A small Northland food company is winning awards for Vince – a plant-based mince product made with 500 grams of dehydrated vegetables per pack.
Debbie Stow, a former chef who created Vince with husband Nigel, says her family's transition to plant-based eating began as an attempt to treat her daughter's eczema and digestive issues.
When the Stows saw how much reducing meat and skipping dairy and gluten helped their daughter, they joined in, Debbie says, each losing 20kg and becoming a lot more energetic.
Wanting to share these benefits with the customers at their Whangarei cafe, Debbie made all of the menu items either vegetarian or vegan, with meat available as an optional extra.
Then, after selling the cafe, she had a go at producing raw activated granola, but the cereal market was saturated at the time.
Using the dehydrator she'd used to make granola, Debbie "pivoted" to making mince from dried vegetables.
"I'd been making vegetable mince at home for my family because I missed all those family favourites – lasagne, bolognese, tacos, nachos. And when I went to the supermarket and couldn't find anything healthy that was made from real ingredients.
"[Dehydration] intensified the flavour and gave [the mince] a better texture as well."
Vince is currently made from cauliflower, carrots, celery, tomatoes, peanuts, herbs and spices, she says.
When Debbie took the product to the agricultural show Fieldays, she sold out in two days.
Farmers keen to cut back on their meat intake and eat more vegetables love the idea of mixing Vince with beef mince, she says.
Currently, Vince is focused on New Zealand distribution through New World, Debbie says, but they're also getting international enquiries and last month sent their first shipment to Japan.
In supermarkets, you won't find the product alongside other plant-based meat alternatives as it doesn't need refrigeration. Look for it in either the Health & Wellness or Ready Meals section.
After winning the 2019 Northland Inc Innovate Award, Vince was a Pantry Category Winner at the 2021 NZ Food Awards and won the top prize in the small supplier category at the 2022 Foodstarter Competition.