Ross Mackay is the Co-founder of Daring, a plant-based chicken company.
Briefly introduce us to Daring and your journey to founding the company.
I have been plant based for six years. I felt that there was a need for healthier alternatives in the market; most of the plant-based foods I was consuming were contradictions to my decision of going plant-based, which was for health reasons. Particularly, I did not feel like there was a plant-based chicken product that was approachable, nutritional and tasty. Chicken is important to me as it was the protein I consumed the most of previously. So, I saw a hole in the market, began developing our plant-based chicken product to address these pain points, and launched Daring this past March.
You have a diverse approach to distribution: DTC, retail and now at Just Salad. What is the strategy behind this omnichannel approach?
We were focused on food service prior to COVID, following in the footsteps of many successful plant-based food brands and had a tremendous pipeline. We naturally saw our product positioned in natural grocery stores and chains as well, and we recently signed an exclusive with Sprouts. We are tapping into a more aggressive conventional retail approach given COVID and headwinds to food service.
Also because of COVID, we are flowing into DTC and online grocery marketplaces which we believe will be a bigger part of our business long term. We wouldn’t have made this expansion so early, but it is also a reflection of our mission of being nimble in our tactics. And there are obvious upsides to it. It allows us to enhance our brand awareness, customer journey and touch points, which is great for understanding our customers.
What is the most important part of a business to get right first?
Product market fit. That isn’t ubiquitous, there are products that create markets like Uber and Airbnb. For us, understanding the uniqueness of our product in the market and where we fit given the competitive landscape with large corporations vs. little Daring is critical. This forces us to focus on how we can differentiate, be true to ourselves, and understand the consumer better than our competitors.
What is daring’s superpower?
We have this north star to remove chicken from the food system. Our superpower is to essentially enable consumers to leave behind their most desirable protein that they consume 5 to 7 times a week for a product that is healthier and tastes better.
Daring has a really interesting brand and packaging design, using pastel colors and very consumer friendly creative assets. How important is this to your strategy and demystifying plant-based chicken products?
Absolutely. Our TAM likes chicken right now, and they don’t like to be told what to do or what not to do. That’s not going to be the way we achieve our mission as a company. We have to have the daring to challenge and welcome customers looking to step into this market. And not just vegans, but also carnivores who are looking for healthier alternatives to the meats they love. We are clearly looking to challenge and disrupt the market, but we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, rather change the ingredient and production process of a food that people love.
Brands have to stand for something. More than that, you have to appeal to the mainstream. We have early adopters who are aligned with our core mission. But many consumers aren’t concerned with what you stand for, so you have to find another way to appeal to them — which we have identified in our branding.
What do you think is the most consequential problem caused by the current system of chicken production?
Fundamentally, chicken has faced uninterrupted growth for decades, when from an environmental standpoint we actually need people to be eating less meat and poultry. Chicken still has been deemed to be the healthiest protein in the world; Americans eat almost 100 pounds per person per year. But, chicken production is unsustainable and unethical, yet the biggest issue in my opinion is that many of us were raised on chicken as staples of our diet and never looked twice at. But, digging deeper, we are trying to educate consumers on the reality of how healthy chicken truly is, the scale in which the market is growing and the impact it will have on the quality of the poultry we are consuming globally. Structurally, we cannot facilitate the growing demand.
If you could join the crew from Inception and implant one fact or idea into the minds of consumers about plant-based foods, what would it be?
That you can get enough protein from a plant-based diet.
If you could eat Daring chicken with one person, who would it be and why?
Action Bronson. For the obvious reason that I’d love to have him try the Daring fried chicken and be a part of the culture.
Often, when we are faced with obstacles or things go wrong, we think something is happening to us. But, when we reflect on these moments later on, we tend to find that it actually happened for us. What is one such example you have of this?
We banged our heads against the wall for funding from the middle 2018 to the end of 2019. Before that, we were in the UK and people wouldn’t take our calls. It got to the point where it nearly broke our business and we had to borrow money from friends and family. Looking back at that time in the UK especially, while we received a few term sheets that weren’t favorable but which we almost signed because we were in a place of desperation, we wouldn’t be in the US and have been able to raise money from Maveron. We couldn’t imagine a better partner than them, and it just comes down to us to be daring and resilient, and not losing conviction in our mission and ourselves.
What fictional character do you identify with?
Bart Simpson. He isn’t a rule follower and beats to his on drum (for better or worse).
What is a memento from your childhood that you still keep and how does it serve you?
I have Novak Djokovic’s jumper from when he was ranked 550 in the world. I was able to ball boy for him and at that time he probably never signed an autograph in his life. I asked for his jumper and he looked more shocked than I did and he signed it. I managed to meet him again when he was number 1 in the world and he still remembered that and I think it’s really cool how people can go from 100 to 1 and remain extremely humble.
He is also plant-based, which is quite ironic.
What is your creative outlet and how does it help you channel a flow state?
I cycle 200 to 300 kilometers per week, often early in the morning at 5:00am or over the weekend. I do it with my Co-founder and our Head of Finance, and it just allows me to get in the zone and strengthen these relationships.
What is one daily ritual that you cannot live without?
What is the last:
TV show you binged?
BroadChurch (Netflix) — so good.
Movie you watched?
Song you listened to?
Mr. Right Now by 21 Savage feat. Drake.
Podcast you listened to?
Work life with Adam Grant.
Book you read?
Red Notice by Bill Browder.