Turning Waste Into Nutrition with TJ Galiardi, Co-Founder of Outcast Foods

TJ Galiardi is a former NHL forward, playing with the Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, and Calgary Flames following his time at Dartmouth College. As Co-Founder of Outcast Foods, TJ has quickly become one of the young leaders in food and agriculture with his unique outlook on sustainability. Additionally, TJ has been a guest lecturer on food waste at Rice University, a speaker at the Tuck School of Business, and an active angel investor and real estate developer for ten years.

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THE TRANSCRIPT: BIGGER THAN US EPISODE 156

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Host Raj Daniels  00:46

TJ, before we dig into outcast foods, I want to ask you another question. How did you end up at a vegan restaurant in Siberia?

TJ Galiardi  01:34

That’s a question I’ve never been asked before. But I ended up playing in the KHL over in Russia and I was vegan at the time––and obviously, I still am now––but I was trying to find something to eat out there. I didn’t expect to find a vegan restaurant in the middle of Siberia but was thankful when I found it.

Host Raj Daniels  01:56

So you were a professional athlete. You’ve played here in the US at the NHL, you were playing there in the KHL? There’s this question that goes around and around, specifically around protein. So I’m gonna let you share: how does a professional athlete survive on a vegan diet?

TJ Galiardi  02:12

I think pretty much how any vegan survives on a diet, basically eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. I think the thing that people forget to say is that fruits and vegetables actually have protein in them as well. A lot of fruits and vegetables, a lot of legumes, nuts, seeds. It takes a while to perfect it, but you find what works for you, and you run with it.

Host Raj Daniels  02:40

I heard something recently that I really liked: “Nobody ever asks cows or elephants how they survive, or where they get their protein.”

TJ Galiardi  02:47

Yeah, I like that one. I won’t say I was as strong as either of those two, but they do pretty well on plants.

Host Raj Daniels  02:56

So when you went vegan, it was in the middle of your career. What kind of commentary, or maybe even perhaps feedback, did you get from your teammates?

TJ Galiardi  03:05

I think some of them thought I was crazy. It was still pretty early in the plant-based movement back then. So I think some guys didn’t really understand what I was doing. But for the most part, there was curiosity. I would always find vegan restaurants or restaurants that had some really good vegan options when we were traveling on the road. And a lot of the time, guys would come and experiment with me and see how they felt. And I think it probably planted some seeds in some of them to make us make a shift further on in their careers or to become a little more plant-based. And I still get messages from some of my ex-teammates who say that I inspired them to make a change. So I’m pretty proud of that.

Host Raj Daniels  03:52

You know, it’s amazing over the last few years, how many professional athletes––to name a few, Serena Williams, most notably, Tom Brad––speak very heavily about being vegetarian and mostly vegetarian. It’s interesting to see the shift after all these years of essentially meat and potatoes. So I’m kind of hoping it continues, and staying on that topic of vegan and vegetarian, can you give the audience a background on Outcast Foods and your role at the organization?

TJ Galiardi  04:17

Yeah. A little over three and a half years ago, myself and another vegan, Dr. Darren Burke, wanted to start a business together. And his history was in the supplement business. He had started a brand on his own from a $50,000 line of credit to 22 million in revenue in the fifth year and had a successful exit. But so we wanted to find a way to get back into the fold of business together. And the thing that we kept coming back to was food waste. It seemed to be a massive problem that that there were really no solutions. No one even working on solutions other than some very small niche brands and products. So we came up with this idea to partner with a lot of these companies and farms and food processors that were responsible for the waste. And I say that in as nice of a way as I can because once you learn about why they’re wasting the fruits and vegetables and the products––it makes sense for them as a business. So we figured we’d partner with them and come up with our own dehydration technology to give these products a two to three-year shelf life, and then find a home for them as either supplements or ingredients for other companies. So I think we thought it would be easier than it was than it turned out to be. It was three-plus years of ongoing problems and headaches and things that needed to be fixed. Especially when it comes to our technology and the regulatory piece around that. And anytime you say you’re working with waste, I think people start to raise their eyebrows and try to figure out what’s going on. I think the picture that pops up in your mind is moldy fruits and vegetables. But the fact of the matter is the product we’re working with is in mint condition. So yeah, that’s kind of the overview of Outcast.

Host Raj Daniels  06:15

You know, it’s interesting, our view of waste. Because in nature, there really is no waste.

TJ Galiardi  06:20

Yeah, that’s a good point. There’s always something that these products can do for the world and the environment, but we’re trying to capture that nutrient profile at an early enough stage where it can be used for human consumption.

Host Raj Daniels  06:36

So obviously, without giving away any trade secrets, can you walk us through the lifecycle of an imperfect fruit or vegetable, from when you get it to when it becomes a finished product?

TJ Galiardi  06:46

Yeah, so let’s say we get a truckload of bananas from our grocery partner that are two yellow. Those will show up at our facility. We will do an inspection immediately. And then we have a multi-stage process where the product is brought in, it’s inspected, it’s washed. It’s run through multiple steps of dehydration and multiple technologies. And then depending on what our customer wants, whether it’s banana chips, banana slices, whole banana, or banana powder, we finish it in that way for them to use in their final application.

Host Raj Daniels  07:28

I may not word this correctly, but what’s the most popular, or what’s the fruit or vegetable that goes to waste the most?

TJ Galiardi  07:35

I think it depends on the region. You know, you could think about whatever fruit or vegetable goes bad the fastest. That’s typically what’s going to be wasted the most. So leafy vegetables, leafy greens. Those go to waste at a very high rate. Or on the fruit side, you could think about peaches, nectarines, a lot of the stone fruits go bad fast. So those get wasted a lot. But I think there’s waste in really every stream. So we’re just trying to find as many partners as we can that have that waste and find a way to upcycle it for them.

Host Raj Daniels  08:15

You mentioned region. Where is your facility currently located?

TJ Galiardi  08:19

Yeah. So we started with a proof-of-concept facility in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is in Atlantic Canada. And we’ve expanded that space. I think we’re on our sixth expansion right now. And it’s being tripled, the footprint right now. And we’re also in the process of building out a 46,000 square foot facility that’s going to be just outside of Toronto and Ontario. So we’ll have two amazing facilities servicing all of Canada and the US as far as our partners go.

Host Raj Daniels  08:52

Now I know you’ve been selling via e-commerce direct to consumer. Is your product currently available in stores?

TJ Galiardi  08:59

Yeah, we sell in plenty of retail retailers with our supplement brands. So that’s mainly in Canada. We’re about to launch in the US this summer, which is super exciting. We’ll be in about 1000 doors in the US. You’ll have to follow our socials to see exactly where. We’re getting excited to release that info. But in Canada, we’re pretty much everywhere across the country.

Host Raj Daniels  09:23

What’s your personal favorite out of all of your products?

TJ Galiardi  09:26

Well, you know what? We just came out with three new flavors of our protein products. And I think my favorite would be the mint chocolate chip. It’s got such a refreshing flavor and you can mix it with just water. That’s how good it is.

Host Raj Daniels  09:42

I’ll be sure to check it out when it hits the stores in the US. So you’ve been on the journey three, three-and-a-half years now. Is that correct?

TJ Galiardi  09:48

Yeah, November 2017. That’s when we officially launched.

Host Raj Daniels  09:51

What are some of the challenges along the way?

TJ Galiardi  09:53

I don’t know how long we have on this podcast. I could go on forever. It’s very capital intensive when you’re dealing with the machinery that we’re dealing with and the scale that we’re dealing with. So it’s extremely expensive. It took us probably the better part of 18 months to come up with our own unique technology. We had a lot of regulatory issues to deal with when you’re dealing with waste. It’s just it’s a whole other spectrum to work with the certifying bodies on. Logistics, if you can imagine having, you know, over two dozen partners, figuring out what you need when you need it, while simultaneously figuring out who you’re selling the product to and when they need it by. There’s a lot going on and having a B2B side of the business, the ingredients side, as well as a retail side of the business. It’s almost like having two companies at once. But we’ve kind of come into this space at a very important time and being first-to-market as an up cycler has been a fun journey for us. And we’re just kind of riding the wave right now.

Host Raj Daniels  11:09

So you played hockey for what? 15, 17 years? Is that correct?

TJ Galiardi  11:13

I mean, I started playing hockey when I was four years old. So I played till I was 29, 30 years old. So yeah, I played my whole life but played professionally for just about 10 years.

Host Raj Daniels  11:26

10 years, what’s the transition like from being a professional hockey player and professional athlete to becoming an entrepreneur.

TJ Galiardi  11:34

I mean, there are a lot of similarities. There are things that I’ve used for my playing career in business. I think most importantly, it’s resilience. It’s understanding that there’s going to be highs and lows and trying to stay even keel. That’s something that’s definitely translated. Because you can get caught up in business and think, you know, “This meeting right here is a make-or-break for us.” Or “This presentation is going to be the biggest thing for us ever.” But the reality is that there’s most likely always going to be another one. And you just got to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for everything and put your best foot forward. So the transition has been good for me because luckily enough, my co-founder, Darren, and I had a plan in place. The timing of my retirement the ending of his five-year noncompete worked out perfectly. And we launched almost immediately after that.

Host Raj Daniels  12:35

Going back to your journey as a vegan, what made you transition to becoming vegan?

TJ Galiardi  12:43

I think there are a few things. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was kind of one of those original vegans. No one knew what even vegan even meant back then. So I think she started to just kind of tell me some little things about it. And I started to experiment and try different things in my diet to help my performance on the ice. And additionally, my mom’s actually been vegetarian for 30 years. So I’ve definitely seen what can happen when you do it that way and how healthy they both are. I just took it slowly. And then eventually, I got to the point where the only thing I was eating that was animal-based was chicken, and then I said, “Enough’s enough. I’m just gonna go all in.”

Host Raj Daniels  13:30

And if you did, what kind of changes physically did you feel during the transition?

TJ Galiardi  13:36

Most importantly, when I was playing hockey, I noticed that I recovered faster. And I think a big reason for that is I was sleeping better. I used to toss and turn in bed. It felt like hours before I would fall asleep. And it was pretty crazy that once I switched to a vegan lifestyle and diet, the second my head hit the pillow, I was asleep. So I was sleeping more. And I think it’s obvious the more you sleep, the more you recover. So that was important for me. And I had more energy throughout the day. So that was number one.

Host Raj Daniels  14:11

You mentioned your wife, and you mentioned your mother. That final transition point for you leaving the chicken switching all the way over––what was that aha moment?

TJ Galiardi  14:21

It’s kind of funny. But I had ordered chicken schnitzel, and it was kind of gross. So that was the final straw and I said, “I’m done here. I’m going full vegan.” I haven’t looked back since.

Host Raj Daniels  14:36

Now, going back to the entrepreneurial journey, what are some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?

TJ Galiardi  14:43

I think that I’m more compassionate than I used to think I was. That’s a big thing for me. On the vegan side, you realize the impact it has on the animals. As far as the business side of what I’ve learned, I think that the consumers are really starting to wake up to their impact on the environment and animals and everything else. So it’s just being able to hear my voice and show people firsthand what it’s done for me.

Host Raj Daniels  15:18

So do you do a lot of speaking around veganism or, I guess, cruelty towards animals,  animal welfare?

TJ Galiardi  15:25

I’ve done some. I haven’t really been on stage with Peter or anything like that. But I’m always happy to talk about it. I don’t ever want to be looked at as a pushy vegan who’s shaming people on what they eat. Because I think at the end of the day, it’s your choice what you eat. But you should at least know what took place in order for you to get that food. So I’m always happy to talk about it. And I think it’s important more than ever now, given the state of our climate change and the environment. So I’m happy to talk about it at any time with anyone.

Host Raj Daniels  16:05

Well, the voices definitely are getting louder. You mentioned what people eat. What’s some of the feedback you’ve received regarding your products?

TJ Galiardi  16:13

Oh, it’s been amazing. It’s a tricky thing, plant-based protein. It takes a long time to perfect. My co-founder, Darren, is a product formulator. He’s been doing it for almost 20 years now. And he knows what people want. And I was probably his harshest critic. I would try the products and it took us almost two years to get our protein right. And now that we have it in a really good spot, consumers are loving it. We get messages from customers all the time saying, “You know, I’ve been trying vegan proteins for 10 years, and I couldn’t drink any of them until I found yours. And now I’ll never switch. Your products are awesome.” And then people send us new flavor ideas. We have the five right now. But we’re always looking at new things and just want to keep everyone happy.

Host Raj Daniels  17:13

How did you guys decide on those five flavors?

TJ Galiardi  17:15

You know, I think it was trial and error. We tried 10 different flavors or more already that Darren has created, and we would get anyone and everyone we knew to try them and give us feedback. And these five have been the top hits for everyone. And then obviously we talk with our retail partners as well and see what they’re seeing from their customers and what they’re looking for. And that’s what we’ve come up with.

Host Raj Daniels  17:43

You know, I’m reading your bio on the Outcast Foods website. And it says, “He’s into all things alternative. And while we don’t quite know what this means, we’re confident it’s stellar.”

TJ Galiardi  17:56

I’m definitely my own man. I’ve always done things my way and, love it or hate it. That’s just how I am.

Host Raj Daniels  18:05

What are some of the alternative things you’re into?

TJ Galiardi  18:07

I think anything that makes me feel better and healthier. So I’m a huge fan of hot and cold therapy. I love saunas and cold tubs and cold plunges and stuff like that. So I’m always into pushing my body to new limits and keeping it on its toes.

Host Raj Daniels  18:25

So as an ex-professional athlete, what are some of the things you do to push your body to new limits?

TJ Galiardi  18:30

I would say that the biggest thing that I’ve gotten into––it kind of coincided with COVID hitting––has been tennis. I’ve been playing a ton of tennis and anytime I have some spare time, I’m out on a court and very passionate about that now. It’s an amazing sport. It’s a very efficient workout, and it allows me to be competitive and still have fun being outdoors.

Host Raj Daniels  18:56

Now in Canada, I’m assuming tennis as you said, outdoors sometimes. A lot of times it’s indoors?

TJ Galiardi  19:02

Yeah, it gets pretty cold up here. So you got to be able to play indoors as well. And, you know, tennis has come a long way in Canada. So there are courts everywhere, indoor and outdoor.

Host Raj Daniels  19:12

Now I’m going to read a quote that I found while doing research, and it says, “You don’t measure success by what you’ve done. You measure success by what you have left to do.” Can you expand on that?

TJ Galiardi  19:26

If you’re, if you’re living in the past and in the rearview, that’s no way to live. So for me, obviously, I had a pretty interesting 10 years playing professional hockey and kind of reached the pinnacle of the sport, in the sense, of making it to the NHL. So that was always my dream growing up forever. And then you know, one day, you get to a point and you realize the passion is gone for the sport and you’ve got everything you could out of it. And you got to figure out something new and reinvent yourself. So for me, it’s been transitioning into business. And now my goal is to really disrupt this notion that food can be wasted, even though it’s perfectly edible. So it’s a constant evolution. And I’m really just trying to live in the present and make a difference now.

Host Raj Daniels  20:18

Well, speaking of new and reinventing, let’s fast forward to 2030. If you were to see––and it’s a two-part question here. One is if Forbes or BusinessWeek were to write a headline about Outcast Foods, what would it read? And then from a broader, macro perspective, specifically around food waste, what are some of the headlines or perhaps some of the changes you’d like to see?

TJ Galiardi  20:40

That’s a good question. I think, in an ideal world, the headline would say, “The Canadian Company That Ended Food Waste.” I think that would be a really cool one. And then, I think it would just be about our impact on creating access to healthy ingredients for everyone. We obviously know that the population is growing very fast, and we need to figure out a way to feed everyone. So this idea of putting fruits and vegetables or any type of food that can be eaten and putting it in a landfill––it’s got to end. So I think that’s our mission. And I actually, from the bottom of my heart, believe that we have the ability to completely end it.

Host Raj Daniels  21:27

I love the idea about a Canadian company that ended food waste. Specifically around food waste, and you may not have exact data at your fingertips. But can you give the audience an idea of the magnitude of this issue around food waste? And let’s talk Canada specifically if you don’t have the US numbers.

TJ Galiardi  21:45

Well, recently, I saw a number. It was over a billion tons of food goes to waste. So I don’t even know how to wrap my head around how large of a number that is. But if you put it this way, our facility––our new, almost 50,000 square foot facility––will process about a million and a half pounds a month. So if you think about that, that is a massive number. But how big of a chunk that’s going to take out of the food waste issue is so minuscule it would be, you know, point 0000-something, right? Of a percentage. So that just gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with. And, you know, it’s gonna take all hands on deck to turn this around. It’s not just going to be Outcast Foods that does it, it’s going to be other companies that have to step up and partner with us, or the multinational store buying their ingredients from us instead of traditionally buying it from China. Just keeping the system going the way it is. It needs to be disrupted. And that’s kind of what we’re here to do.

Host Raj Daniels  22:49

You know, I find it fascinating. And I’m just curious. I’m just thinking out loud here. How did we end up here, to where we walk into a grocery store and all the fruits and vegetables are perfectly polished and clean? It’s such a US phenomenon or a Western phenomenon. I grew up in London. I remember going to the market. Never really ever been concerned about how a fruit or vegetable really looks.

TJ Galiardi  23:15

Yeah, it’s been a cascade that we’ve brought onto ourselves by expecting perfect. And I mean, you think about it, right? You go to Whole Foods, or Kroger, or wherever that grocery store is. And they have a display and a wall full of apples, for instance. And eventually, people are going to buy the ones that look amazing. And the ones that aren’t perfect? They sit there on the shelf, and eventually, they’re called off the shelf, and they end up in a landfill. So we’ve brought this problem on ourselves, but we’re all guilty of it, right? Like I go to the grocery store, still, these days. And I’m picking through apples to find the best one. It’s ridiculous. And I take a step back, and I’m like, “Whoa, what am I doing here?” But it’s going to have to change. I would say at the pre-consumer level. That’s what we’re focused on. And then eventually the education will get down to the consumers and people decide to make changes if they’re ready.

Host Raj Daniels  24:16

You mentioned that you’re working at the pre-consumer level, at the farm level. Do you know if there are any changes being made at the grocery store or distribution level?

TJ Galiardi  24:24

I think it depends on who the grocer is. They’re all trying to reduce their footprint and reduce their waste. Their customers are demanding it of them. So it’s kind of forced their hand a little. And solutions are coming up, right? We’re there for them. And we’re an easy solution where we just plug into their current system, and instead of them sending it to a landfill, they send it to us. So there are ways that they can be a part of the movement and we’re getting calls all the time. And we’re always open to working with new grocers.

Host Raj Daniels  24:57

You know, it’s interesting, I did mention that 2030 idea, but I’d like to see also by 2030 a transition away from––and I think you mentioned the word––education. Education, or perhaps re-education, that if you go into a store and the fruits and vegetables don’t look perfect, they’ll taste just fine.

TJ Galiardi  25:13

Yeah. Yeah, I think I think some grocers have tried that before where they sell a, you know, a section of the misfit or ugly fruits and vegetables, but for the couple that I know, it didn’t work for them. That problem still happens where people were bypassing that section. So it’s gonna take time, but eventually, I think everyone will get on board and realize that the apple that is shiny versus the one that has a stem poke in it both taste the same.

Host Raj Daniels  25:47

And the shiny one might have more wax on it.

TJ Galiardi  25:49

Yeah, most likely it does.

Host Raj Daniels  25:51

It’s interesting. So staying on this idea of re-education in the future. The last question is if you could share some advice––and you mentioned resilience earlier, which is one of my favorites, and also being compassionate. But if you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, and it could be professional or personal, what would it be?

TJ Galiardi  26:08

I would say, take a step back and look at what you’re buying. And if you really want to make an impact on the environment, or the animals, just look at the brand and think, okay, are these guys doing anything out of the ordinary to help out with the environment? Are they buying sustainably sourced ingredients? Are they using compostable packaging? Just little things because every dollar you spend, you’re voting with. So if you want to make an impact, the easiest way to do it is through your purchases. You don’t have to go and flip your whole world upside down and become a completely zero-waste individual. I’ve seen some funny videos of people where they’ve wasted one of those one-liter size garbage bags for the entire year. The effort that it would take to do that is just monumental. So you can go out and you can support the brands that are doing their best to make a difference.

Host Raj Daniels  27:11

And I’m going to cheat here. I said that was my last question, but I do have one other question. In case there are any athletes, aspiring athletes, fitness fans listening, what can you perhaps share with them if they’re considering on the fence about becoming a vegetarian or going vegan? What advice can you share with them?

TJ Galiardi  27:27

There’s support out there for people that want to do that. There are websites that will give you full diet plans or amazing recipes to make that transition. Just see how your body feels, right? It’s pretty simple to do a little elimination diet where you take, let’s say, chicken or turkey or whatever it is out of your diet for a week, and see if you’ve noticed any differences in the way you feel or the way you sleep or look, or whatever it is, and decide if it’s worth it for you. And I mean, Novak Djokovic just won Roland-Garros, and he’s completely vegan. He had some insane matches to get there. So there’s plenty of inspiration out there.

Host Raj Daniels  28:12

I appreciate that. And also, don’t forget, you can also reach out to Outcast foods and order their products too.

TJ Galiardi  28:18

Yeah, of course. Outcastfoods.com. That’s the easiest way to switch your diet a little.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels