Joining us today is Monica Klausner, co-founder of Veestro, the premier plant-based meal delivery services company. Born and raised in Costa Rica and now pioneer in both vegan and subscription-based spaces, we’re thrilled to have Monica with us on the show today.
What caused you to create one of the first vegan meal delivery services?
At Veestro we make fully prepared 100% plant-based meals that are delivered straight to people’s doors anywhere in the US. And my brother and I started the company back in 2012, so this is before vegan was even popular, back then when vegan was still a bad word.
But what happened was we grew up in Costa Rica eating very healthy food, lots of fruits and veggies, most everything was plant-based. Meat was very expensive back then, so we’d have meat maybe once or twice a week, but the rest of the week we had lots of fruits and veggies, and everything made from scratch. And my brother was working as an investment banker, and he kept calling me and complaining that he just couldn’t eat healthy, he didn’t have time to make food himself. He would get home really late from the gym and just wanted to eat something healthy and go to bed, and then wake up the next morning and do it all over again, but he couldn’t find anything healthy, and he wanted to eat the way we ate at home.
at that time, I happened to be reading The China Study, which I don’t know if you know, but it’s a very interesting book about the science behind why eating plant-based makes sense. And so I told him about it, and he noodled it for a little bit, and one day he called me and he said, “I think I’m going to do this. I’m going to make food the way we used to eat it at home, and have it delivered to people’s doors so that they don’t have to suffer through what I’ve been suffering through.” So that’s how we got started.
What other parts of growing up in Costa Rica shaped you?
Our grandparents are all Eastern European immigrants, and they came to Costa Rica after World War 2, and they had to start businesses because nobody would hire them.
So we come from a family of all entrepreneurs, my aunts, my uncles, grandparents, cousins, everybody owns their own business. And so growing up, we saw my mom had a shoe store, my dad had a factory, we saw what it was like to be an entrepreneur, to work on your own business, and grow something for your own. And so my brother and I always really had this idea that we wanted to do something entrepreneurial. So when he proposed that I join him, I jumped on the opportunity in a second.
Sherri Langburt: We share very similar backgrounds, my parents are also Eastern European immigrants, and the ethic and just the amount of work that you saw. My grandmother was a seamstress, and my grandfather owned a metal shop, so it’s interesting to hear we share such similar backgrounds. Now given that, I know I didn’t join my family business, but there are certainly challenges of working with family, and there’s pros and cons.
What are some of the pros and cons of working with your brother?
Monica Klausner: Well, I have to tell you, seven and a half years in, things are going great. However, it wasn’t always like that.
For starters, I’m the oldest sister. So I was used to being the boss. And then when we started working together, the company is basically mainly my brother’s, I’m his partner, but he’s the head of the company, he’s the CEO, he was my boss.
So for the first couple of years, we really struggled with that dynamic because I wasn’t used to taking direction from my younger brother, and he was not used to giving his older sister direction. And so it was definitely not as much fun the first couple of years, I have to say.
Sherri Langburt: Right. It cracks me up because that’s why I didn’t go into my family business because I’m the youngest of three brothers. I’m like, “They’re never going to take me seriously.” So it’s like the reverse for you.
Monica Klausner: Yes, it’s been very interesting. Now the cool thing about it is that because we grew up in such a tight knit family, we always have each other’s backs. And to be really honest with you, there’s nothing better than knowing that your partner is somebody who has your back no matter what.
Are you both based in the same town, or you live in different parts of the country?
Monica Klausner: No, we both live in LA. Our other two sisters also live in LA, and their husbands work with us as well at Veestro.
Sherri Langburt: That’s awesome.
Monica Klausner: Yes, it’s a real family business.
Sherri Langburt: That’s great. Well, my niece works with us, and my husband works with us, so it’s all in the family.
What kind of meals do you offer to consumers? And what plans are there?
Monica Klausner: When you come to our site you get an option to choose one of three plans. You can choose the a la carte, which basically allows you to pick and choose every single one of the meals that you’re going to buy. You can choose a 10 pack, a 20 pack, or a 30 pack.
You can also choose the chef’s choice. So for people who don’t want to look around the menu and make any decisions, the chef’s choice is basically a pre-set package. So we have a couple of different alternatives, you can do the gluten-free package, you can do a high protein. So if you don’t want to look around and make decisions, you can always choose the chef’s choice.
And then there’s the weight loss plan, which is a little bit different because it’s built to be three meals a day for either five days a week, or seven days a week. So when you choose that, those meals are going to be delivered on a weekly basis. The a la carte and the chef’s choice, you can choose to have them delivered weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
What is the most popular menu item? Is there one meal that everyone loves?
Monica Klausner: Yes, well there’s actually 10 meals that are always the best sellers, but the top best sellers since day one has always been the red curry with tofu and veggies.
Sherri Langburt: Oh, wow, that’s interesting. What’s number two?
Monica Klausner: Number two is the country fried chicken dinner.
Sherri Langburt: And how is that chicken?
Monica Klausner: So it’s plant-based chicken, so it’s a really interesting product. It’s made to have the texture of chicken, and the flavor is sort of absorbs the flavor of whatever you’ve marinated in, or whatever you put it in. So it works a lot like chicken.
Why are subscription-based meal delivery service businesses so hard?
Monica Klausner: Well, there’s a tremendous amount of logistics that are involved. So just to figure out the way to get food cold, or frozen in our case, from our facility to a person’s home, having to use a carrier like FedEx or UPS, we don’t use the postal service, but we use FedEx. So having to depend on FedEx to deliver a box of food that needs to be delivered frozen is a tremendous amount of effort.
So that’s just one part of the business. The other part of the business is how do you purchase all the supplies, make all the meals, and make sure that you’re not sending people food that’s been sitting in your warehouse for two, three, four months. So we turn over our inventory on a weekly basis so nobody will get any meal that’s been in our freezer longer than one week.
Sherri Langburt: It’s an incredible amount of work, I know, because we do a lot of, and our boxes are obviously very different, but when we send our boxes, sometimes there’s frozen foods and it cam be very challenging.
Are either you or your brother chefs?
Monica Klausner: We are not, we are not.
Who comes up with the food ideas?
Monica Klausner: So we were so fortunate that the first person we hired, we actually hired this guy to be our kitchen manager, but it turned out that he is a phenomenal vegan chef. And he just sort of fell on our lap very fortuitously, and we’ve had him since day one. So we started out by hiring a chef to make us a book of recipes, and when we hired this guy, Jose, to come and work for us as a kitchen manager, he said to us, “You know, I can make the meals in this book, but I can also make them better.” So my brother said, “Great, make this version, and then make your own version, and let’s see how it goes.” Well, long story short, we threw away the book.
And we just let Jose make everything that comes out of his head. He’s really, really talented.
Sherri Langburt: That’s amazing, and it kind of shows you how, as an entrepreneur, there’s so many things that just happen that are not planned. And I guess my big question to you, you’ve come a long way, I think your business, especially now, is booming.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs or startups seeking to take their business to the next level?
Monica Klausner: That’s a really great question. It’s the secret sauce that we still haven’t quite mastered. But I have to say there’s a few different factors that contribute to taking the business to the next level. One of them is having really solid advisors, people who really can help you troubleshoot issues that perhaps are holding you back. So we have a phenomenal advisor on the logistics end, and a really incredible advisor on the marketing end, who has really helped us take the business to the next level. So I would say have very solid advisors, and the other thing is take risks. Not every risk is going to pan out, but the only way to grow a business is to take risks.
Sherri Langburt: I’m taking it in, I’m listening to you. Okay, so I don’t know if you know this about me, but I launched Weight Watchers back in the day, I was part of the founding team of Weight Watchers, and I know customer acquisition-
Monica Klausner: I did not know that.
What is one of the most effective marketing tactics when it comes to consumer acquisition for you?
Monica Klausner: So for us paid social, Facebook, Instagram, it works the best. We have a big suite of channels that we work with, that we use, and I’d have to say everything contributes a little bit to the bottom of the funnel. But paid social has worked out really, really well for us because it allows people to see what the food looks like, and it shows up in their feed, perhaps at times when they might be most hungry, or they might be more likely to be hungry. So paid social has been a great, great channel for us.
And so now with COVID, what’s going on?
Monica Klausner: Well, it’s been pretty interesting. In March we saw a huge uptick in sales. Obviously when everything first shut down and people were terrified to leave their houses, they wanted everything delivered. So we saw a huge uptick in sales, and it pretty much carried through all the way to July when things started opening up. And not that the curve went straight down, but we saw a little slow down in July once people had been home for a long time, and really sick and tired of being in the house, wanted to get out, wanted to go to restaurants that are open outdoors. So we definitely saw a little bit of a slow down in July and August.
This is right around the time when our business picks up anyway. We usually have a fairly slow summer because people are outdoors, they’re traveling, so they’re not usually getting food delivered. And in October, our business generally starts picking up because kids are back in school, people are busy, everybody’s back in their routine, and it’s getting closer to the holidays so people start thinking about what they’re going to gift to their friends. And health and wellness is a huge, huge business this time of year, especially in this environment with COVID. People really want to stay healthier. I have to imagine that vitamin companies have seen a huge uptick as well.
Monica Klausner: People want to stay healthier, they want to eat better so that, God forbid they should get COVID or the flu, that they can make it through without having to go to the hospital.
Sherri Langburt: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of the trends we saw when I worked at Weight Watchers. It’s September, October, then it’s January, then it’s April, and it’s all for specific marketing reasons.
But now with COVID, it’s almost like people are probably turning to you more for the health and wellness benefits of Veestro rather than, maybe more before it weighed more on convenience and variety of the meals.
Monica Klausner: Yes, I definitely think, we haven’t done the survey in this environment, but I definitely think that plant-based is becoming more mainstream. And so people are a lot more comfortable dipping their toes in the plant-based world and trying some plant-based meals. It’s also easier for people who really don’t know what to do, or how to make plant-based meals, to order food that’s already ready, so they don’t have to think about what to buy or how to put it together or how to balance a meal, and all of that.
Do you work with influencers, are you working with them, and how do they play into your marketing mix?
Monica Klausner: So influencers have been a really fascinating journey for me, because when we first started the business, the way that we originally launched was through influencers. So the first people who received our food were 50 vegan influencers that I found online. And those people really helped us mold the product, as well as understand that there was a need in the market for something like our product. This is, we’re talking seven plus years ago, back in the day influencers really were just getting started, so people who followed them were really affected by what they said. So when they started talking about our food, we started seeing a lot of sales through these influencers.
So cut to 2020, or 2019, the influencer world is super different now. There are hundreds of thousands of influencers. We definitely work with some, we’re very selective with the influencers we work with. We like for them to be at least partly plant-based, if not fully plant-based. It doesn’t really matter if they’re fully plant-based or not, but at least open to eating plant based, so at least they are appealing to people who are interested in finding out about plant-based food.
And usually they’re women, although we do have a few men who are fabulous influencers. They’re generally in the health and wellness space, a lot of them are moms. Moms are a huge market for us because we know how busy it is when you have kids in the house and trying to make dinner, trying to get everybody ready, trying to get everybody in school these days if they’re home, or to school if they’re not home. So moms are a big business for us, and that’s why we like to use some mom influencers, even if they’re not in the health and wellness space. But yeah, we’re very, very selective though.
Sherri Langburt: I see a lot, too, when it comes to the family, that sometimes the mother or the father is cooking, and everyone else eats meat, but that one person doesn’t. So it’s a good option for them to have a beyond that, while they’re cooking for everyone else. So you said it, back then, and I remember those days, it was a very different universe.
In the past seven, eight years, what do you think on social has been the most impactful shift?
Monica Klausner: Well, I think the sheer numbers. The fact that there are so many different influencers in so many different verticals has been pretty impactful, because you can work with a variety of different people. Back then when we first started, I was literally working with only vegan influencers, and they weren’t even called influencers. Like you said, they were called bloggers.
Now, there’s so many different social platforms, and there’s so many different ways to reach their followers, that each one of these influencers that we work with has a specific type of following that we like. So what’s been impactful for us is to be able to find these people that have very engaged followers who are really taking their opinion to heart, and lots of them ,and lots of influencers.
And do you feel that you have the most success with the nanos, the small ones, the mid tier, like micros. Is it better for you to get one mega influencer, or 20 or 30 or 40 medium-size, or how do you feel?
Monica Klausner: I like the micro-influencers the best. I feel like in those numbers, their followers are still being engaged, and they’re still interested in what they have to say. And they’re not just following because the person is famous, or because everybody else is following them. I find that, in our experience, the mega influencers don’t really move the needle for us very much. It’s the micro influencers that make the most difference.
Sherri Langburt: Well the other thing, too, is when you work with one mega, you get one kind of audience, one tone, one series of content from that one person. But if you work with 20, 30, 40 people, all of a sudden you have all different voices. I mean, you could reach to moms, but you could say we’re going to target some vegans and some millennials.
Monica Klausner: Yes.
Sherri Langburt: So it’s all different messaging or takes on the topic.
Monica Klausner: Yes, definitely. And we like it much better because we are also able to reach different audiences, and a lot of people through a lot of different influencers. And like you said, everybody’s different and they’re reaching different types of people that are listening to different things that they say.
Is there an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do?
Monica Klausner: I love that question. Honestly, I don’t follow a lot of people because I don’t have a lot of time to be on social media, but I have to say I do follow Zac Efron, because I find him to be so incredibly adorable, and his content is very relevant to us, to me. He’s very into the environment and he is very into plant-based, and he is so cute.
Sherri Langburt: You should send him a meal, send him a meal.
Monica Klausner: You know what, I might just do that. I might just do that.
By the way, just so know, I’m blushing.
Sherri Langburt: I am too, I don’t know why. This has been so much fun, I hope I get to meet you one day in person when everything opens up.