Access to healthy food is not always an option for everyone, but Thistle wants to bridge that gap with prepared and delivered plant-based meals and cold-pressed juices.
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Ashwin Cheriyan and his wife, Shiri Avnery, co-founded the San Francisco-based direct-to-consumer food and nutrition brand after taking a look at how they were investing in their own personal health, Cheriyan told Crunchbase News.
“Diet and being mindful about eating is the first to go when you are stressed,” he said. “In addition, we wanted to make choices that were good for the planet. The single biggest impact to climate change is decreasing demand for animal products. That led us down the road to being vegetarian, but we couldn’t find any easy products.”
Now powered by $10.3 million in Series B capital, Thistle is taking on an expansion that will take it across the country to the East Coast. The company is already operating in the greater Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego, and recently expanded into Oregon and Washington. Cheriyan is looking at facility options and locations on the East Coast and expects to be up-and-running there this year.
The increased demand and global movement to make plant-based eating a bigger part of people’s lives is driving the company’s growth, Cheriyan said, citing both plant-based foods’ growth of 11 percent in 2019–and its accelerating trend of adoption–as well as a $1.4 trillion market globally for healthy meals. He feels Thistle fits more into a wellness products submarket, which is poised to be a $200 billion market.
As more options for prepared meals and meal kits come online, Cheriyan said food is such a massive space that Thistle is more of a complement to one of those services versus being an outright competitor.
“Customers are not just using one of them, but a number of them,” he added. “We view them as partners in the ultimate goal of providing foods that replace those that are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar.”
This new investment comes just under a year after Thistle closed on a $5.7 million Series A round in January 2020–also led by PowerPlant, giving the company a total of $24.3 million in funding since being formed in 2013, according to Crunchbase News.
What investors have to say
Dan Gluck, managing partner at PowerPlant Ventures, which invests in companies disrupting the food system, said via email that the firm sees approximately 600 deals annually, but only invests in four or five of those.
He had been following Thistle for several years and was introduced to Cheriyan and Avnery by one of Thistle’s early investors.
“Thistle stacked incredibly high on our ranking system and was by far the best meal delivery business we had analyzed since launching PowerPlant in 2015,” Gluck said. “Thistle is led by a talented mission driven team, with a great product offering, attractive unit economics and is benefiting from a massive secular tailwind.”
Next up, Thistle will continue its expansion efforts, as well as work on making its food taste good, Cheriyan said.
The company has more than 600 employees, many in the operations and logistics areas. Thistle produces its own food and its employees do the delivery. It has served more than 5 million meals in the last seven years and grew its customer base by 50 percent since 2019.
“Part of the challenge is making plant-based meals taste fresh and stay fresh,” Cheriyan added. “There is a preconceived notion that if you are going to make a good choice, you are making a sacrifice of taste. Our big part is proving those people wrong. Our customer feedback is saying we are meeting that goal, but in five to 10 years we want to be the leader that solved a hard problem. If we do that, then we will retain customers.”
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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