Seeing the opportunity in the Canadian plant-based sector

Sunny Gurnani (centre) and members of the Plant Veda team. Photo provided by Plant Veda

Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector is one of opportunity. New companies join the space on a regular basis, often headed up by entrepreneurs who began their careers outside of the sector—and, occasionally, outside of Canada.

Plant Veda CEO Sunny Gurnani has experienced this draw toward the Canadian plant-based opportunity first-hand, and is able to compare it to that of both India and the United States. Thus far, the success he, his family and his company have found here has been plentiful enough to count their move into the country as worthwhile.

“There are a lot of forward-thinking people here,” Gurnani said. “A lot of things which are already in the United States, they are here very easily. So any of our R&D-related work, product development, became much faster … because there are so many suppliers available and R&D expertise available and talent available here versus anywhere else.”

Gurnani’s move to Canada and establishment of Plant Veda wasn’t an overnight decision. He began his career in Silicon Valley, where he was working for eBay in the late 2000s. While he enjoyed the job, a curiosity about health, nutrition and the animal protein industry led him in a new direction.

After taking his own vegetarian diet a step further into veganism, Gurnani decided to use his experience, and the results of his nutrition and health research, to open a plant-based foods company in India in 2012. However, between still living in the United States and the attitude toward plant-based dairy in India at the time, the company didn’t see the success Gurnani had hoped for.

He returned to the software industry, but not for long. After waiting for almost a decade for his green card in the United States, he and his wife reconsidered their options for joining the plant based sector: they could stay in the United States and wait for the green card, move to India and start a business there, or move to Canada and start a plant-based business here.

The Canadian opportunity was too good to pass up, despite the difficulties associated with moving to a new country and establishing a new business.

“It gets very overwhelming running a company, particularly a start-up,” Gurnani said. “But then, it keeps reminding me of the reasons why we are into this, and that keeps me back on track.”

While still near its start-up stage, Plant Veda has seen success with its line of plant-based dairy alternatives, including lassis, creamers and yogurts. Currently, the company is partnered with Avena Foods, HPP Canada and Thirstea Beverages, with a co-investment from Protein Industries Canada, in a project that will help extend Plant Veda into providing bulk oat milk and oat milk concentrates. Currently many cafeterias and coffee shops use oat milk purchases in one-litre containers, whereas Plant Veda offers a 10-litre bag — which is considered more cost effective and more environmentally friendly due to a decrease in waste and packaging material. This option is already seeing some pick-up, with the University of British Columbia becoming their first customer for the bulk plain and chocolate oat milk.

Together, the selection of products is helping Gurnani accomplish his goal of supplying consumers with healthy, sustainable products that meet both their dietary and ethical needs.

“We have got this beautiful home, the planet Earth, and nature has designed it just amazingly well. So keeping it the same for the next generation is important to us, otherwise they will not see such a huge biodiversity which we already have.”

While making the move from one industry to another—and one country to another—wasn’t a simple decision for Gurnani, he doesn’t regret it. He also encourages other potential entrepreneurs to take the risk to jump into the plant-based sector, if they’re considering it.

“You have to listen to your heart,” he said. “It definitely is a huge risk from the career and from the financial point of view when you make a change from your existing career to another, but then, at some point, you’ll see that your life will be way more worthwhile. That in spite of handling extreme pain you will be way more satisfied by doing something which you really wanted to do.”

Photo provided by Plant Veda.