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Island fim’s vegan supplements helping people ‘level up’ their fitness

Nanaimo’s Vegain plant-based products launched in 2023
Melissa L’Heureux-Haché and Edan Wolk launched Vegain, a plant-based line of sports supplements, in 2023. They live and maintain their company head office with their dog Naya in downtown Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A Vancouver Island-based company is making gains with a vegan supplement brand.

Edan Wolk and Melissa L’Heureux-Haché, of Nanaimo, created Vegain, a line of gluten-, dairy- and soy-free sports nutrition products formulated from Canadian-sourced ingredients that has gained a following from vegan and non-vegan athletes.

Wolk and L’Heureux-Haché launched Vegain in January 2023 and in November the company became the exclusive supplements partner for Ian Machado Garry, a top-10 ranked and undefeated welterweight in the UFC.

Wolk said he and L’Heureux-Haché, who also own marketing firm No Bull Brands, have long been passionate about vegan sports nutrition.

“We were working in the corporate world for a while,” L’Heureux-Haché said. “We sold the company to a publicly traded company in Toronto and went to work for them, it was part of the sale contract, but we just found that … ethics, anything we believed in, was always an afterthought. Everything was about dollars and cents, shareholders, which is important for a public company, we get it, but it was a really hard thing for us to wrap our heads around.”

When economic tough times during the pandemic freed Wolk and L’Heureux-Haché from contractual obligation, they sold everything in Toronto, moved to Nanaimo and started No Bull Brands, which allowed them to base the business on their values.

When the opportunity came to create their own plant-based sports nutrition brand, Vegain became their primary focus. Wolk said he and L’Heureux-Haché worked with laboratories to develop a product that benefits customers and tastes better, while remaining plant-based. Vegain plant-based mass gainer was their first product launched.

“Typically, a lot of vegan products out there, they do taste like dirt, so it’s just trying to break that barrier for folks,” Wolk said.

L’Heureux-Haché said she and Wolk both enjoy fitness and were motivated to create Vegain because of a lack of product on the market that worked for them.

L’Heureux-Haché, who grew up in the Comox Valley in a family that fished and hunted, said she’s been plant-based since about 2011 when she attended university.

“We had all this abundance of food that I had a connection to,” she said. “I moved to Montreal and I was a broke student and I did not feel good about buying a family pack of wings from the grocery store … That just wasn’t right.”

Her intention wasn’t to go vegan, but to wait and make some money so she could buy ethical, sustainable meats and products.

“But I was studying environmental sustainability at the same time,” she said. “So between not eating meat and losing the taste for it and learning about the environmental impact of the animal industry I just seamlessly transitioned into that.”

Wolk, whose lifestyle involves bodybuilding and competitive sports, found whey-based products he’d been using were negatively impacting him and was already experimenting with nutrition when he and L’Heureux-Haché met in 2016.

“When I met Melissa I was working in the restaurant scene in Toronto and I was taking her out all the time and … realized very quickly the filet mignon and all the roasts and stuff just wasn’t going to cut it … I knew it was important to her to just give it a good college try, at least, so I just started transitioning to being plant-based.”

Wolk said once he switched his diet, his overall performance and energy “levelled up.”

One area limiting vegan products breaking into markets is the vegan approach to marketing and packaging, L’Heureux-Haché said.

“I’m sure if I say ‘vegan protein’ I’m sure you can picture it. It’s white and green packaging. It’s very feminine, very earthy, kind of hippie, which is great, but there’s a whole section of the population that doesn’t appeal to who would really benefit from these products,” she said. “A mass-gainer? It’s usually big boys at the gym who want to use this product. They might not care about veganism at all, but that association with ‘you must be vegan, you must look and act a certain way to use these products’ has deterred them from railing up their athleticism.”

Vegain’s bold packaging and marketing style has helped it make the breakthrough Wolk and L’Heureux-Haché were after.

“We wanted to build a community,” Wolk said. “The majority of our customers aren’t vegan at all. We have bodybuilders that use our products … It’s been really affirming having been approached by UFC fighters, Olympians, football players, NHL players in the last few months.”

READ ALSO: Inaugural VegFest shakes it up in downtown Nanaimo

Edan Wolk and Melissa L’Heureux-Haché launched Vegain, a plant-based line of sports supplements, in 2023, and have since gained a growing following from vegan and non-vegan athletes. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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