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GTFO It’s Vegan Founder Marc Pierce on How Veganism Changed His Life

Introduction

The vegan lifestyle seems to be more mainstream than ever. But despite its growing popularity, new adopters may have trouble navigating the lifestyle due to factors such as limited product accessibility. 

GTFO It’s Vegan is a marketplace for vegan and plant-based products, including food, home goods, and pet goods. The company sources healthy and sustainable goods from around the globe, testing products personally before selling them. We reached out to co-founder and CEO Mark Pierce to learn more about how veganism changed his life and the company’s plans to increase environmental sustainability.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Yasmin Sharbaf

In your own words, how would you describe GTFO It's Vegan?

Marc Pierce

Launched May 15, 2020, GTFO It’s Vegan has quickly emerged as the largest player in the online vegan grocery market. GTFO strives to be the destination for everything vegan, for everybody, everywhere, to help ensure the sustainability of our people and our planet.

GTFO It’s Vegan is a progressive online retailer, wholesaler, and distributor of curated plant-based foods. We are pioneering the “New Age Vegan” movement, appealing to individuals who may not be vegans today but are seeking to eat and live better, without sacrificing the enjoyment of eating a great meal.

We seek out the newest innovations in vegan foods from all around the world, including meat, seafood, cheese and dairy, bakery, snacks, and much more. We currently have more than 2,800 stock-keeping units (SKUs) across more than 700 brands, including our own private label line of vegan sashimi, baked goods, appetizers, and ready-made meals. We try every product before featuring it on our site to ensure each one adheres to our taste and texture standards, so when you try our products, you want to say, “GTFO, it’s vegan.”  

We pride ourselves on giving the best possible customer experience, from an easy-to-use, visually appealing online shopping experience, to processing orders within 24 hours for delivery within one-to-two days (at the customer’s request).

Yasmin Sharbaf

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Marc Pierce

I remember the day, July 27, 2015. My wife and co-founder of GTFO It’s Vegan, Tanya, said, “Honey, we are going vegan!” Now realize, at the time, we lived in Chicago, the heart of steak country, and I looked at her with skeptical eyes and said, “GTFO, are you serious!?” At the time, I was 45 years old and had grown up in the midwest where meat was a standard part of our diet. As a loving and devoted husband, I, of course, said I was open to the idea but wanted to know why.

Tanya went on to explain how she had read about the cruelty to animals and the negative impacts on the environment and our health. And as spiritual human beings, eating meat does not align with what is right, just, and why we are on this planet. So, the next day, I had my very last Italian sandwich from Potbelly’s and final pepperoni deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s and, with that, I committed to a new way of eating and — more importantly — thinking.

What I didn’t know at the time was the positive impact it would have on my health. I was born with a hole in my heart, something called Tetralogy of Fallot, which was partially fixed when I was five. But as life has it — and as a common outcome of having this type of surgery in 1975 — I then needed another surgery in 2006 to replace my pulmonary valve.  

I thought I was in the clear, but in 2015, when my wife made the declaration we were going vegan, I also had my annual heart checkup and learned that my aortic valve was expanding beyond the acceptable limits, and I would need a third open-heart surgery. My cardiologist suggested we monitor the situation and make the decision in six months. Six months later, I had another MRI of my heart, and the results were something they have never seen before. Simply put, the diameter of my aortic valve decreased, and I would not need another surgery. Nothing else had changed in my life but my diet. So if I had any question before, I now was a true believer.

So, Tanya and I sought to start a company that would give others the benefits that she gave me five years ago — another chance at life.  And of course, innovation in vegan food has come so far along that the options are limitless and new vegan food innovations are available that we could never have imagined before (e.g. plant based burgers, vegan butter, etc.), so living a vegan lifestyle is easy. 

Yasmin Sharbaf

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Marc Pierce

Today, we are definitely a family business. We were founded by my wife, Tanya, and myself. My oldest son, Sam, helps lead our warehouse team, my father helps us source new products from around the world, and my brother recently came on to help secure distribution for our new line of vegan sashimi. However, with our rapid growth, we are now actively looking to fill key positions, including product sourcing, marketing, wholesaling, category management, and operations.

Yasmin Sharbaf

How is GTFO It’s Vegan transforming the vegan food industry?

Marc Pierce

Our goal is to make vegan and plant-based food affordable and accessible to everybody, everywhere. And in fact, this extends beyond food, as we plan to expand into new markets, such as clothing and cosmetics.

To transform requires more than simply retailing products. Our plan is to vertically integrate, including sourcing and manufacturing our own products, launching a line of sustainable packaging and shipping materials to achieve a zero-carbon footprint, and to building out a domestic and ultimately global distribution infrastructure to enable easy and affordable access to vegan products everywhere.

In our journey thus far, we have also come to realize that vegan and plant-based does not always mean better for you. So we are launching an initiative in 2022 to focus on better-for-you vegan offerings and showcase brands that truly demonstrate a commitment to cleaner ingredients and better-for-the-planet packaging solutions.

Yasmin Sharbaf

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Marc Pierce

We see the market in four quadrants based on product focus (broad, vegan/plant based) and value chain focus (distribution, ecommerce).

Focusing on the US market, there are a handful of players that are solely e-commerce, including Vegan Essentials, VedgeCo, Vegii, and NoPigNeva. These players are solely online with far fewer SKUs. With the exception of Vegan Essentials, they rely solely on third-party logistic companies to pick, pack, and ship their orders.

There are also a number of e-commerce players that are more broad in their grocery product focus, including Thrive, FreshDirect, Instacart, and Peapod. While they carry some vegan and plant-based options, their SKUs are very limited.

In the distribution space, there are several major long-time players, including UNFI, Kehe, DOT, and US Foods. They are very broad in their product set and only tend to carry nationally recognized vegan and plant-based brands.

Finally, companies such as Amazon Fresh and Walmart span both e-commerce and distribution, though like the major distributors, they tend to only carry nationally recognized brands. Amazon Fresh also only serves limited markets across the country.

While the competitive space is vast, no one currently owns the vegan and plant-based retail and distribution market, which is where GTFO It’s Vegan strives to be the dominant player. Vegan customers, vendors, and retailers want vegan partners. They don’t want to obtain products from suppliers that serve the non-vegan market.

Yasmin Sharbaf

Can you tell us more about your vegan product line? What products do you plan to add in the future?

Marc Pierce

We began experimenting with our own line of vegan products at the beginning of 2021. We started with a few select vegan baked goods, deli meats, tamales, and samosas by partnering with top chefs and ghost kitchens across the country.  

In October, 2021, we launched our own line of vegan sashimi, including tuna, salmon, sailfish, and calamari under our GreatFoods It’s Vegan private label line. We now have the most extensive line of vegan sashimi in the US market.  

The vegan seafood market is the fastest growing category in the market. This is based on GTFO’s own proprietary purchase data. By mining our data — coupled with our own proprietary consumer market research — we have developed the best and most comprehensive information on consumer trends in plant-based purchases than any other source.

We have many more products in the works, including other vegan seafood items, New York- and Chicago-style pizzas, a line of artisanal cheeses as well as other high purchase-volume items such as bacon, drumsticks, and cheese sticks.  

Yasmin Sharbaf

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Marc Pierce

We plan to deploy the capital in three ways:

  1. Open another fulfillment center in the Midwest so we can reach every customer more affordably via ground shipping.
  2. Introduce additional private label lines that carry high profit margins.
  3. Build out our wholesale capabilities so we can significantly grow our sales among brick-and-mortar retailers, restaurants, and other food service providers.
Yasmin Sharbaf

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Marc Pierce

Since launch in May 2020, we have fulfilled 30,000 orders for 300,000 items and realized $4 million in revenue since inception ($1 million in 2020 and $3 million in 2021).  

We have an Instagram following of 80,000, more than 50,000 registered users on our site, and an email list of 55,000, all organically grown.

Most of the other players in the vegan and plant-based market are solely purchasing other brands, selling them on their site, and fulfilling them through third-party logistic companies. We are a full-service retailer, wholesaler, distributor, and manufacturer, with a growing line of private label products manufactured under the GreatFoods It’s Vegan brand name. In fact, just later this week, we will be launching our line of vegan sashimi, under the GreatFoods It’s Vegan brand. We are also working on introducing a line of sustainable packaging to be used by our vendors that want to share in our mission of becoming one of the most important companies in this century to ensure the sustainability of our people and our planet.

Yasmin Sharbaf

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Marc Pierce

 Like any startup investment, there are myriad options down the line — from going public to being acquired or raising future rounds of capital, at which point new investors may give current investors the opportunity to sell their shares. We will evaluate all of these options as they come along and select those that enable us to stay on point with our mission and vision.

But within 10 years, we plan to have a global distribution infrastructure; brick-and-mortar chain of vegan, small-footprint stores in key markets; an extensive line of private label products that make up 30% of our portfolio; a line of sustainable packaging that will be used by all our vendors; and manufacturing capabilities in key categories, such as seafood.

We look forward to seeing where Marc and his team take the company. GTFO It’s Vegan is currently raising on StartEngine.

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About: Yasmin Sharbaf

Yasmin is passionate about the intersection of business, art, and science. Prior to KingsCrowd, Yasmin worked on a cryptocurrency investing research project for Wellesley College Investment Office where she assessed the risks and rewards for university endowment investment into cryptocurrency. She has also previously worked in a neuroscience lab studying language and memory of songbirds. Yasmin’s dream is to make investing and financial education accessible to everyone. In her free time, Yasmin enjoys going on adventures, learning new languages, and exploring different cultures. Yasmin studied Neuroscience and Studio Art at Wellesley College.

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