Auckland-based company, Off-Piste Provisions, is combining cutting-edge food technology with a Kiwi can-do attitude to meet the rising demand in Aotearoa and around the world for plant-based food options.
Its first product to hit the shelves is a plant-based jerky, made using protein sourced from fava and peas, which goes on sale on 15 November via the website (offpiste.co.nz) and will be on shelves in supermarkets from 19 November. The key point of difference between the jerky made by Off-Piste Provisions and other plant-based jerky brands is its meat analogue format: its texture is so similar to that of actual meat proteins that most people can’t tell the difference.
Off-Piste Provisions’ founder and CEO, Kiwi entrepreneur Jade Gray, said the company aims to cater to the growing number of New Zealanders who are embracing a more plant-based, or “reducetarian”, way of eating.
“Last week the Whole Foods Trend Council released its annual, most anticipated food trends for 2022, and reducetariansim – or the reduction of meat, dairy and egg consumption – is at number three on the list,” Gray noted.
This trend is also evident in the latest data from Google Trends, which identifies Aotearoa as the fifth-most popular country for veganism in the world. Additionally, IRI’s State of the Industry Survey 2020 showed almost one in three Kiwis are flexitarian. With this shift towards plant-based eating, Gray believes Aotearoa has the potential to become a world-class food hub, renowned not just for its primary industries but for its innovative food technology.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move up the value chain through optimising crops for the coming wave of protein formats.”
Off-Piste Provisions is leading the way; having received a $200,000 grant from Ministry of Primary Industries, the company have collaborated with experts from Massey University and Callaghan Innovation to create 100% plant-based (meat-free) products that are very different to the plant-based mince and chicken alternatives that are currently in the market.
“We’ve put a lot of energy and resource into researching and perfecting NZ’s first ever cut of analogue red meat. The texture is just like a piece of meat and opens up a whole range of high value products from steaks to chops” Gray explained. “The future potential for what we have created is huge.”
Gray notes that getting the texture right is only half the battle; Off-Piste Provisions also worked with two sports nutritionists to optimise the health benefits, and one of New Zealand’s top chefs to fine tune the flavours. The outcome is three flavours of jerky: Original, Sweet & Hot, and Teriyaki.
“Feedback from taste-testing so far hasn’t identified a clear favourite, which suggests that we’ve got it right in offering something for every palate. Texture wise, it’s so uncannily like beef jerky that some vegans have found it too similar and are reluctant to eat it!”
Although currently working out of The FoodBowl (NZ Food Innovation Network’s Auckland-based, open-access research and development facility), Off-Piste Provisions has just closed a first round of funding to open a dedicated facility, with backing from a prominent venture capital fund.
Off-Piste Provisions is also working with farmers to transition towards a sustainable economy that focuses on decarbonising Aotearoa’s agricultural sector: in July, Gray was a speaker at the Foundation for Arable Research’s conference at Lincoln, which hosted more than 300 Kiwi farmers and growers.
“There are parts of New Zealand where the land is better suited to growing plant protein rather than animal protein. Off-Piste Provisions wants to ensure that Kiwi farmers are along for the plant-based ride, growing local produce to cater to New Zealand’s growing number of vegans, reducetarians and flexitarians.”
“I hope we can continue to embrace a consumer-led approach to our decision-making on the farm,” he adds. “New Zealand is understandably proud of its meat and dairy excellence – we have relied on it for decades of prosperity – but we can’t allow emotion to cloud progress. It’s important that we stay focused on what our key global markets are putting in their shopping carts.”
Launching a new company in the midst of a pandemic may seem like a brash move, but this isn’t Gray’s first pandemic. Having been based in China for the last two decades, he’s already been through the SARS and swine flu outbreaks and is able to apply the lessons learned from those experiences to his latest endeavour. He’s also no newcomer to plant-based food production: having spent many years managing a beef cattle farm plus supermarket butcheries and a meat processing plant in China, Gray changed course to create Gung Ho! Pizza, a chain of Beijing pizza stores that embraced sustainability and plant-based eating and was China's first B Corp certified Food and Beverage company.
B Corp certification is firmly in Gray’s sights for Off-Piste Provisions as well: he is passionate about building a company that walks the sustainability talk. And although the company is serious about the benefits of a more plant-based diet for both individual and planet, it has a light-hearted, slightly cheeky outlook.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously and add a decent dose of quirk, wit and edge to every interaction. We’re a left-field brand and somewhat rebels of the food industry, leading Kiwis astray one piece of delicious plant-based jerky at a time.”