honest product sourcing. Each item or brand sold at Vegan Fine Foods is guaranteed plant-based, non-GMO, and void of unethically sourced ingredients. Currently, the market offers more than 50 unique brands from small local operations that Smith personally sources. (Vegan Fine Foods also sources regionally and nationwide.)
"I wanted to create a shopping experience where my customers don't need to worry about reading labels," the CEO says.
Moving forward, Smith hopes to share his vegan vision nationwide. The former engineer for both Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo plans to replicate the success of his Fort Lauderdale gourmet grocery experience in every major U.S. city by 2024. An online store that will offer global shipping for the brand's product lineup is also in the works.
"Up to this point I have done everything with my own capital. Now I am at a point where I need funding to really execute this strategy," Smith says. "I knew about crowdfunding, but equity crowdfunding seemed like the best model for this business. It gives our customers a chance to have a stake in the business, as well. It's my goal to bring this one-of-a-kind retail experience to vegans and non-vegans across the country with more company and franchisee locations."
Smith is hopeful the venture will follow growing vegan market trends, a sector that's popular among vegans and nonvegans alike.
According to Food Dive, an online publication dedicated to news and trends shaping the food industry, sales of plant-based products were up 90 percent in mid-March 2020 and grew at a rate of 27 percent more than 2019. Refrigerated plant-based meat was the most popular, with sales up 241 parent in March compared to 2019. Even without a pandemic, experts forecast a major boost to the plant-based sector in 2020, a market currently estimated to be worth $5 billion.
Vegan Fine Foods in Fort Lauderdale generated more than $1 million in revenue, according to Smith. Even during the pandemic, the business continues to thrive, making it one of the many reasons he's turned to StartEngine to grow the brand. In addition, the entrepreneur estimates that nearly 75 percent of his customers do not identify as vegan or plant-based — a statistic that has inspired him to take his business to a larger audience.
"I see where the vegan and plant-based food sector is going. It's growing five times the speed of the larger food market," said Smith. "The increasing popularity of vegan products only speaks to the opportunity to grow Vegan Fine Foods."
Vegan Fine Foods. 330 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-533-6412; veganfinefoods.com.
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