Best of 2012 Retail Product/Brand: Vega

December 7, 2012

Customers get a greater variety of plant products, thanks to this Canadian firm.

Vegans, vegetarians, and customers looking for tastier, intriguing plant products can thank Vega for livening up the scene. The Canadian firm helped develop the plant food market, giving customers more options and sources than ever before. The result? Sales are skyrocketing. The company’s 2012 fiscal year ending July 31 showed 70% sales growth in Canada and the United States combined. This growth is even more impressive considering the fact that Vega only existed as a brand since 2004 and didn’t start selling product in the United States until 2007. Fast-forward, and the brand’s largest U.S. retail partner is Whole Foods Market.

“We’re very proud of our growth in the United States because it is often difficult for a Canadian brand to replicate growth in another country,” says Charles Chang, CEO and cofounder. “We had strong sales in Canada beforehand, and  U.S. sales are now almost at the same level as Canada’s. Plus, we’re still learning about all of the distinct markets in the United States, each of which has a very different type of consumer.”

Vega formulas are vegan and without soy, gluten, or dairy. Vega brands include Vega and Vega Sport. The product line spans snack bars, protein powders, endurance gels, and powdered supplements. The products meet the needs of sports nutrition customers seeking plant-based products-but also appeal to anyone pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

All of Vega’s plant-based products contain protein from a variety of vegetarian sources, such as Sach Inchi, pea, hemp seed, and sprouted whole-grain brown rice. The firm believes that when diverse plant-based proteins are combined, they deliver a complete essential amino acid profile. Vega’s products also include a variety of greens, including alfalfa grass, broccoli, kale, and chlorella, which is 68% protein and sourced from green algae. Antioxidant-rich ingredients are also part of the line, including grape seed extract and three types of berries-maqui, goji, and acai.

All product formulas are developed by Vega cofounder Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and also a vegan. “When I first met Brendan, I immediately saw his passion for nutrition, and I knew we had to work together. He is completely authentic,” Chang says. “Brendan was talking about the benefits of soy-free and gluten-free products eight years ago, back when these weren’t popular ideas.”

The two initially met because Brazier was a fan of Sequel Naturals, a brand Chang had created. Sequel Naturals was similar to what Vega is today, using many of the same plant-based ingredients, and comprising mostly powders and energy drinks. Brazier was impressed by how well Sequel’s products helped fuel his workouts. The two began developing products together, this time under the Vega brand name and eventually phasing out the Sequel name. Brazier developed the formulations, and Chang sourced the ingredients. By January 2012, all of Vega’s products were rebranded and repackaged. Today, the Vega line encompasses more than 200 SKUs. The Vega Sport line alone contains 74 SKUs.

Chang says he is committed to finding the best ingredient sources around the world. “I can trace many of our ingredients back to the farm, which I will visit personally. Quality ingredients make a huge difference in terms of efficacy,” he says. “Many companies ‘fairy dust’ with a sprinkle of certain ingredients, just because the ingredients sound trendy on a label. Our formulations contain ingredients that work synergistically and in the correct amounts to be beneficial.”

Brazier himself has been drumming up much attention over the years among elite athletes as well as health-conscious celebrities who Vega counts among its dedicated supporters. Actor Hugh Jackman used Brazier’s suggestions to bulk up for his role as Wolverine, and wrote the forward in one of Brazier’s books, the 2010 edition of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life.

Chang says that when he thinks back, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when he first had the idea for a natural products company and started a brand in his basement. “I’m so proud to see how quickly we have grown to a team of over 100 motivated employees. Without Brendan’s brilliant vision, Vega wouldn’t be what it is today.”