After the birth of his daughter, award-winning chef Alejandro Cancino had a decision to make. To stay in the restaurant world, or to take the plunge and start his own business, to try and bring veganism into the mainstream. With three hats to his name, he set to work and founded Fenn Foods, the plant-based manufacturing company and creators behind meat alternative vEEF. In this episode Alejandro sits down to talk about his journey, what it's like owning your own facility, the benefits and struggles of bootstrapping, as well as the importance of resourcefulness. We also cover how to make tough financial decisions and questions to ask yourself to make sure you're on the right path for you and your business.
Now, Alejandro Cancino is known as creator of meat manufacturing company Fenn Foods. However, it wasn't always this way, with the founder previously working in prestigious, fine dining restaurant Urbane. But after going vegan, and the arrival of his daughter, Alejandro reflected and decided to leave his job, to pursue his own business.
Alejandro: 'I didn't want to be a chef, have late nights and not be present for my daughter. Starting the company was a lifestyle change, and it was obvious for me with the way we obtain animal protein.'
So that's what he set out to do. Yet, despite the business now focussing on meat alternatives, the first product for Fenn was in fact quite different.
Alejandro: 'I started with sauces. From there, there were a few issues with manufacturing so I started with the cheese, which we did for around a year and half, until one of our clients mentioned we should go into plant-based meat, since there was no Australian producer, and all of our products are being imported from overseas.'
After flying to America, and trying what was available, Alejandro realised he could probably do a better job, and so, after returning to Brisbane he made his first prototype.
Alejandro: 'For the first 6 months we were only making 20kg a week, now we are doing 7 tonnes a week.'
Being such a fast-growing startup, we also asked Alejandro about what it's like balancing his professional life with family. Here he gave us an awesome tip: Always focus on three things at a time. Whether it's three things for the day, for the week, for the month, or the year, having three core outcomes you want to achieve makes it that little bit easier to see what you should prioritise and focus on. For him?
Alejandro: 'Everything can be postponed. But I will never postpone family. For me that's a number one priority. Because at the end of the day if you're not happy, if someone comes and gives me 50 million dollars but I'm divorced and don't see my daughter, what's the point.'
2. Hard work
Alejandro: 'My profession is always important. So I always try to make sure I work hard.'
3. Look after yourself
Alejandro: 'I think it's very important to not only eat healthy and exercise, but to also have time, even if it's just 10 minutes a day, to disconnect.'
Another key takeaway we got from the episode, was to be resourceful and learn to do more with little. For the team at Fenn Foods, COVID-19 provided the challenge, and the team now feels stronger than ever.
Alejandro: 'Coronavirus, if anything, has helped us get stronger, diversify, and make sure we don't have all of our eggs in the same nest.'
For some this may look like going from mainly food service, to retail and ready meals, for others it may be getting ingredients from a variety of suppliers rather than just one. The key: to diversify.
If you want to stay updated with Alejandro and the team's journey, then make sure to check out their website https://veef.com.au/ and follow them on social media @veefbyfennfoods. You can also head to your local woolies and grab some patties today.
Otherwise, have a great day and remember to #BiteForWhatsRight!