Life in the Grass Lane

Mark Wilson

Vega’s Mark Wilson is nurturing the plant-based nutrition company’s exponential growth with a passion for healthy, sustainable living

It’s one thing to respect and take pride in a brand, but it’s another thing to be fully ingrained in everything it’s setting out to accomplish. That’s because Vega isn’t just about selling its health products; it’s about cultivating an active lifestyle for its customers and employees alike. “We have a really passionate staff that lives the brand and uses the product,” says Mark Wilson, Vega’s vice president of operations.

Relaunched in March 2014 with improved recipes and one totally new variety, Vega’s family of nutrition bars stands apart from the flagship Vega One by  offering the same all-in-one nutrition in more-convenient bars. Like all of Vega’s offerings, the bars are plant-based, made of whole ingredients, and are gluten- and GMO-free. The four varieties are the Vega Snack Bar, the Vega One Meal Bar, the Vega Sport Protein Bar, and the Vega Sport Energy Bar, and there's also a correlating powdered supplement.
Relaunched in March 2014 with improved recipes and one totally new variety, Vega’s family of nutrition bars stands apart from the flagship Vega One by
offering the same all-in-one nutrition in more-convenient bars. Like all of Vega’s offerings, the bars are plant-based, made of whole ingredients, and are gluten- and GMO-free. The four varieties are the Vega Snack Bar, the Vega One Meal Bar, the Vega Sport Protein Bar, and the Vega Sport Energy Bar, and there’s also a correlating powdered supplement.

A leader in fully plant-based nutrition, Vega appeals to not only vegans and vegetarians but also any health-conscious consumer by offering a variety of nutrient-dense natural health products that are crafted without any potentially harmful additives.

Wilson, who has been with the company for more than five years, has always been health-conscious, so when the opportunity came in 2009 to join the company, he jumped at the chance to combine his love of fitness and his career in supply chain and business. While not always a vegetarian, Wilson embraced the lifestyle early in 2014, with the full support of his work community.

At Vega, Wilson’s role encompasses much more than just the basic supply chain—it’s manufacturing, logistics, distribution, internal IT, quality assurance, and a fair bit of new product development and R&D. Since Wilson joined, the company has changed dramatically, increasing sales by 700 percent. With that growth has come a shift in priorities in Wilson’s role, which is now much more focused on strategic planning and specific targeted project management. This means constantly reviewing, reassessing, and revising the company’s processes and the documentation of those processes and just generally ensuring that the teams have everything they need to get their jobs done effectively.

Vega Sport is the first plant-based complete sports system, and it's responsible for the second-largest portion of Vega's sales. Comprising seven different powder, gel, and bar products, the Sport system is designed to be taken before, during, and after workouts. The line includes the tropically flavoured Recovery Accelerator, a delicious and highly effective postworkout product that's one of Wilson’s favourites.
Vega Sport is the first plant-based complete sports system, and it’s responsible for the second-largest portion of Vega’s sales. Comprising seven different powder, gel, and bar products, the Sport system is designed to be taken before, during, and after workouts. The line includes the tropically flavoured Recovery Accelerator, a delicious and highly effective postworkout product that’s one of Wilson’s favourites.

Much of the company’s prosperity can be pinned to the success of its flagship product, Vega One. One of the first plant-based, all-in-one nutritional-shake meal replacements to hit the market, Vega One distinguishes itself through its use of high-quality ingredients and category-leading taste. “We have some great competitors that make very good products, and although I’m a little biased, our products by far taste the best,” Wilson says.

One of the company’s largest triumphs is its ability to stand out in a booming field, one where the consumers are increasingly conscious and knowledgeable about their bodies. “Ten years ago, ‘plant-based’ was hardly on consumers’ radars, and now it’s huge,” Wilson says. “It’s not the cheapest product on the shelf, which is why it’s important to foster a community and educate them of our product’s benefits.” That community begins in-house and extends outward via Vega’s significant social media efforts.

How Are You Growing?

“People often say they have the best job they’ve ever had, but it’s really true here—hands down. It’s offered me so many opportunities to learn and grow into a well-rounded person and business leader. Now I’m somebody that isn’t fazed by change or aggressive growth. I owe our owner, Charles Chang, for the trust that he put in me. Sometimes you go into a situation and you say to yourself, ‘Wow, I’ve never done this before, but I’m now going to learn how.’ There’s a level of trust that Charles has in his team, and he gives us a lot of freedom, which I’m very grateful for.”

But prosperity comes with its own set of challenges. If Vega were growing only 5–10 percent per year, it could afford to potentially handle its own manufacturing and distribution. However, with growth fluctuating between 30 and 70 percent per year, the company’s business model relies heavily on strong third-party partners in both manufacturing and distribution. For example, SCI Logistics, the leading Canadian-owned third-party logistics provider, partners with Vega in order to make Vega’s development possible, and the relationship is a fruitful one.

Rather than worrying about size or other issues with new facilities, Vega can rely on the expertise of third parties that have the infrastructure to support its growth. Now, instead of worrying about maintaining facilities, Wilson concentrates on managing third-party relationships and works with the various teams in sales, finance, and operations to forecast as accurately as possible. Doing so helps him keep his expertise and energy where it’s needed most.

As Vega continues to grow, Wilson is seeing more and more success by tying its customers—major retailers such as Loblaws and Whole Foods—into the forecasting process and understanding more of the big picture and consumers’ buying patterns. Having gone away from the day-to-today transactional business, Wilson works to ensure that the entire supply chain is ready for the next 12–24 months. Today, the company runs at $100 million annually, with significant growth ahead.

To be healthy, one has to understand what goes into and affects his or her body. With a firm understanding of what goes into Vega—from the people and partners to the products—Wilson and the rest of the company’s leadership are ready to not only hit their goals but keep the company fit to run for years to come.