Growing up as a chef in Miami, Florida, Michael Salem has been around the block in the restaurant industry.
Prior to being tapped as president at Recreate Foods, Salem curated the Hart House menu — a quick service plant-based restaurant founded by comedian Kevin Hart — and before that, he was head of culinary innovation for Burger King for just more than four years.
“That’s really where I made my first foray into the plant-based world with the launch of the Impossible Whopper,” said Salem in an interview, “that ended up getting me a lot of exposure and appreciation for the plant-based category.”
A flexitarian, with an affinity for animals, the menu developer and businessman said one of the main attractions to the plant-based industry was the unique impact that a product launch could have.
“Not to trash the product launch of McCafe — it was a great launch — but it didn’t really change the world. In the plant-based category, a product can be profitable, creative, incremental, and make perfect business sense,” said Salem. “But more importantly, and more impactful for me, is it can have a tremendous impact on the pressure that we’re putting on livestock.”
Taste over everything
With a product line of 100% plant-based chicken alternatives, including filets, tenders, nuggets, and grounds, and made from soy-free pea protein, Recreate Foods touts itself on being crafted by chefs and prioritizing a high-quality product.
Salem announced his official part in the company on July 19, and they also recently secured wholesale deals with Sysco and Shamrocks Foods Company.
“The ethos that we operate under as a company is that we’re not a science-based company. We’re not in the business of creating formulas. We’re in the business of creating delicious recipes,” said Salem..
Taste is one thing that Salem believes a lot of his competitors in the plant-based space are forgetting about. “A lot of these big companies have a ton of resources, they have a lot of passion, they have a ton of exposure and media, but they don't really necessarily have a great product,” he said.
The plant-based segment has been facing headwinds in recent years, after seeing mega growth for quite some time. Taste and texture are among several issues facing the industry, which has seen a slump in retail sales.
Instead of focusing on product quality, the Recreate Foods co-founder said that some companies take too strong of a stance on virtue. “We start to see companies position themselves as ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or really leaning in on vegans to kind of shame you into doing the right thing,” said Salem.
With competitors like Upside Foods, Beyond Meat, Just Eat Foods, Alpha Foods, Whole Foods 365 brand, and Dr. Praeger’s, Salem’s Recreate Foods will have its hands full in making a dent in the crowded space.
“What clearly differentiates Recreate from others in the category is it’s simply a delicious chicken based analogue and we're not a value oriented brand, we’re a premium brand,” said Salem.
“I think we can all agree on the positive things about plant based, but one of the things that is not going to get carnivores to adopt plant-based food is shaming them into trying it, or convincing them that it's worth a ‘sacrifice’.”