Little Bird Organics announces its intentions of launching a food revolution in New Zealand via crowdfunding and a union with the Ecostore founders. GARY STEEL is just a little bit sceptical.
A very interesting press release slid across the digital landscape of my metaphorical desk last week. Little Bird, it announced, is getting into bed with Ecostore. The aim? To drive the growth of the plant-based food sector.
Now any vegan worth his or her coconut yoghurt or Sunfed ‘Chicken’ knows all about Little Bird, its poster-girl Megan May and the bakery/cafe’s meteoric rise.
I hadn’t anticipated something of this scale or ambition, though. In essence, what they’re planning is an “organic wholefoods revolution” by launching an equity crowdfunding campaign, in which shares will be offered to the public.
To be specific, the press release says that Megan May and Jeremy Bennett of Little Bird Organics are joining forces with Malcolm and Melanie Rands of Ecostore, named as “the country’s most experienced social entrepreneurs”.
To that contention I felt my ears prick up. Really? But hey, who am I to challenge a presss release. I mean, we in New Zealand media have surely come to trust every point of every press release as God’s Truth.
But anyway, back to the real story. Twenty per cent of total shares of the raw, plant-derived business will be offered to the public in a move to raise funds in a move that they hope “will allow Little Bird Organics to become a significant player in the FMCG market, both locally and internationally.”
Malcolm and Melanie have become “cornerstone shareholders” (we had to look that one up) and will join Megan and Jeremy on the Little Bird board. They’ve also recently appointed a General Manager, Leonard Mead, who has international experience in the organics industry.
What the initiative seems to be all about (apart from what business is always about: success and money) is “making plant-based foods more accessible to the mainstream… an important mission and one the business knows can be achieved by raising the investment needed to meet demand.”
May believes that there is both national and international evidence that “healthy food is the fastest growing category in supermarkets,” and trumpets Little Bird’s huge growth (it ships over 20,000 units each week to retailers, has started selling readymade meals to Emirates Leisure Retail, and last year put 10 new product lines on shelves.
I got all goose-bumpy and excited about how this initiative could potentially create a genuine Kiwi-led food revolution, but then one dark thought brought be back down to ground.
May can bang on about organics and ethics all she wants, but Little Bird has never actually pushed the vegan angle, or the ethical angle. The overnight success of the second Little Bird Unbakery opened just off Ponsonby Road catapulted off feature stories about her own health challenges in mainstream media where she was paraded like something out of Vogue. The emphasis was entirely on the way eating raw food had helped her overcome her ill health.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Good on her for getting what so few do: that food is the best medicine, and that the quality of the source of the food and the way its prepared are all-important.
What I’m more sceptical about is the almost complete absence of her voice in pushing veganism as such, and more importantly, as pushing it as the best way to save the planet and to stop the merciless slaughter of billions of suffering animals.
I get it, I really do. I think. Down the road in Grey Lynn is a vegetarian cafe, Kokako, that never even mentions that it’s vegetarian, because it helps to normalise vegetarianism/veganism. Maybe that’s what May intended, too. Maybe she really does come at veganism from an ethical (for the planet and animals) and not just a selfish personal health angle. But it disappoints me that, while Little Bird is talking about a food revolution she’s not giving any credit to or working alongside any of the other amazing vegan organisations and businesses in NZ.
I guess it’s not her fault that Little Bird is generally full of “Ponsonby ladies” who can afford to eat there and are probably doing so for trend value alone and will probably go home and eat a big fat steak that very night.
I guess it’s not her fault that Little Bird products are so incredibly expensive and that someone on my wage bracket could never, ever hope to afford their muesli, or any of their other products.
Or is it? To me, a genuine food revolution is going to occur not necessarily with the mainstreaming of vegan products into supermarkets but prices that the average Joe and Joeline can actually afford.
I’d probably rather eat Little Bird’s food than that of Tart Bakery down in Grey Lynn shops, but I think what they’re doing is much more revolutionary: making comfort food that might actually turn meat eaters into vegans. Food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
This talk of supermarkets is fine. Supermarket availability makes the products more accessible, for sure. But try looking for niche products in supermarkets in the small towns dotted throughout NZ and the reality becomes apparent. In the Dargaville Countdown for instance, there are no ‘natural’ or organic cleaning products. No, not even Ecostore. This is a large Countdown. Yes, there are a few expensive mueslis (but not as costly as Little Bird’s variety) and coconut yoghurt seems to be on-trend even in the regions, but…
Look, I don’t want to over-emphasise my doubts. I do think it’s wonderful that Little Bird – in collaboration with Ecostore’s founders – is launching this move to create a food revolution both here and overseas. Of course, it’s a food revolution that’s already underway and it’s not entirely to do with them, but anyone that stands up and fundraises for something really valuable that might in the long run help to change people’s attitudes towards food and sustainability and ethics and animals has to be applauded.
If I had a bit of spare cash I might even be tempted to invest myself, because it’s just the sort of thing I’d like to sink my Lotto winnings into. When I win Lotto, that is.
I just wish that Little Bird would come down to earth a bit. If it’s really going to create a food revolution, their products need to be at a price point that more than just those fickle “Ponsonby ladies” can afford, and it would help if they did more than spout stuff like this: “Little Bird Organics is committed to using its position to further develop the organic food industry in New Zealand and to carve out a global path to market for quality New Zealand plant-based products, developed with a passion for organic, ethical and sustainable sources.” It’s a start, but what does it really stand for, or against?
Check this out for more info about Little Bird’s share offer and the Q&A’s that will precede it.