A dish isn’t called “comfort food” for no reason. And Soul Bite Food’s flaky phyllo pastries, exotic spices, and hearty rolls provide plenty of comfort, especially to vegan eaters. But, incredibly, this company is determined to provide comfort to more than just their customers. Through the power of stuffed veggies, cabbage rolls, and mushroom and Persian-spiced pastries, they’re fighting world hunger, scaling down food waste, and employing new immigrants.
It all starts with Immigrant Link Centre Society, a charity Igor Bjelac and his classmates founded to fight world hunger.
“We have one of the most important missions nowadays and that is to prevent food waste as much as possible,” says Ali Haeri, ILCS Manager.
Volunteers at ILCS—who Ali proudly notes come from four different continents— collect and redistribute food from grocery stores that would otherwise be thrown away. They give away over 500 tons of food annually, feeding over 2,500 people in need every month.
Igor and Ali created Soul Bite Food in 2019 as a social enterprise that would help ILCS grow. 50% of the profits from this vegan comfort food company help fund ILCS and other charities tackling hunger and food waste.
“At one point, we turned to our community to help fund growth,” recalls Igor, “and the feedback we got was, ‘Yes, we can help you in the short-term, but how will you support this organization in the long-term?’ We realized the answer was our own social enterprise.”
Because ILCS also hires and supports new immigrants, Igor and Ali found they had a rich network for creating ethnic recipes—with a vegan twist.
“We are helping animals with our food as well,” says Igor. “We don’t want anybody or anything to suffer because of our work. Besides, many of these recipes—which have been passed on for generations—were originally vegan, because meat was too expensive for the people who made them.”
Soul Bite Food offers a range of unique, plant-powered frozen meals influenced by old ethnic recipes with traditional flavours from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Their line includes Cabbage Rolls, Balkan Mushroom, Taste of Persia, Stuffed Eggplant, and Stuffed Peppers.
At first, creating the line involved its fair share of trial and error. “We tried out our first products at the farmer’s market and got helpful feedback there. For example, we heard that our cabbage rolls were too sour. So, we changed our recipe so it would work better in the Canadian market.”
Soul Bite’s careful engineering of the perfect ethnic inspired vegan comfort food experience began to pay off richly. In February 2020, they won silver for BC’S Most Outstanding New Product at the From the Ground Up Tradeshow. Inspired, the team started the push to get their products on grocery store shelves.
Creating the ultimate packaging for Soul Bite’s products was obviously key to developing the full potential of the company. Igor describes working with the Great Little Box Company / Ideon Packaging (GLBC) on that project as “Super easy. Quick responses and quick follow ups. GLBC follows up even when they don’t need to, when other suppliers wouldn’t. And they’re so helpful with sharing information during the designing process. We understand a lot more about packaging and marketing now.”
“For a product like ours, a food product, the packaging is so important. Sellers in the grocery business want packaging to be perfect; they have to say ‘wow’ when they pick it up. And we have to convince buyers to try the product and packaging is the thing that convinces them. After that, they know it tastes wonderful and they come back again. But before they taste it, packaging is all we have to convince them.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, slowed down the intake of new products into grocery stores. But Igor, Ali, and their team are still working hard and making progress towards realizing their vision.
“We still continued to get ready and work on things to the capacity that we could,” says Ali. “This included developing our website and preparing for when stores would be accepting new products again.”
Currently, Soul Bite products can be found at Vegan Supply Chinatown in Vancouver, Pomme Natural Market, Gardenia Foods Co in Port Coquitlam, Donald’s Market, City Avenue Market in New Westminster, and online at bclocalroot.com. We have no doubt that soon you’ll be finding their products everywhere—in packaging that celebrates the richness and beauty of the company’s roots.