Growing a Vegan Empire with Daiya Foods’ Dave Savage

May 23, 2014

Dave Savage JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Dave Savage. He’s the Consumer Relations Manager at Daiya Foods. Welcome to Green is Good, Dave Savage. DAVE SAVAGE: Hey. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey Dave. We’re so happy to have you on. We’ve never had you on before and we love your brand, Daiya Foods, and for our listeners out there who want to follow along while we’re having this wonderful chat this morning with Dave, it’s www.daiyafoods.com. I’m on the site right now. It’s a beautiful site. It’s actually making me hungry. Dave, before we get into talking about your wonderful brand, talk a little bit about the brand of Dave Savage. How’d you end up at Daiya Foods? And talk a little bit about your journey leading up to this position. DAVE SAVAGE: I spent about 25 years in hospitality service really enjoying the connecting with customers and I worked for larger brands, smaller brands, really enjoyed that part of the journey but about five years ago, I started getting really health conscious like a lot of people and started living on the west coast, started exploring different options for myself so I eliminated some dairy and I got rid of some other things and that’s when I discovered Daiya. I was a consumer before I joined the company and I thought, ‘This stuff is amazing,’ and I asked I think a lot of the questions that people ask me now, ‘How can this not have dairy? How can this not have these other things and taste so good?’ and so then I was on the website and a job opening came up and I started and I loved it from day one. It was just one of those really, really good fits. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect and here you are. DAVE SAVAGE: Yeah, and I think I probably enjoy it more now than I did even when I started. I get to know people better and we have an amazing team, very dedicated research and development people, people who are in QA and people who package our food. there’s just a real sense of mission and dedication and also a lot of fun. We get to sample a lot of food so we get to eat lots of pizza and cheesecake and different foods for the day. It’s a good gig. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m already envious of your job. As our listeners know, I’m a full-on vegan. I love your products. Of course, before I brought you on the air, I asked you off the air how to say the name of your product so for our listeners out there, of course it’s spelled Daiya, daiyafoods.com, but I asked you was it Daiya, was it Daiya? Of course, you said, ‘It’s happy Daiya’. It’s have a happy Daiya at Daiya Foods, but how’d you guys come up with the name? Where did this name come from? DAVE SAVAGE: It’s a little bit of a play on words. We wanted to have something that sounded close enough to dairy that wasn’t actually dairy and then we stumbled upon Daiya, which really does reflect the values of the company because it means loving kindness and compassion and if you got to know the owners of the company, you would see that’s like a perfect fit for these guys. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. And when and how did Daiya start? DAVE SAVAGE: It started with Greg and Andre, who are truly amazing guys. That’s probably one of the perks of working here is working closely with them. They are hardcore foodies. They love food. They’re both vegans. They’re very, very funny and deeply committed to the company and so they started out, they were good friends for a long time. They both played music together and they were good friends for about 20 years and both of them were vegans so they wanted to find a cheese alternative that would actually have some taste and stretch and bubble and do all the good stuff that Daiya does so they went on a bit of a journey, two years, lots of frustration, lots of mistakes and definitely meltdowns and catastrophes, as they will tell you and the stories are really, really fun. They’re both good raconteurs. They are great to listen to. And then they stumbled on the formula that was just right, that would hold its form and would melt and bubble and they brought it to Expo West, which is a natural food expo in Anaheim. We go every year since 2009 and that’s the very first time they did make a product way, way, way in the basement of the auditorium, which is a big, big space and it was a huge hit. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And that was 2009? Wow. DAVE SAVAGE: Which I love hearing because we’ve gone from a table top, maybe like an eight foot, ten foot table, and we now have a 40-foot booth. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. There’s nothing more fun for me than to have people like you on, Dave, and share the entrepreneurial fits and starts and crashes and burns. This is what makes America great and talk about a mega trend. If veganism and clean eating isn’t a mega trend, there is no mega trend. DAVE SAVAGE: These aren’t little trendy things like trends come and go. This is a movement. This is something we really focus on. This is not going to go out of style in two years or five years. It’s not going to be oh yeah, I remember acai berry. This is really meeting a big need for a lot of people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your website now. First of all, I’m getting super hungry and for our listeners out there, I eat the Daiya products all the time. I eat out a lot and I’m on the run a lot and just delicious products on every level. Let’s talk about a little bit about though the beginning, the beginning of why and I would love you as the Consumer Relations Manager and chief evangelist to share with our listeners, why Daiya over regular cheese? DAVE SAVAGE: That is a great question. We get that a lot. A lot of people right now just cannot consume dairy. That’s one of the major markets right now because they just cannot tolerate it and there’s different levels of tolerance, from people who have a very strong reaction, to people who just feel mildly uncomfortable, and so we were looking for something that was dairy-free, but we also are soy-free and gluten-free, so it really fits into a lot of different others. But, this stuff just tastes really good, and happens to be dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free. So, it’s not a compromise. It’s not like if I have to have it on my pizza, I’ll have this. This stuff is amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So many people, including myself, are really dairy intolerant but it’s even so much healthier than dairy, even if you can tolerate dairy. It’s bad for your health compared to the great Daiya products. DAVE SAVAGE: Absolutely, and we find now with more nutritionists and dieticians, what they’re seeking out is plant based diets. That’s what they’re saying over and over and we always look for key words. Is it this? Is it this? And the ringer is always is it plant based and we say it’s a vegan product and they’re like, ‘This is a vegan product?’ so I think there’s a lot of misnomers of what is a vegan diet because it’s almost like this tastes really good and I’m enjoying it. We had a guy in Boston last year, which is the story I like to tell everybody. It’s him and his wife and three kids and he’s eating the product and he says, ‘This is really good. Hun, we should get this at home,’ and she’s like, ‘We already do,’ and so he didn’t know he was eating dairy free for about a year. Just the look on his face was classic. I loved it and the look on her face was more like oh my gosh. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love this, and so I’m on your site now and for our listeners out there who just joined us, we’ve got Dave Savage. He’s the Consumer Relations Manager for Daiya Foods. It’s www.daiyafoods.com. Cream cheese spreads, slices of cheese, shreds of cheese, pizzas, where do people who are listening to this show around Canada, around the United States, and around the world find your great products? DAVE SAVAGE: We are fortunate enough to be in 12,000 grocers. We’ve been really embraced by both the natural food markets and the really traditional, like Safeway, they have really hopped on board because it’s a big trend so we are in Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway, Publix, and our website, there’s a store locator, which is very convenient and user friendly. You can just type in your zip code. It’ll tell you a basic idea of where all of our products are available and if you want something very specific, like just the cream cheese, you can narrow the search engine down and just find that and it’ll tell you exactly how many miles it is, address, and phone number. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. How many different cheese do you guys make? DAVE SAVAGE: We have a great line right now. We three types of shredded cheese. We have cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack, which is wildly popular. We have block cheese and we have slices for a grilled cheese sandwich. The slices are great hot or cold and we have a really nice line of frozen pizzas. We have four flavors. They are just ready to bake, 11 minutes in the oven and you’re good to go. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Oh man, that is so good. I’m on your site now and you have a whole recipes section. Talk a little bit about this and talk a little bit about the funness of your job and being able to taste the new and exciting products that you have in development on a regular basis because I’m on your site and I’m looking at some amazing looking products right here. DAVE SAVAGE: I wish we could film our Research and Development team in action because these guys are in a league of their own. They’re just elite. They are fun but they are deep foodies and we will taste on particular product. Before we launched pizza, we had pizza almost every day. What is the crust like? What is the cheese like? What is the sauce like? This tastes like this. What does this taste like? And so we would do what we call sensories and we each have to just blind taste test stuff. It’s very in-depth so we do sample our food every day and we taste it to see what is the consumer experiencing and I will tell you they are pushed hard to have something that is rich and delicious. Like we did the cream cheese. Plain cream cheese converts beautifully into a no bake cheesecake, which we’ve brought to a few shows with us, and it’s blowing the doors off. People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to buy this in stores readymade,’ so we love doing that. We love sampling stuff but it’s always with the consumer in mind. Would my kid enjoy this? Would I bring this home? Would I serve this to my friends at home? And I do a lot. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m looking at your website and your recipe section. Consumer and people who love your brand can actually post their own pictures and their recipes. I’m looking at a mac and cheese and I’m looking at a vegan lasagna and I want to be up at your offices right now and be trying some of this. This is great stuff. This is actually user based. DAVE SAVAGE: This is the great thing with our brand. I’ve worked with a ton of high end brands. I have yet to meet a brand that people are so passionate about. They’re sharing their kids’ pictures. Weekly we get pictures that people send of their kid having the mac and cheese for the first time or the grilled cheese for the first time and that is what just spurs the team on to develop more because we’re seeing these great kids enjoying mac and cheese for the first time or pizza for the first time but people will send in recipes. They send in suggestions. They sent in pictures of this is the new display in our store so really the customers are on fire so we really just have to follow behind them because they’re on fire. They’re blazing the trail so we’re kind of following behind and it’s like hey try this. We’re very lucky. We’re not trying to arm twist anybody. We don’t do deep discounts or anything to get people to try it because people are calling us every day with, ‘Where can I find this? I can’t find this in my store. I’ve talked to my grocery manager,’ so that’s really a blessing to have consumers who are so committed. JOHN SHEGERIAN: They become your greatest ambassadors and evangelists. DAVE SAVAGE. They are. We could send a SWAT team of salesmen out and it would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great,’ but you talk to a mom who’s got a story, boom, you’re done because it’s a third party. They just love hearing from them. We had a little girl, one of my favorite stories. There are a lot of stories but her dad wouldn’t buy her Daiya because they thought it was too expensive and it’s not really good quality so we sent her coupons. We sent her a whole bunch of coupons and she tried it and converted her dad. Her dad was like, ‘Oh gosh, we need to be buying this all the time,’ and I think that was my very first letter I got that was written in pencil. This was the best day in the world. I read this kids letter and it was –This is a whole generation coming behind us. They’re not converting to vegans. They’re starting out very young. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is so interesting. It’s so fascinating because you’re really the new happy brand of our generation. Years ago, I remember when Ben and Jerry’s first came out. They were selling happiness in a cup and you’re doing the same with a whole new generation because now, people get to enjoy your brand on so many different products and make all sorts of new creations out of it but it’s healthy for them. They’re not diminishing their body or the environment by enjoying your brand. That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about pizza because people are passionate about your pizza. Is your Daiya mozzarella really food on the pizza? Does it melt really nice? I’m from New York, Dave. Are we going to have a good pizza with your cheese on it? DAVE SAVAGE: My friend, you’re going to have a great pizza with our cheese on it. It melts very well and bubbles up nicely and I think with other products, not to ever bash another brand, it melts but then it kind of dissolves into this mass of something so this actually stays in form, melts really nicely, bubbles up, and has a little bit of brownness on it and that’s a traditional cheese. It just has a little bit of golden brown on the top and you know it’s done. We encourage people to get our pizzas and try it. Everyone’s got their personal favorite. Mine’s the roasted veggie. I have it a couple times a week. It’s amazing and a lot of people bring home our cheese lover’s pizza and they and they add on their own toppings and they bring in lots of suggestions. They send pictures in. It’s a really great pizza and it’s convenient. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The GMO issues is heating up more and more. Talk a little bit about your brand and GMO. DAVE SAVAGE: Our products have always been non GMO. We’re in the very final stages now of being certified. It’s a long process but to be qualified for the process, everything in your plant and everybody you buy from has to be certified and have certificates of non GMO. I can tell you when you are talking to consumers, that is a big touch point because at one point, it was organic. Is everything organic? And most of our product is organic but getting the certification is really tough to do but the non GMO, people love so we’re really proud of that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Are all your products gluten-free? DAVE SAVAGE: All of our products are gluten-free. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unbelievable, so now we’re down to the last three minutes or so, Dave. Let’s look forward. It’s amazing what you guys have accomplished in five short years, I mean literally, 12,000 retail stores, restaurants that I eat at that use your product, and like I said, I’m a huge fan. I eat your product every day but talk a little bit about where you guys are taking the company next. DAVE SAVAGE: Right now we have about three new products ready to launch in 2015 and some of them are at different stages but definitely, we’ll have new products launched at Expo West. I can’t tell you exactly what products they are. One of the key things we do get asked a lot to do is to sort of co-join with other companies, like we’re going to put your mozzarella on our products and they want to do that. We’re really focusing now on developing our own product and our own brand so we have a new category ready to launch in 2015 at Expo West and so it’s a lot of work. We have a ton of R&D staff working overtime trying to perfect it because taking it from a small recipe into a larger scale where you’re selling hundreds of thousands of units is a big challenge so people can expect in 2025 to see some new products, some new packaging, pretty much the same look, it’s just for that next generation. I will say I tried the new product that we’re launching in 2015 and I will probably be the first one in the store buying it because it’s phenomenal. That’s all I can say. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’ve given the big teaser. Go back to something you just said. We’re down to a couple minutes here, last minute and a half or so, but are there other brands that actually incorporate your product into their brand and make a product that you can talk about? DAVE SAVAGE: Conoco Pizza is a big pizza chain in Canada so we’ll be working with them and Amy’s has always been a big fan. Amy’s has used our product for a long time. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it and Amy’s is a wonderful brand. I love Amy’s also. That’s wonderful so new products coming out, more distribution, and is your product already available around the world or is it North America-centric right now? DAVE SAVAGE: We are just closing a deal on Australia and probably not too early to say we are looking at the UK for either later this year or beginning of next year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So it is going to be going around the world? Because Green is Good not only goes to North America but after it gets on our great partners at Clear Channel and iHeart, it goes around the world on the iTunes network and we have listeners all around the world so we get emails all the time. Is this product being sold here in Shanghai or is it being sold in Dubai? So I just wanted to know so eventually, you’re going to make your way around the world, I take it, Dave? DAVE SAVAGE: Definitely, but Australia is definitely the first. The ink is dry on that deal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful. Well, I want you to come back on when these new products come out so we can talk about them and we can sample them in the studio maybe and be chatting about them at the same time and again, I want to encourage our listeners to learn about how to be healthier, how to eat healthier, and how not to even give up any of the quality because the Daiya cheese is just amazing, the cheese and all the products they create. I’m a big fan. I’m a vegan and I’m going to tell you right now, it’s the best out there. It’s www.daiyafoods.com. thank you, Dave and Daiya Foods, for your commitment to kind living and your compassion for people and planet. You are truly living proof that green is good.