Product Launch: A New Plant-Based Meat is Coming to Market
The story of The Walnut Tree’s conception is unlike any other of our CPG brands. Qiana Johnson, the founder of the company, first got the idea to make plant-based meat when she was fasting and praying for over two days. She was praying to find her purpose, gain provision, and obtain guidance as she had just lost one of her two jobs. On top of this, Qiana’s air conditioning was not working in the middle of summer in DC, a time of high heat and intense humidity. In the midst of this low point and physically strenuous time, Qiana could not stop craving tacos. Following a strict plant-based diet made her options limited, so Qiana set out to craft the perfect plant-based taco meat.
When beginning the formulation of her product, she tried all sorts of bases for her taco meat like cauliflower, lentils, peas, and more. None of them were able to successfully achieve the mincemeat texture she was looking for. She remembered a plant-based walnut meat brand that she used to buy, but they sadly went out of business. So, what did Qiana do? She started experimenting in her kitchen to make her very own walnut meat! After all, she was “unemployed and had no social life due to Covid.” This was the perfect time for her to make a product she desperately wanted in the market.
Despite the idea to make a walnut-based meat alternative, Qiana hated walnuts. She was on a mission to change the bitter taste that raw walnuts often have. To do this, she soaked the walnuts for a prolonged period of time and seasoned them with spices and herbs, making the walnuts taste and have the texture like actual ground meat. She started eating this taco meat almost every day and sharing it with friends and family. Everyone around her was giving positive feedback, making her realize the potential of her product. That is when she partnered with Union Kitchen through our Accelerator.
After attending Accelerator group sessions, finalizing her packaging, and ordering all of her materials, Qiana was able to launch two SKUs of her walnut meat. The first is her original, crowd pleasing Spicy TexMex which bodes well for tacos, burritos, queso and more. The second walnut meat flavor is Italian, perfect for lasagna, stuffed peppers, and other classics. Qiana is most proud of her ingredients. She says, “I [run] one of those companies where I have absolutely nothing to hide. I wanted to create something I would buy…plant based, vegan, and very clean…And it’s not the spice blend that is kind of ambiguous. It’s herbs, spices, and fresh produce.”
Qiana’s advice for other budding food entrepreneurs? Get a good mentor, accountant, or lawyer on your side. She said having a “person to help you navigate the process and help you make the best possible decision for yourself” is invaluable.
As Qiana reflects on her launch process, she is reminded of the importance of health and wellness. Having started her business journey in the midst of the pandemic, Qiana has a new appreciation for healthy living. She hopes that more people understand that when we eat well, it better supports our immune system, decreases the potential for inflammation, diabetes, hypertension, and more. “I just would like for people to realize the investment they make when they eat each bite. And you’ll never make a bad investment when you buy the best quality foods for yourself.”
You can find both the Spicy Tex Mex and Italian walnut meat at all Union Kitchen locations and soon at other retailers near you.