Soul Bite Food Inc. is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that produces delicious vegan food created using traditional recipes from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Founded by Ali Haeri and Reihane Mirjani in 2016, the company is on a mission to reduce global food insecurity while protecting the environment through the elimination of food waste. Since launch, Ali and his team have grown from Farmer’s Markets, to producing their own range of convenient meals you can find in many of BC’s largest grocery stores.
In 2022, Soul Bite Food Inc. became a Small Business BC Award winner, leaning on their support of their community to take home our Premier’s People’s Choice Award.
We caught up with Ali and his team to get the story behind this award-winning social enterprise.
Soul Bite Foods came from a place of wanting to give back to the community.
We are both immigrants in Canada and it’s hard to express our appreciation for how welcome we were made to feel here. We came together with a shared understanding that food waste and hunger are big problems here.
In 2016, we came together to help deliver nutritious food, that otherwise would have been wasted, to families. We wanted to serve the dual goal of taking their minds off food insecurity, while also helping to protect the environment. It began in a single school, once a week. Now, it’s grown to over 25 locations, with nutritious food delivered seven days a week, serving more than 3,500 people a month. We also prevent 1600 tons of CO2 emissions, and we collect and redistribute over $5 million worth of food annually.
The problem in Canada, and other places, is that viable food often goes unsold. This can be perishables that are fine to eat, day-old goods, or items that are close to their best before date. We collect these products directly from grocery stores free of charge and distribute them,
This system provides food for people and families living in low-income situations, with refugees being a huge focus for us. It also keeps usable food out of landfills and the composting system. This ensures the energy used to create our food goes to a good use.
Our mission has always been to help as many people as possible to access nutritious food. After five years of collecting and delivering food with personal vehicles, volunteers, and paying expenses out of pocket, we decided it was time to create a social enterprise. We wanted to further our mission, and our options were to ask for money, or make our own money. That’s where the idea for Soul Bite Foods came from.
Our products consist of vegan comfort foods with an ethnic background. We went vegan because it aligns with our mission to cut down on harm to the environment. 50 percent of our revenue goes to charities fighting hunger and combating food waste.
We are very proud of our recipes, they’re based on traditional foods from where we come from. In fact, my grandma created one of these recipes and it was born out of necessity. She was too poor to afford meat, so she created this awesome recipe for a vegan cabbage roll, and it’s now one of our best selling products.
Our foods can be bought in the deli and frozen section at big chains like Whole Foods, IGA, Choices Market, Meinhardt, Fresh St Markets, and others – they are the main stores right now. We will start our online selling from Jan 2023.
This is a really interesting question. When you start a business, you have an idea. Maybe it will work? Maybe not. The only way you know is to start the business and let the customers tell you whether it’s a good idea or not. This is what happened in the early days of Soul Bite.
When we started this business, we started small. We went to Farmer’s Markets and we quickly realized that the support was there but we couldn’t make enough money to continue. We approached lenders and we sought out mentorship. The financial and business support we received really helped us to get to where we are today, but it also could not have happened without a community supporting us. That’s why it’s so important for people to support small businesses.
When we were nominated in the Awards last year, I could never have imagined we would win the Premier’s People’s Choice Award. It was a dream for us and I enjoyed the whole process.
Let me tell you, it’s not easy to be visible as a small business here in BC. Our win has made us more visible and put a big spotlight on our business – It’s been huge. It made us actively work on our brand image and how we show up in our marketing. There is such a valuable story behind Soul Bite, and getting to share that story with so many more people has been amazing.
Something we learned from taking part was not to doubt yourself and believe in your business. This wasn’t our first time to enter the Awards but we didn’t let it discourage us. Each time we entered we got the opportunity to tell our story and make more people aware of the work we were doing.
Previously, we were one of the Top 5 Finalists, we received great exposure on the Small Business BC website and it introduced us to so many new people. If you don’t win, view it as a learning opportunity, work on your business and come back stronger the next year. I promise you, taking part will bring you results.