Plant-Based food consultant Mario Rodriguez, owner of Bootleg Avocado, shares his expertise
I met Mario Rodriguez at an alternative protein meet-up, which brings together venture capitalists, philanthropic advisors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, chefs, and restaurateurs. With their warm and welcoming hospitality, meet-up hosts Rachel Atcheson and Sean McElwee, provide an atmosphere that encourages attendees to mingle and discuss the future of the alternative protein space. Or, just simply to chat and catch up on trends, while enjoying the pot-luck plant-based dishes guests bring.
Mario piqued my interest when I learned that he has a strong background in culinary arts and food science, and is using that expertise to help plant-based food startups succeed. By focusing on flavor, texture, and sensory experiences, he and his team are likely able to help these startups create delicious and appealing products that will resonate with consumers. Additionally, by providing support with operations and value chain validation, Mario Rodriguez is helping these startups scale their businesses in a sustainable way.
With the significant increase in the number of chefs, restaurants and foodservice providers developing and offering plant-based menus, I asked Mario for his perspective.
The name of your business, Bootleg Avocado, is intriguing. Tell us what’s behind the name and what your organization is all about.
The name was simple and serendipitous. Avocados are a staple of Latin culture and I grew up eating lots of them. So for me it always brings me back to my childhood. You also can’t deny the versatility of the fruit. The bootleg part of it came from the approach of getting things done in any way possible. Especially working in many startups, there are many problems to fix, and sometimes you just need to come up with a solution on the fly – the bootleg technique. From that came Bootleg Avocado – our mission is to support business owners and founders scale their plant-based brands and foodtech concepts, with a focus on culinary and operational initiatives.
What factors are driving chefs, restaurants and foodservice to develop plant-based menus? Do you see this demand continuing?
The demand is stemming from the demand of the people – younger generations (millennials and Gen Z) who have adopted a healthier way of living – one that is less impactful to the environment. Many colleges and universities are seeing demand for plant-based products from their student body, forcing their food service department to actually read their labels and to look for healthier alternatives.
I’m a Gen X’er and for me it has been a big shift in my diet, but I find myself feeling better abstaining from animal products. From a chef’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to work with just plants and develop more creative ways with natural ingredients. It challenges your skills and techniques beyond what you’ve been taught in the professional kitchen. The demand is here to stay, but people want cleaner ingredients.
I understand that many of your clients ask you three questions when you begin consulting with them. Could you share the answers you give them?
- What are the key considerations for a plant-based menu development? How big should the menu be?
- Some key things to consider include flavor profile, cuisine, type of eating experience (grab and go, etc.), processed vs. minimally processed products, price point and volume expected. The size of the menu varies on the size of the kitchen and staff. From a creative perspective, I’d like to understand the concept fully and the story behind it.
- What are the cleanest products / brands to use? What’s worth doing things in-house?
- For the most part, I always lean on making most things in-house to control the food cost and quality of the food. It’s always helpful to have some reliable and trust-worthy purveyors that can secure for you some consistent ingredients with a competitive price and less volume restrictions. If you need to rely on processed products, I would avoid using brands with ingredients containing methylcellulose, carrageenan, seed oil, and gums. These ingredients are used more for function and can cause inflammation, stomach issues, and other ailments.
- How do I launch my plant-based menu effectively?
- Do your research and taste what’s out there first. Talk to other business owners and understand their approach to their menu and see what things they found difficult or challenging. Execute numerous tastings for people to gather feedback. Become friends with your food sources and understand where their products come from. Research other brands to see what products are available and see if they align with your expectations on taste, ingredients, and cost.
- Launching a plant-based menu is similar to launching any normal menu. It’s a business at the end of the day and you need to make some good margins in order to survive. More importantly, be critical and selective when it comes to establishing your team – they are the heart of the operation, and it all needs to come together in order to sustain the quality of food that you want to sell. The last thing I would say is make sure there is a story behind the concept – what will get people interested in your approach to “plant-based” food and where do the roots stem from.
To contact Mario Rodriguez and learn more about Bootleg Avocado services, visit their website.