April 7, 2020

#25: Dan Gluck, PowerPlant Ventures

In this episode, Joe Vennare is joined by Daniel Gluck, a Managing Partner at PowerPlant Ventures.

As the name suggests, PowerPlant is focused on plant-centric companies that impact how food is produced, distributed and consumed — with investments in Beyond Meat, Eat JUST, Inc., Thrive Market, and many others.

The two discussed:

  • Dan’s experience founding Health Warrior Superfoods and selling the company to PepsiCo
  • Emerging categories within plant-based foods like dairy, functional ingredients, and personalized nutrition
  • And, looking ahead, they chat about why we’re still in the early stages of plant-based foods remaking our food system

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

 

How has interest in the plant-based diet grown?

DG: We’re seeing the plant-based movement pick up dramatically. Consumers are buying more plant-based foods and we’re seeing a six times increase in people identifying as plant-based. Some studies say 75% of people are at least familiar with plant-based diets, and over half are actually interested and/or trying it.

We’ve also seen popular movies like Game Changers talking about professional athletes moving toward a plant-based diet pick up a lot of viewers, and attention, and press.

In addition to consumers, we’re seeing buy-in from entrepreneurs. And what’s more important to me is not just the quantity of entrepreneurs we’re seeing moving into the space, but the quality. A lot of amazingly talented graduates are going into the food sector, particularly in the plant-based, because there’s just so much innovation happening right now.

What has contributed to the movement?

DG: The global food industry is a $5B industry, and it’s completely broken. It’s unhealthy, inefficient, unsustainable, and inhumane. And this is creating a massive economic opportunity. So when you look at it and step back with the visionary lens of a venture capitalist or an entrepreneur, this is going to be one of the biggest opportunities in the entire economy to capitalize on.

We’re also seeing tons of investment dollars flow into this category and sector, from dedicated funds just like Power Plant Ventures, to tech funds like Kleiner Perkins which historically wasn’t necessarily interested in food, but is one of the biggest investors in Beyond Meat.

Corporates are really important in this entire movement. We’re seeing companies like Danone and Nestle acquiring plant-based companies. Both of those companies have publicly stated that plant-based diets are one of the biggest trends of this generation and that they’re moving their portfolios towards more plant-based food products. 

Last, we’re even seeing governments getting involved. China several years ago talked about trying to cut meat consumption by 50% over the next two years. We think we’re really in the early innings of a major food revolution.

How did PowerPlant Ventures start?

DG: My partners and I all have a background as founders in the plant-based, healthy food sector. Kevin Boylan and T.K. Pillan founded Veggie Grill, and my other partner, Mark Rampolla, is the founder of ZICO Coconut Water.

We had a front row seat into what was happening in the plant-based movement and thought with our background as operators, founders, and in finance, we’d be able to ultimately find, fund, and help scale all of these emerging companies.

We launched our first fund in 2016 and started investing in some of the best emerging plant-based food companies.

What’s your investment criteria?

DG:  We focus on five key areas, starting with understanding the core purpose or unifying vision of the company. From there, we look to see that they’re building a strong team and culture to ensure that there’s alignment of passion, ownership, and sense of urgency within the organization.

Third, it really comes down to compelling product and brand strategy. Does the company have a clear target in consumer’s needs, usage occasion, and is it a big total addressable market?

Fourth, we’re looking for an optimized operating model to ensure the company is focused on a sales strategy that ultimately delivers real growth.

And last, we look for founders and teams self aware enough to understand they need to work with the best people in the entire industry.

What trends are you tracking?

DG: One is the concept of fresh and convenient food. Ultimately, we think consumers are seeking fresher and healthier options, but at the convenience of a packaged food.

Another is around food with functionality. As consumers are increasingly interested in health and wellness, they also want more out of what they eat and drink.

A third is personalization. We think consumers are expecting a more sophisticated approach to personalization of food. And last is transparency as people become more interested in where their food comes from.

How do you see the fitness industry evolving? 

DG: I think studio and group fitness is going to continue to grow. At some point in my life, I will own and bring to market my own concept. There’ve been a lot of big winners like Peloton and like SoulCycle, but there’s always space for better concepts and businesses. 

Personalization of food through wearables, is definitely something I think will grow. The idea of the quantified self, where new technologies make it easier to track our health and bodies, as well as channels by which companies can gather and analyze consumer data and preferences.

Also this concept around democratization of medical testing. I think over time these new, at home testing services, will give consumers a greater visibility into their genetics and DNA to be able to understand how their health is uniquely affected, and what actions they can take.

**Note: Daniels answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion.

About Daniel Gluck:

Dan is a Managing Partner at Powerplant Ventures, a Venture Capital fund investing in emerging consumer food & beverage, foodservice and food-tech companies. Powerplant provides capital, strategic guidance and operating expertise to visionary teams leading disruptive plant-centric brands. The firm is on a mission to re-architect the global food system by advancing world-changing companies that deliver better nutrition in more sustainable and ethical ways.

Prior to Powerplant Ventures, Dan was the Co-Founder and Board Chairman of Health Warrior, a plant-based superfood company. Within the first year of launching, Health Warrior’s Chia Bar was the #1 best-selling new bar in the natural channel. Dan was involved in all aspects of the business, including ideation, incubation, financing, scaling, and its eventual exit to Pepsi in 2018.  Today Health Warrior is a nationally recognized brand and is on a mission to make radically convenient, real food and positively influence the health habits of Western civilization.

Prior to diving into entrepreneurship, Dan spent 15 years working on Wall Street as a Partner at a large investment management firm. Dan has experience investing in a breadth of companies, up and down the capital structure, and across the globe from the United States to Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

When Dan is not investing, he can be found on the trails of Northern California mountain biking and trail running. Dan is a 2X Ironman, marathoner, and celebrated his 40th birthday by competing in a 24-hour Spartan Race in Iceland. He is also a proud 2X dad.

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