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ABC’s Shark Tank has become synonymous with cutthroat deals and investors circling for prime opportunities. As consumer demand for vegan foods increases, the panel of experienced entrepreneurs, particularly Mark Cuban, alongside a range of celebrity guest investors, have shown greater interest in the booming plant-based sector. After going vegetarian in 2019, Cuban has led offers for numerous plant-based startups on the show. He has even championed some to appear in the past (see below).
Not all founders have walked away with a deal in place, but most have conceded that the exposure from a Shark Tank appearance did their companies no harm. Chief amongst them is Deborah Torres, founder of Atlas Monroe, who turned down Mark Cuban’s offer of $1 million to buy her company outright.
The following seven appearances proved significant for plant-based entrepreneurs and made for exciting viewing:
1. Everything Legendary
Pitch: Vegan beef burgers “made in a kitchen, not a lab”.
Deal scooped: $300,000 from Mark Cuban for a 22 percent equity share.
Significant successes: Widespread distribution into Publix, Sprouts, Ralphs, Safeway and Target and a recently announced partnership with Live Nation to supply vegan food at summer concerts.
Maryland-based Everything Legendary is a Black-owned startup that set out to change the impact of fast food, particularly on BIPOC communities. Using pea and hemp protein, products are usually lower in calories and higher in protein than competitors’ alternatives. Earlier this year the brand confirmed it has closed a $6 million Series A funding round for total company expansion, including the development of multiple new product lines.
2. Project Pollo
Pitch: Plant-based chicken sold on a ‘pay what you can afford’ basis and in locations that used to be conventional fast-food restaurants. Founder Lucas Bradbury has been vocal about putting Chick-fil-A out of business.
Deal scooped: None, despite Kevin O’Leary calling the product the “best fake chicken” he had ever eaten.
Significant successes: More than a dozen restaurants opened in Bradbury’s home state of Texas and multiples are planned for completion out of state, later in 2022. Bradbury received an email from mark Cuban suggesting that he go on the show. Despite completing the rigorous application process, he left without a deal due to the company’s speed of growth. He wasn’t deterred and stated that he acts in ways that are best for Project Pollo only. Investors have been secured since the show aired.
Pitch: Vegan pork rind snacks that are healthier than their conventional counterpart at 90 calories a serving.
Deal scooped: $250,000 from Mark Cuban for a five percent equity share and five percent of advisory shares.
Significant successes: Expansion of its Rockville factory, due to a surge in demand following the television appearance and distribution into more than 2,500 stores across the U.S.
It has been reported that when he first appeared on Shark Tank, Snacklins’ founder Samy Kobrosly’s company was seeing around $5,000 in online sales per week. Following the episode airing, this shot up, with the Washington startup now surpassing $5.3 million in total sales. Additional distribution is expected to come this year, with new flavour lines being added to the roster as well.
4. Wild Earth
Pitch: Vegan dog food for improved pet health.
Deal scooped: $550,000 from Mark Cuban, for 10 percent equity share.
Significant successes: Targeted expansion to include vegan supplements for dogs that target joints, digestion and skin.
Ryan Bethencourt presented his Californian plant-based dog food product to the sharks. His focus on clean protein quickly gained Cuban’s interest and a slew of future investors as well. In 2021, one year after the Shark Tank appearance, Wild Earth netted $23 million in a Series A Plus funding round, with Cuban investing again. Some of the funding will be diverted to Bethencourt’s new interest: cultivated meat for dog and cat food products.
Pitch: Freshly baked vegan cinnamon rolls, finished with a range of toppings.
Deal scooped: $200,000 from Robert Harjavec for a 40 percent equity share.
Significant successes: Opening 69 franchise locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Cinnaholic combines Cinnabon with every ice cream parlour that’s ever existed and a few artisanal doughnut shops too. It creates large, gooey cinnamon rolls that can be topped with a variety of sweet treats, including brownie pieces, fruit, peanut butter and cookie dough, all vegan of course. The Californian startup has moved into catering, cakes and DIY cinnamon roll bars, to keep things interesting.
6. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky
Pitch: Umami-forward jerky made using mushrooms.
Deal scooped: $300,000 from Mark Cuban for an 18 percent equity share.
Significant successes: Creating a bidding war between Cuban and fellow sharks Lori Greiner and Blake Mycoskie, who wanted to partner up and offer a joint deal. Nationwide distribution has also been secured since the show aired, with Kroger, Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods and Foxtrot market coming on board.
Oregon-based Pan’s was inspired by founder Michael Pan’s experience of a mushroom snack in Borneo, which he claims tasted exactly like conventional jerky. Recognising the opportunity to bring a beloved snack to vegan audiences, he develop a line of shitake mushroom-based jerky using clean, protein-rich ingredients. Pan has spoken fondly of his appearance on Shark Tank, calling it a validating and humbling experience.
7. Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli
Pitch: Vegan deli meats based on classic New York offerings.
Deal scooped: $250,000 from Mark Cuban for a 20 percent equity share.
Significant successes: A switch from wholesale-only to retail sales that allowed for a pivot into new lines including turkey and steak slices, alongside the classic vegan corned beef.
Founder Jenny Goldfarb has commented that she applied for Shark Tank because one ‘Shark’ dollar is worth five consumer dollars, due to the widespread media exposure that follows. Goldfarb founded her company to veganise the classic new York deli sandwiches that she grew up with. Corned beef was her first product launched, with exclusive distribution to food service partners.
Lead photo by ABC.