Entrepreneur

Before 'Impossible', There Was VeganBurg: How This S'pore Burger Joint Made It To The US

Plant-based meat have seen exponential growth in recent years, suggesting that it may be the ‘food of the future’.

With the debut of Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods in Singapore earlier this year, it has fuelled customers’ demand for meat alternatives in hopes of a healthier diet and reducing animal agriculture.

But way before the trend of plant-based meat became all the rage, VeganBurg pioneered it with bold claims of being the “world’s first 100% plant-based burger joint.”

veganburg singapore
Singapore outlet in Eunos / Image Credit: VeganBurg

Alex Tan founded VeganBurg almost a decade ago in 2010 — and it was all thanks to a livestock long shadow report that changed everything for him.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Alex said that the 2009 news article got him thinking about his food choices.

“I had major health issues because of my Fear Factor-style diet, in this case anything and everything. I was constantly feeling ill until a friend convinced me to try being vegetarian and it worked immediately,” said Alex.

Although he started becoming vegetarian for health reasons, he continued due to ethical reasons.

His key motivation for VeganBurg is to “contribute to the betterment of the world” but he was also inspired by his daughters, who represent the future generation.

I cannot change the fast food industry but I can change what goes into the stuff we eat. I want (my daughters) to grow up eating fast food which they’ll be proud of.

R&D: 100 Buns And Patties A Week

The 46-year-old also co-founded Lamitak — a brand of laminates — in 2010, but chose to fully commit to VeganBurg.

Alex is convinced that he has a solution that could significantly change the world and help end world hunger, so he desperately wanted to make VeganBurg work.

To him, every meal is a contribution to a better world by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.

veganburg alex tan
VeganBurg founder Alex Tan with Michelle of World of Vegan (right) and Toni of Vegan Outreach (left) / Image Credit: VeganBurg

The lack of vegan products in Singapore however, is a double-edged sword.

While VeganBurg can help to bridge this gap, it also serves as a pain point during the research and development (R&D) process.

“I had to commit to a minimum order quantity every time I requested for a product R&D,” shared Alex, recounting his struggles in the early days.

(There was a time when) I had to pay for 100 buns and patties every week or so when I was experimenting with a new patty. Since I cannot sell these as burgers, I had to give them away (instead).

Moreover, being one of the first in the market to offer the novel concept of vegan fast food meant that he had a tough time sourcing for suppliers.

“I had to travel across Asia to look for suitable suppliers with not much to negotiate with,” added Alex.

8 Years To Perfect The Recipe

With the help of his family and team, Alex spent eight years perfecting his own plant-based burger recipe.

VeganBurg’s menu features fast food classics like burgers and fries, but with an East-meets-West twist for a global appeal.

VeganBurg has also changed the notion that fast food is junk food. Their burgers are not just vegan but also free of cholesterol, hormones and GMO, making it a healthier and more sustainable option.

veganburg
Image Credit: VeganBurg

“We hand-make (our burgers) and do very stringent quality checks on our patties with our proprietary in-house recipes developed and governed by (my) family members,” said Alex.

“We pair all our burgers with GMO-free potatoes and our artisan buns are always sourced locally, made fresh and delivered daily (which is) not something you will find in a typical fast food joint.”

80% Of Customers Are Actually Non-Vegetarians

VeganBurg opened its first outlet at Eunos on 10 October 2010 (10.10.10) to huge fanfare.

Beyond capturing the hearts of Singaporeans, VeganBurg has also become a hot favourite among celebrities with the likes of Kat Von D, DJ Steve Aoki and Paul McCartney.

veganburg
Kat Von D (left) at VeganBurg / Image Credit: VeganBurg

“In Singapore, I can confidently say that the plant-based trend is here to stay. From big brands to small family-owned businesses, having a plant-based option has become a must,” said Alex.

“More and more people are becoming receptive and open to consuming plant-based food, and this has reflected in the shift of our customer base. When we first opened, our customer base was 70% vegetarians and 30% non-vegetarians. Now our customer base consists of 80% non-vegetarians.”

Earlier in April, VeganBurg partnered Impossible Foods to serve its iconic plant-based patty. All VeganBurg burgers can now be mixed and matched with the Impossible Patty for an additional fee.

From Singapore To San Francisco And Beyond

It’s clear that VeganBurg has gained a strong foothold in the Singapore market, despite having only one outlet.

Spurred by the positive response, Alex decided to spread its wings to the United States.

veganburg san francisco
VeganBurg’s San Francisco outlet / Image Credit: VeganBurg

They opened their first overseas outlet in San Francisco in 2015, which experienced sales growth of over 40 percent year over year.

The success didn’t come easy, however.

In the US, I had to endure bigger challenges and risks, mainly due to the timeframe of setting up the business there. From the application of visa (for my family and me) to the substantial, upfront commitment of funds, without any guarantee of being able to open and operate the business. I risked everything to make it happen.

VeganBurg later opened its doors for franchising in the US in 2018. In less than a month after announcing the franchise fleet, VeganBurg signed its first franchisee in California.

It is looking to develop a network of franchise locations and seeking partners to propel the VeganBurg brand.

“We’ve already made it work in Singapore. And now, we want to make the franchise to work astoundingly well in California before we team up with a master franchisee so that we can bring VeganBurg to the rest of the nation. We’re talking about New York, Seattle, Texas, and all the other prime spots,” said Alex.

“We’re currently raising funds to open more restaurants in California and beyond. As of (now), we are working on opening more stores in San Francisco’s Bay Area targeting operations by the end of 2020.”

As part of its global expansion, VeganBurg is also working with partners to expand their footprint in Southeast Asia with Indonesia as a key potential market.

Featured Image Credit: TechInsider / VeganBurg

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.
 
Read more about our privacy policy here.