Whole Foods co-founder plans to launch a chain of vegetarian restaurants

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Diving Brief:

  • John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market, plans to create a chain of plant-based restaurants. Mackey is listed as a partner of Healthy America LLC, reports Bloomberg, which aims to launch vegetarian restaurants nationwide.
  • Healthy America, founded in Austin, Texas in 2020, raised $31 million from investors this year to support its growth plans. In addition to vegetarian restaurants, the company also plans to create a nationwide footprint of medical wellness centers.
  • Growing diner demand for healthy foods is reflected in the growth of chains like Sweetgreen, Chopt and Tender Greens. Mackey’s concept, however, is a bit differentiated as it focuses on holistic wellness.

Overview of the dive:

Mackey’s past success in scaling a business promoting healthy lifestyles may attract more investor attention as vegetarian and vegan diets gain popularity. JThe retail vegan food industry is expected to maintain double-digit growth through 2028, while BLoomberg Intelligence also reports that the global market for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives could reach $162 billion by 2030, up from $29.4 billion in 2020.

Several former Whole Foods executives are joining Mackey in his new venture, serving in CEO and partner positions as well as roles in the finance, development and human resources departments. This cohort could also help make Healthy America’s restaurants competitive with incumbent health-focused chains.

The plant sector is increasingly challenged. Slutty Vegan has grown rapidly since opening its first location in 2018. The chain currently has five restaurants in Georgia, with three more coming soon in Georgia, Alabama and New York, according to its website. Its expansion was spurred by a $25 million Series A funding round in May, which the company told Forbes would be used to build 20 additional restaurants by the end of 2023. Plant Power Fast Food , which has 11 locations, reported net sales increase more than 50% from 2019 to 2020. It also raised $7.5 million in Series A funding in 2021.

According to Bloomberg, a job posting for Healthy America described him as “an evidence-based lifestyle company at the forefront of the convergence of cuisine, health and wellness. For the first time ever, we are bringing all three together under one roof to significantly transform the health and well-being of individuals.

Healthy America’s first outpost is set to open in Southern California in 2023 under the Love Life brand. The company will offer a membership program for consumers interested in accessing all three offerings, as well as individual access for those who simply want to try the restaurants.

Although the concept seems to touch major consumer trends, the company could still face challenges. SSome vegetarian and vegan restaurants have struggled to capture consumer demand. McDonald’s has just completed its burger test at the McPlant plant, for example, and although the company said the timing was on track, analysts believe sales are well below expectations. Other chains, like Dunkin’, have removed plant-based options from their menus.

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