Western alum James McInnes has taken his love of vegan food to the next level with a planned 50,000-sq.-ft. vegan food manufacturing plant in London, Ont.
The City of London and City Council approved the purchase of the 5.5-acre land, where the new plant will be built, on July 5, 2022. The manufacturing facility will have the capacity to scale up to 150,000 sq.ft.
McInnes, BSc’02, is the co-founder and CEO of Odd Burger, Canada’s first-ever fast-food vegan restaurant, and the world’s first publicly traded vegan fast-food chain.
The plant is expected to make at least 13 different protein products. Most of the company’s products are made of a plant-based protein called Seitan, produced primarily from gluten and is extracted from wheat by washing out the starch and isolating the gluten protein. The products are also expected to be nut-free.
Odd Burger launched a line of vegan products under the brand Preposterous Foods in February 2022. This subsidiary to Odd Burger Corp. will operate the new London manufacturing plant. The plant is expected to take two years to build and will create an estimated 50 to 100 jobs when it becomes fully operational.
The new facility will allow Preposterous Foods to support hundreds of Odd Burger franchised restaurant locations across North America, as well as supply select products to external food service customers, according to a company press release. With the new expansion, Preposterous Foods also plans to launch a retail product line, which will be targeted for sale in grocery stores and direct-to-consumer sales channels.
McInnes graduated from Western in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in genetics. In 2007, he returned to receive a minor in computer science. Due to personal dietary changes, he became a vegan. And after experiencing its benefits, he wanted to share it with the rest of the world.
McInnes founded the company, initially called Globally Local, in 2014, with headquarters based in London, Ont. That same year, he met his wife Vasiliki, MScN’15, through their Western connection. They quickly became life and business partners, developing and launching their vegan meal kits in 2015.
Their first big break came in 2016 when they debuted the “Big MACinnes,” now called the Famous Burger, at Ribfest in London. To their surprise, they sold out completely and received massive amounts of media coverage throughout North America.
“It was really transformative,” said McInnes. “People didn’t think at the time a vegan product could ever do well at a rib fest. But we actually proved that it was a big movement on people trying out plant-based foods for the first time. There was a lot of buzz from that.”
Ribfest would be just the beginning for the new vegan company as they launched a food truck shortly after to bring its new fast-food to communities across Ontario. In 2017, the company opened the first-ever vegan fast-food restaurant in Canada and the first 24-hour vegan drive- thru.
By 2018, the company opened a manufacturing centre to produce its own food, while also working on research and development. The company rebranded in 2021 to Odd Burger Corp. when it went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The company now has restaurants across Ontario – Toronto, Windsor, Waterloo, Hamilton, Whitby and London – with plans to open 40 new franchises in the province over the next eight years. In March, the company announced they would open 36 new locations in Alberta and British Colombia over the next seven years.
McInnes credits his Western education for his business success, allowing him understanding the scientific process of what goes into food manufacturing and all the systems required to run a business. This includes everything from their point-of-sale, website, food technology and manufacturing systems. “I found that having the technical skills, from either my computer science training or my genetics training, was really valuable,” said McInnes. “I was able to be the leader in the process, instead of having to find someone else.”
“Just because you’re in a technical field doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be working at a company; you can absolutely start your own company. You know, if you’re in engineering or science, any of those more technical areas, there’s a lot of value in having that knowledge to start your own business.”
Joshua Goeree is a Western News intern from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program.