The first time I met David Benzaquen – the founder of PlantBased Solutions, a brand new marketing service devoted to expanding the reach of vegan businesses in the food industry – I was immediately bowled over by his unique spark, and his smarts. This was many years ago now. We first shook hands after a talk I gave at NYC’s Bluestockings Bookstore; David introduced himself afterwards, and then proceeded to help me clean up (typical David, I later learned). He was a student at the New School at the time, and I was working for Farm Sanctuary in the campaigns department.
What I didn’t know then was that it was that special spark of his that made David sort of addictive; to know him was to love him and to believe fiercely in his life’s mission, and that became pretty common knowledge around the animal rights community in NYC. David soon began to intern for me in the campaigns department, eventually joining the staff. Our careers have long since gone in different directions, yet I’ve continued to watch with pride and awe as his career has truly begun to soar, changing the world with each stride.
His latest venture is nothing short of genius. It’s filling a void that must be addressed if we are to mainstream veganism. And I’m not the only one to notice; the launch party for PlantBased Solutions, which took place last month in NYC, was filled to excess with several hundred people pushing their way both to the food trays and to the man behind this new enterprise. The buzz that evening carried a common theme: things are changing, awareness is growing, and – as is evidenced by this hot new company – vegan food is no longer on the fringe.
David agreed to talk with me about his vision for PlantBased Solutions, and his projection about what the future of veganism will carry.
Our Hen House: David, we go way back! I remember when you were a sprightly student getting your Masters in non-profit management at the New School. For those not lucky enough to know you (there’s got to be at least a half dozen of them left), give our readers the nutshell version of how your career took you from the world of non-profit, to where you are today – the founder of PlantBased Solutions, a hot new marketing company working to expand the reach of vegan businesses?
David Benzaquen: Thanks, Jasmin! I love what you all do at Our Hen House, and appreciate the opportunity to share our work with your readers.
Before starting PlantBased Solutions, I worked for fifteen years in the political and nonprofit sectors, aiming to advance various causes of social change. OHH frequently says (and you, Jasmin, personally taught me) that everyone can apply their personal skills and interests to make a difference. I couldn’t agree more! I have always strived to make that difference as effectively as possible, regardless of the tactics I use. My activist career has ranged from civil disobedience, to planning and running legislative, grassroots, corporate and political campaigns. My work has also included working to elect progressive champions to office, and lobbying and fundraising for nonprofits. In recent years, I had the privilege of having some of these experiences at Farm Sanctuary and NARAL Pro-Choice New York. With every opportunity, I’ve developed my understanding of what could make me the most effective agent for social change. Each tactic – be it raising money, or knowing how to convince a company to change their unethical practices around – is another valuable tool in the nonviolent warrior’s arsenal for good. This analysis led me to start PlantBased Solutions, a company founded to support businesses whose success will have a significant impact on human health, the environment, and animals.
OHH: You’re so incredibly inspiring, David. And I couldn’t be more excited about PlantBased Solutions. The fact that there are more and more vegan businesses out there is a sign of how the world is changing. Tell us more about what PlantBased Solutions is, the kinds of businesses you work with, and, specifically, your company’s role in supporting their efforts?
DB: PlantBased Solutions works with two kinds of businesses to help promote plant-based foods. First, we work with businesses that produce delicious plant-based foods to help them market and sell their products. Depending on the client, this work can include anything from managing their sales to stores and restaurants, to leading their online or offline marketing and promotional efforts. The other side of our business is working with food service businesses (i.e. restaurants, cafeterias, caterers, etc.) to help them in offering more delicious, plant-based foods. With demand for these foods growing so quickly (particularly with the boom of the flexitarian movement), every food business can help the world and their bottom line by offering enticing and healthy plant-based foods. Many wonderful people and organizations are working to encourage consumers to eat in a more healthful, humane, and eco-friendly way. PlantBased Solutions is working to make sure that the public has access to the foods they need to make those compassionate choices!
OHH: Look into your crystal ball. What will the vegan food market look like in five years? And since we’re going there, how will the changes you foresee with the growth and increased accessibility of vegan food impact PlantBased Solutions? In other words, what are your hopes for where your company will be in five years?
DB: As awareness grows of the impact that the Standard American Diet has on our bodies and the planet, consumers will turn to healthier foods. For most people, eating more plants won’t be about making a political statement; it will be about feeding their bodies right. Already, in response to growing demand for plant-based food, major venture capital funds are investing in making affordable, delicious, healthy plant-based proteins to feed generations to come. In five years, I predict that most Americans will be active flexitarians, and that plant-based eating will be taking root in many other nations where diets are high in animal foods. For PlantBased Solutions, I foresee our food service consulting business in high demand as fast food and other major food service providers look to affordably meet the demand for these foods. In addition, I look forward to working with companies around the globe to bring delicious vegan foods to consumers in those emerging markets.
OHH: Amazing! And, as I suspected, veganism will become way more widespread and common than it is today. You mentioned there will be a rise in flexitarians. A side effect of that will also mean there will be a huge upsurge in the amount of vegans, too. Bring on the tofu! But back to today: What are some of your favorite vegan goodies these days? Is there anything new or emerging that we plant-based foodies should keep our eyes out for?
DB: With PlantBased Solutions, we’re so lucky that we get to work with some of the most incredible vegan companies out there, and new products are blowing me away every day! Some of my favorites include DF Mavens’ key lime crème ice cream, Treeline Cheese, The Vegg, and Chicago Vegan Foods’ brand new coconut-based Teese. Other favorites include Hampton Creek Foods’ ‘Beyond Eggs’ (have you tried chocolate chip cookies made with that stuff?!), and the full line of products from Gardein.
OHH: I’m suddenly ravenous. Let’s hurry up and finish this interview so that I can go eat. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a vegan food product business, but not sure where or how to begin?
DB: Yes, call me! But in all seriousness, keep your audience in mind. The community of vegans is growing quickly, but if your goal is to get more people to move towards a plant-based diet, your customer may also be your toughest non-vegan critic. Your goal should be to make your food stand out not just for being the best vegan food of its kind, but the best overall in its category. My other key recommendation is that packaging and branding really do matter. Last, but certainly not least, follow your dreams, make delicious food, and please send me some!
Thank you, David Benzaquen, for providing such inspiring food for thought. Even just two years ago, the shape of veganism was not nearly as evolved and accepted as it is today. It’s easy to lose sight of how far this movement to bring compassion to the table has come. But let’s get real; PlantBased Solutions would not exist if it were not for a growing and eager interest in mainstreaming veganism. And looking at this cyclically, now that PlantBased Solutions has emerged, we can look forward to a future where veganism has, indeed, fully reached the mainstream.