It was two decades ago when I first met Zakari Kazi, founder of Edmonton-based Nabati Foods Inc. It was a summer Friday afternoon when we were both back in Canada. The company had recently made its North American debut with a trademarked line of plant-based egg substitutes and almond milk. Soon afterward, on my way to an egg-free juice bar in downtown Edmonton, I had a mixed reaction when I realized we were having oatmeal and a bowl of cereal with the same egg-free product.
Suddenly, I was thinking of Kazi’s promise when I had been introduced to him. “We’re going to have the dream of the egg-free breakfast done,” he said.
He laughed, joking that he was so sure of his first crack at the market. “If it was hard enough, I probably would have pulled it off,” he said. “The reality is that it’s a pretty chicken-y product to sell in a space full of people who just want something good for breakfast.”
Seeing that an egg-free breakfast was something he needed to push further, Kazi went back to his management team in a big way.
The magnitude of the challenge didn’t register with anyone close to the startup until its final moments in the sun. I watched as Nabati lost funding at that time, facing an uncertain future, as he pondered his next move.
“There were days, months, even a year of that stuff when you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is just going to be a six-month biz trip or we’re going to die,’” he said. “Luckily, I didn’t. This was the kind of opportunity that if we pulled it off, it’s going to be a really big world impact.”
Looking back on his opportunity, Kazi emphasized that he knew he wanted to build something. And that’s what’s made the company stand out.
What if I had gone on my next business trip thinking, ‘I’m going to use this as a biz trip to work on one of my big passions?’
The heart of Nabati is Kazi’s entrepreneurial spirit. Just five months after the product was launched in North America, the company’s selling roughly $4 million of product a year. For perspective, Nabati’s sales just over a year ago were $0.
Today, Nabati is more than just an egg-free breakfast specialist; it has evolved from a startup into a high-growth food company with 1,000 employees in Edmonton and Montreal. If the company is to become the McDonald’s of the dairy-free category, which it’s aiming to be, its global plans include taking the brand global.
In 2015, Nabati created one of Canada’s first egg-free vending machines, emblazoned with the egg-free logo. Today, it has kiosks in major malls throughout Canada. When I asked whether the company was looking beyond Canada and is working on a line of domestic vending machines, Kazi said that the idea is so compelling that it’s too hard to close the deal.
“Look,” he says, “the reality is that the U.S. market was this siloed thing. Now, we’re trying to break through and bring it to you in a more continuous way. We’re attempting to break this like an international product.”