Nearly 20 years ago, Chef Anders “The Duck” Linden, a renowned Swedish chef, created a plant-based protein unlike anything available at the time. His creation, a versatile and chef-friendly vegan protein called Oumph!, caught the attention of many in the food services industry, but didn’t gain traction until The Duck partnered with Swedish investors to bring the product to market. After seeing commercial success in Europe, The Duck set his sights on bringing his concept to the United States.
“A group of investors in Sweden, along with Chef Anders, decided to introduce the plant based protein to the U.S., knowing that the U.S. market was far behind the European market,” said Alex Kramarchuk, CEO of Future Foods – the company behind Oumph!. “They recognized a massive ‘protein shift’ happening in the world and knew the U.S. was the perfect market to grow the business. With a projected global population exceeding eight billion by 2025, we must become better stewards of the planet. Raising enough animals to supply our current and future protein requirements is simply not sustainable.”
Originally from New York, Kramarchuk moved to Jupiter, FL, in 2004 to work with a company called Shoes For Crews. He brought with him 12 years of public accounting experience consulting with and auditing businesses throughout the tri-state region. During his time with Shoes For Crews – a shoe company that provides slip-resistant footwear to 90 of the top 100 restaurant chains in the country – Kramarchuk served as the Controller and then VP of Finance and was involved in many sides of the operation. In late 2017, when word got out that a plant-based food company was looking to hire someone to guide a startup, his name was floated by many who knew and respected his reputation.
“During my time with Shoes For Crews, I crossed paths with some big players in the food services industry,” Kramarchuk said. “Some of the Swedes and board members with Future Foods spend time in Jupiter. After a series of interviews, I was hooked. I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Kramarchuk officially joined as CEO in July 2018. At the time, the company consisted of four people based out of Lake Worth looking for ways to introduce and expand the brand throughout the United States. Kramarchuk’s first task was to scramble to get raw materials from Europe after the original source dried up. He was also tasked with finding a co-packer in the U.S. to manufacture the product.
“Upon doing that, I realized that the production market and the capacity of the co-packers to handle plant-based protein was thin,” he said. “That’s when we made the decision to build a facility to create our own product in the U.S. We swept the southeast states looking for the perfect location and found exactly what we were looking for in Ormond Beach.”
Future Foods took an old U.S. Foods distribution building in Ormond and converted it into a modern day food manufacturing facility – which, according to Kramarchuk, is a true “feat of engineering”. Inside, a proprietary method is utilized to take four simple ingredients and create a product whose texture is extremely similar to meat. In fact, they’ve even been able to form fibers – something Kramarchuk points to as being a key differentiator with Oumph!.
“We’re trying to stay away from heavy processing,” he said. “We use a minimal number of ingredients without binders and fillers. That’s why our plant is quite unique. To put together the right equipment without having to use synthetic binders is remarkable. Just by using heat, cooling and pressure, we’re able to create these fibers and ultimately a product that’s satisfying to those who are accustomed to eating meat.”
Kramarchuk added, “We’re not an aggressive plant-based company. We’re going after the ‘Flexitarians’ – people who ‘flex’ between eating plants and meat. There should be good alternatives to animal proteins and we think we’ve created one that mimics the bite, texture and feel of chicken or pork.”
The current business model of Future Foods is Business-to-Business. They’re focused on growing the brand within the food service and restaurant sectors before incorporating a retail component into the mix. Thus far, they’ve done this by attending food shows and reaching out directly to restaurants and universities. Even though COVID-19 has put a damper on the company’s growth strategy, Kramarchuk remains optimistic that things will get back to normal soon.
“Before I came onboard, the company was doing almost 50 food shows per year,” he said. “Upon joining, as CEO, I streamlined things and focused our efforts on the major trade shows. We also started ‘pounding the pavement’ to introduce ourselves to certain restaurants. Obviously COVID has caused us to pull back on these efforts for now. However, once things get back to normal, we’ll be in a great position to go after the younger generations that are pushing plant-based products. We’re embedding ourselves in universities and institutions to familiarize the next generation of future consumers with our product before they hit the real world.”
For Kramarchuk, joining a startup has been one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences he’s ever had. As a CPA, he was limited to mostly working with numbers. As the CEO of Future Foods, he’s involved in all aspects of the operation – something that fascinates and energizes him.
“I really enjoy learning about operations and solving day to day problems with our clients,” he said. “I love the variety that comes with being CEO. I’ll look at a budget for one hour and then the next hour I’m on a call with potential suppliers working on how to get isolate over to the plant. I’ve also been involved with some major sales calls, assisting our sales team. Being part of the team to build the plant was also an incredible experience.”
Kramarchuk continued, “When people heard I was joining a startup, they said you’ll regret it or you’ll have second thoughts. Although some days have been challenging, seeing a facility and a team come together to promote a great product is so exciting. Our product is a game-changer and it’s something we all stand behind.”
Looking ahead, Kramarchuk and his team are focused on growing the brand and adding additional facilities across the country. The goal for the Ormond facility is to add two additional shifts and sales staff, bringing the total number of employees at that location to 50 by the end of 2022. They’re also considering the possibility of creating their own specific bean. He describes this bean as a combination between soy and a pea, and one that would produce a far superior bean to what’s currently available. As the company grows, partnering with and utilizing local farmers will also remain a top priority.
What advice does Kramarchuk have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “In order to be successful you need the right combination of skill, a product or service that is superior to others, timing and luck,” he said. “Also, you can’t do it alone. You might have a great product, but you need support and backing. You want to surround yourself with people with the same goals so your vision continues to move forward. Don’t let your idea get hijacked. I’ve seen great ideas succumb to competitors or an outside force that leads the company in the wrong direction and the dream evaporates. Get support, know your product and potential customers and hold your idea near and dear.”