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Josh D. Velasquez and Adam R. Hamilton: The Plant-Based Pioneers Behind Shire’s Naturals

Updated: Mar 21



In the latest episode of the Plant Based On Fire podcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Josh D. Velasquez and Adam R. Hamilton, the visionary co-founders of Shire’s Naturals. This dynamic duo is revolutionizing the plant-based food industry with their innovative approach to dairy alternatives. Coming from diverse backgrounds—Josh with a lifelong commitment to plant-based living and Adam transitioning from a traditional meat-and-potatoes upbringing—their story is an inspiring look at entrepreneurs determined to create delicious products while wedded to the value of wellness.


The Genesis of Shire’s Naturals


Josh's journey into the plant-based world was ingrained in him from childhood, thanks to his health-conscious parents. However, it was his and Adam’s shared passion for health and wellness that truly set the stage for Shire’s Naturals. Dissatisfied with the dairy alternatives available on the market, loaded with oils, thickeners, and gums, they embarked on a mission to create a product that was not only delicious but also upheld the highest standards of health and wellness.


Their breakthrough came from an old European method of fermenting nuts to produce a cheese-like consistency without the need for unhealthy additives. This discovery led to four years of dedicated research and development, culminating in a product they could proudly stand behind. Their cheese alternatives are made with a clean label, focusing on health, taste, and quality.


Building a Plant-Based Brand from the Ground Up


Josh and Adam’s story is a compelling narrative of perseverance, innovation, and community support. They emphasize the importance of persistence, a lesson encapsulated in the motto: “I will persist until I succeed.” This philosophy saw them through the challenging early years, including a significant learning curve in taking their product to market and securing funding to scale their business.


Their advice to budding entrepreneurs in the plant-based sector is invaluable: seek mentors and advisors early, focus on the cost of goods to ensure profitability, and never underestimate the intelligence of your consumers. Shire’s Naturals is built on the belief that consumers deserve high-quality, healthful options and that integrity in ingredients can and will drive the future of plant-based eating.


The Future of Shire’s Naturals


Looking ahead, Josh and Adam envision Shire’s Naturals as a trusted brand known for its unwavering commitment to health and wellness. They plan to expand their product line while maintaining their strict standards for clean, wholesome ingredients. Their goal is not just to cater to the plant-based community but to offer delicious, healthy alternatives that appeal to everyone.


Join the Revolution


The Shire’s Naturals co-founders encourage the plant-based community to support their mission by requesting their products from local retailers and reaching out for collaborations. Their story is not just about creating a successful business; it’s about fostering a healthier, more sustainable future for our planet.


To learn more about Shire’s Naturals and support their journey, visit eatshires.com. Together, we can propel the plant-based movement forward, one delicious bite at a time. Shire’s Naturals isn’t just a brand; it’s a movement towards a healthier, more sustainable world. Join us in supporting their mission and spreading the word about the transformative power of plant-based living.


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>Podcast Episode’s Transcript


Please understand that a transcription service provided the transcript below. It undoubtedly contains errors that invariably take place in voice transcriptions.


Bryan (00:01.133)

Hello everybody and welcome to Plant Based on Fire, where we talk about plant-based businesses and their inspiring stories to thrive in our industry. I'm your host Bryan, I'm a fractional chief technology officer and a business coach. And joining us today are Josh and Adam, co-founders of Shires Naturals. Welcome Adam and Josh.


Adam Hamilton (00:21.742)

Great to be here.


Joshua Velasquez (00:22.981)

Thanks for having us.


Bryan (00:24.681)

It is so exciting to have you here. I was just, we were just talking before we chatted and I was like, I was so excited cause there's a place close to me in Charlotte. I could get it, but you're saying it's not here yet. So, uh, I want to unpack that, but before we get into that and where we can get this cool product, uh, talk to us a little bit about the background. Like how has your personal journey with the plant-based world, uh, influenced you to start this business and get into this?


Joshua Velasquez (00:52.041)

So I'll start there. So I was raised a vegan vegetarian for health and wellness reasons. I'm an eighties kid, so back in the eighties, there wasn't a lot of great options, but my parents were always focused on whole food plant-based. And then as I grew older, I also became lactose intolerant. They went back from vegan to vegetarian. So they would bring some dairy in. My body just couldn't handle it.


and realize that the dairy alternatives that were out on the market were not healthy for you. They're oils, thickeners, and gums, a lot of inflammatory ingredients. And then Adam and I met in 2010 at a summer job. And I don't know, Adam, if you want to jump in here and how I got you to.


Adam Hamilton (01:36.126)

Yeah, you know, my journey is really...


Joshua Velasquez (01:39.646)

What's up?


Adam Hamilton (01:39.67)

how you got me up to New Hampshire. So my journey has been, you know, not quite similar. So I grew up in more like a meat and potatoes, you know, household. And so I really didn't know how to cook plant-based, right? And I think that was a barrier, but I started really focusing on health, on raw dieting. It's kind of what got me on the track. And noticing what I put into my body and how my body was feeling, which I had never made that connection before


doing dairy and then you inevitably try dairy again and you're like, oh my gosh, wow. Okay, so that was not normal.


And around that same time, Josh and I happened to meet, and here's this guy that comes around that knows how to cook plant-based and make it actually taste good. And it like blew my mind. And so that's really how I sort of became a convert. And I was like, okay, well, no more, it's just like a crudite platter for plant-based. You can take all these amazing ingredients, combine them together, and have something that satisfies.


Joshua Velasquez (02:43.261)

See you next time.


Bryan (02:44.673)

That is awesome. Yeah. I mean, such amazing stories. I was also an eighties kid, but I was meeting potatoes too. So it's so, so inspiring to hear your parents raised you that way, Josh and Adam, I'm glad you met Josh and he converted you on that, on that journey. So, uh, so you, you transitioned in some previous careers, I assume into this plant food industry or like, how was the culmination of like, Hey, let's, let's do this together.


Joshua Velasquez (03:14.349)

Yeah, so we had met at the summer job and when we realized we were both on the same page for health and wellness, we were toying around with starting a restaurant, like a plant-based focused restaurant that was whole food plant-based.


And our dairy-free cheese was born from that, because we went back and saw that once again, there's still no clean label dairy alternatives on the market. And it didn't line up with our plan of what we wanted to put out on our menu. And so during our raw dieting days, I had found an old European recipe of how you can actually ferment nuts. And it has like a cheese-like consistency to it. And so I did that first recipe


And it came out good, you know, it was funky, had a nice texture to it. It wasn't the best, you couldn't sell it. But I was like, wow, this is really interesting that you could ferment nuts and it has like a cheese-like consistency. And that was it, you know, there wasn't, I didn't have to add oils, thickeners or gums. And so I brought it to Adam and he tried it. And we were just like, yeah, I think this could turn into something. And so we scrapped the restaurant and we ended up building a test lab in my parents' basement in Harrisville, New Hampshire,


And we literally like Adam and I had a sort of like gut everything out and then we brought in the electrician and the plumber but we did all the hard work all the dirty work and then I spent four years on R&D focused around fermentation using cashews as the base and Because we're doing you know what we're doing is really new. There's about ten companies pioneering this Or there was ten companies when we first started this in 2013


And it took four years to figure out how to ferment this correctly. And that's how we got this and that. We stuck with the plan of we're creating healthy dairy alternatives. And we're able to achieve that.


Bryan (05:03.821)

That is awesome.


Bryan (05:14.057)

Absolutely, I mean.


And that, that like so aligns with like when I, when I coach different businesses and stuff, like I tell them like the first five years are the hardest, like you're going to hit this moment of like, what have I been doing the past two years, like are we ever going to succeed? Are we, you know, like, but like you've already, you already described a couple moments that you pivot through and some of the challenges you had. So like what advice would you give the companies that are in that? Like I call it the valley of death. Like


You know, are we going to start selling this? Are we going to thread through this? Like clearly you guys have made it past that stage. I feel like in our are well on your way to scaling. Talk to me about any inspiration there.


Adam Hamilton (05:59.818)

I can jump in on that one. So I saw this quote recently that I've just loved, right? And so this is not unknowingly to us, it's sort of been our motto, but it is, I will persist until I succeed. And that's really what we started with. Josh mentions four years of R&D down in the basement. That was really pre-launch. So there was all this homework culminating in, okay, we have a marketable product now. And to Josh's credit, he jumped right in


Bryan (06:22.903)

Yeah.


Adam Hamilton (06:29.712)

said, well, how do we take this to market? And he started researching packaging, distribution, how to sell into stores, all this stuff that we had to learn on the fly developed over that four year period. And then really, when we got to a place that we felt like, OK, we got something, we're growing, we're getting some traction, then we had to build out proper manufacturing. And Brian, then we had to go to the next step, which was, well, we're not independently wealthy, spoiler alert.


go out and raise money, something that we had never, you know, experienced before in our lives. So we went to our community and we said, hey, you know, like we have this idea, here's how it's going. We have a lot to learn, but we need some capital to build the proper manufacturing to be able to continue to grow.


Bryan (07:01.401)

That's right.


Yeah.


Adam Hamilton (07:15.526)

And amazingly, our community came out. We found angels, and we found angels, angels found us. We partnered with a local bank, some economic development folks. I mean, it really came together as a, our story is a community story with how we launched.


Bryan (07:33.913)

That is awesome. Well, congrats on the successes so far. Like where do you sort of see the long-term vision of Shire's Naturals going and how are you working to achieve that?


Adam Hamilton (07:46.93)

That's you, Josh.


Joshua Velasquez (07:48.293)

Yeah, so, you know, I'll bring it back to like, why we started this, you know, Adam and I had no idea about the CPG space. We went into the finally, like I said, we didn't, this was created through us wanting to start a restaurant. And then we saw this, what we could do with cashews through fermentation, he said, Oh, this needs to go out to the world because there's no clean dairy alternatives.


Bryan (07:57.453)

Hehehe


Joshua Velasquez (08:13.181)

And so what we see with Shires is how we originally started is health and wellness focused. You know, our goal is to be that trusted brand that when you see Shires, the logo on any product as we continue to grow.


you're gonna know that there's no bad ingredients in it. It's not just another, I'm not gonna put any brand names out there, but it's not another oils, thickeners, and gums dairy alternative that's filled with inventory ingredients. And that's our goal with this. We...


Bryan (08:39.021)

Mm-hmm. Yeah.


Joshua Velasquez (08:45.213)

We basically, when we're creating anything, we share it out with family and friends. And it's not just plant-based family and friends, it's everyone, right? Because we're making a product that is inclusive, that everyone can buy. You don't have to be plant-based to eat this. You're buying it because it tastes good. And the non-plant-based eaters are gonna buy it if they're not trading off their health for it, you know? And so...


That's our focus with Shires is we see the future of, we're that premium plant-based product and what makes us premium is, our focus is health and wellness. Make sure those ingredients are great and make sure the product obviously tastes well.


Bryan (09:27.929)

That is awesome. As again, going back to my 80s upbringing in an Italian family up in New York, I am so looking forward to trying your ravioli because that is a really hard one to find in the plant-based world for sure. So let's switch gears slightly and just talk about the sustainability side of this, the ethical side of it. How are you implementing some of those angles at Shires?


Joshua Velasquez (09:39.165)

Yeah.


Adam Hamilton (09:51.982)

You want to jump on that Josh, or do you want me to? Why don't I, you know, I wanted to circle back to something that Brian had mentioned, and then maybe you can jump on the sustainability part. You know, you also asked, what can entrepreneurs do? You know, what advice do we have for them? Seek out mentors and advisors as soon as possible. I think we waited a little bit longer thinking, hey, we needed to get to a specific number, a specific, you know, number of accounts, whatever, before we started to seek help from experts.


Joshua Velasquez (10:00.425)

Okay.


Adam Hamilton (10:22.302)

In hindsight, if we could go back in time, we would seek those experts sooner. We brought on three amazing strategic advisors over the last year, and they have been helping us transform the business, transform our way of thinking, how we go forward. Some names in the, some folks that helped build the natural product.


really industry, Bob Burke, Rick Antonelli and Elliot Began. And these guys have been instrumental in how we go forward. And I cannot stress enough to just, you know, go find those folks that have done it before you.


Bryan (10:53.461)

Yeah, absolutely. And Josh, what's your thoughts on the sustainability side of things?


Joshua Velasquez (10:59.549)

Yeah, you know, I mean, we're a plant based cheese company. Um, does it get any more sustainable than not using?


Joshua Velasquez (11:12.117)

other ingredients to make a cheese.


Bryan (11:14.825)

That's right. That's right. What, uh, I guess if we, if we look at like the industry challenges as we move forward, what do you see as some of the, the market trends and some of the challenges that the plant based food industry is heading towards?


Joshua Velasquez (11:33.341)

say the market challenges, at least for us and.


Joshua Velasquez (11:40.645)

It's going out there and educating consumers why they should give us a shot. A lot of these consumers are burnt out. They've tried dairy alternatives. They don't either taste good or they're gonna bring up the does this have oils, does this have thickness, this is not good for me. I'd say those are the biggest market challengers for us.


Adam Hamilton (12:03.85)

You know, Brian, in the beginning, we took the position that the consumer is intelligent. And they're going to check the ingredients, they're going to trust their taste buds. And when sort of the hype of the industry, you know, quiets down, you know, that's what you're left with. Do you have a good product with good ingredients that taste good or not? Right. And I think what we've seen is that there were a lot of companies that


in our opinion, in our humble opinion, took a different position. They said, you know what, the consumer will eat whatever I put in front of them if I call it plant-based or if I call it dairy-free. And the truth is, that's not the case. We see that in the macro trends in the numbers. So when we look at what is the future of plant-based, it is companies like ours that are focused on that health and wellness, you know, clean label, real food.


Bryan (12:34.722)

Mm-hmm.


Bryan (12:47.745)

Yeah, that is awesome. So I know I've mentioned the ravioli, but you have like the cream cheese and the cheese spreads. And, you know, it's not here in Charlotte yet. So tell us how you're gonna get global domination with Shires.


Adam Hamilton (13:03.458)

That's a great question. You know, so, and Josh, you know, piggyback on anything I forget, but we, early on, we also, this goes to Josh's credit, we took the position that we're going to, you know, get it right.


And so that's what we've been doing. So we've been testing up here in New England, right? Toughest folks ever to satisfy both on food, ingredients, New Englanders, and we've been doing that. We're winning with our consumers up here. And so it's solidifying our home base, right? Which is the Northeast of New England and New York, and then spreading down south to places like Charlotte and all the way down to Florida. Do you have an Earth Fair in your area, Brian?


Bryan (13:26.009)

That's right.


Bryan (13:45.622)

We sure do, yeah.


Adam Hamilton (13:46.958)

So we're in talks with Earth Fair right now. That would be a great account to pick up. So stay tuned.


Bryan (13:49.489)

I love it!


Bryan (13:53.101)

Come on, Earth Fair, let's see it. That is great news, I'm excited to see that. It is getting those toe holds into the different, more sustainable things like the Earth Fairs and the Whole Foods of the world on that front. Did you guys start out at the farmer's market circuit a little bit or how did you grow into your first couple stores?


Joshua Velasquez (14:15.586)

We'd like


Oh, well, we did. We did a test in like local farmer markets here, but not we didn't sit at farmers markets for an entire year. I probably did like one or two in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire. You know, we had a great product from day one and we got into we have a lot of co-ops up here in New England.


And honestly, this goes back to us being naive about the CPG industry, I just went knocking on doors. And I just said, Hey, here's our product, will you bring it on? And we picked up a bunch of co ops. So so we would just, you know, deliver them in coolers throughout New England. And then from there, we you know, you end up having a portfolio of let's say, like 25 independent stores that attracted a distributor.


And then we worked with that distributor. They helped us pick up some more accounts. Someone said hey, you should get into Whole Foods I was like, yeah, we want to get in Whole Foods, but that's like down the line We have some more work to do. They said you should just see if they consider This is a really great product, you know bringing it on and this is before the Amazon days, by the way, and so in


know, it's been a while now, but I think it was the middle of 2014. I presented to Whole Foods, not the region, but back then you could present to each store. They had foragers, each store had a forager and three out of the 40 stores brought it on that year. And then we ended up growing slowly into other Whole Foods as we continue to do well there. And that has been a


Bryan (15:49.069)

That's awesome.


Bryan (15:56.513)

That's great, great news.


Joshua Velasquez (15:58.025)

from day one is how we've grown is just, you gotta go out, you gotta meet your customers, you gotta demo, and you have to have a good product.


Bryan (16:08.537)

That's right. And it's interesting because like the thing that dawned on me probably in the past two years is there's a hidden world of the community supported agriculture, the CSA, and it's more prominent in other parts of the country than I guess where I grew up and stuff. But like, finding ways to partner with the CSAs and the co-ops, like you said, is so key and instrumental. I know when I was doing a little research for the


Bryan (16:37.713)

a banking financial background. So what other tip or advice would you give to the budding entrepreneurs that are trying to get into this plant-based sector?


Adam Hamilton (16:48.566)

So Josh and I have made a great team. We're business partners, we're also life partners. So Josh is my husband. He's focused on the creative side, the branding, the product creation. I've been focused more on the sales and marketing side. On the finance side, we've always had our eye on our cost of goods, right? And for a time in the CPG industry that was sort of ignored in a way, it was like, oh, well, if you hit a certain scale,


Bryan (17:10.253)

Mm-hmm.


Adam Hamilton (17:18.74)

The problem takes care of itself. And I think with my banking background, I was like, well, this just doesn't make any sense to me. Like, you know, if you have a problem with it today, you're going to have a problem with it tomorrow. And so we really focused on getting efficient in our manufacturing, getting our costs right, so that as we grow, it's not a catch up, it's as we grow, it actually, you know, expands exponentially. And so the advice is, you know, you got to go to market with a product


profitable. You know if you think it's going to be unprofitable later there's so many other costs that come into play that you're going to have a very difficult time. Maybe not impossible but very difficult.


Bryan (17:50.105)

That's right.


Bryan (17:59.605)

Yep, I agree. I tell a lot of a lot of the people that I've helped, you know, go and sell the first 10, make sure you can make some money before you even worry about the LLC and some of that stuff. That is awesome. You guys have done a great job, you know, helping tackle the scaling up and growing this business. I mean, congratulations on your successes there. Is there any peek behind the curtain or


Adam Hamilton (18:07.19)

Yeah.


Adam Hamilton (18:12.398)

Good advice.


Bryan (18:26.429)

exciting things that are in the new product category that are in your pipeline that you might be able to share with some of our listeners.


Adam Hamilton (18:33.238)

Ooh, good question. Josh, that's your field.


Joshua Velasquez (18:35.365)

Yeah, that's a good question because we're pretty secretive about some how we operate.


Bryan (18:40.48)

And that's okay if you can't.


Joshua Velasquez (18:43.045)

I mean, we're always working on, we always have R&D going on. Adam has to suffer through a lot of dinners of if this is going to work or not. But you know, that's how our ravioli was born.


it takes a little bit longer for us because you know like I said it's all health and wellness focus so we're always like oh well we can't use that ingredient to get this texture this and that and yeah I think our focus right now is growing the brand Shires the products that we have our cream cheese line our cheese spread line and our ravioli


Adam Hamilton (18:57.515)

Well, here's what's up.


Joshua Velasquez (19:13.625)

line, you know, we'll probably extend our, the peak behind the curtain is we'll extend our flavors. We, you know, we're going to see how these three flavors do and then we already have a couple new flavors lined up that we would potentially launch at the end of this year.


Bryan (19:32.505)

That's awesome. Well, we're excited to try them when they get into Earth Fair and our local food stores. I got two quick questions as we're closing in on wrapping this up. What keeps you both motivated and passionate about this plant-based industry that you're in? You guys have been doing this, it sounds like for 10 plus years now, so congrats. But you wake up every day, what gets you motivated?


Adam Hamilton (19:56.366)

That's a great question.


Joshua Velasquez (19:56.657)

I'm going to continue to repeat the message of when I go through a grocery store, I get so irritated and upset that there's still a lot of brands out there that have oils, thickeners and gums. It irritates me. I'm a consumer, right? Like I'm also a consumer. I'm not just creating a product and trying to sell it. Like I want to be able to also go out there and buy other dairy alternatives that we're not making and enjoy them.


You know, but right now I'm not seeing a lot of that. It's starting to happen. There's definitely some, you know, a brand that we like to buy for plant-based milk because we actually stopped drinking plant-based milk because of all the oils, sectors, and gums that are in plant-based milk, but you have Malk.


is a great brand out there. And then we also have a local company out of Maine in our backyard. It's also milk, but it's my LK. Right? Am I spelling that? Am I saying that right? Adam? You know, that's what keeps me going is, is knowing that we have a product that people are looking for. And those emails at the end of the day.


getting those calls, getting those letters where people say, thank you, thank you for not putting these crazy ingredients in here that are unnecessary. That's what keeps me going.


Bryan (21:19.073)

Yeah, that's awesome. Anything you wanna add, Adam?


Adam Hamilton (21:25.17)

I would just echo that. I mean, it's the, you know, when we go out and do a sampling and the customer feedback, like anytime you're having a bad day as an entrepreneur or food, go to a sampling. If you have a good product, I mean, you're gonna be completely re-energized after that. And the feedback from customers, you know, it's a tough business. It's a real tough business. But when we know we're solving a problem, we have a product that we can stand behind and we've, you know, we're in the trenches. I mean, we're having fun, you know, it is fun. It's a competition.


Bryan (21:34.945)

That's right.


Bryan (21:42.154)

It is.


Bryan (21:54.029)

That's right.


Adam Hamilton (21:55.024)

We know we have a winning product and our consumers keep us going.


Bryan (21:59.425)

That's right and Josh my favorites the Elmhurst milks. They just one or two ingredients. Those are phenomenal. Yep, and but I honestly I have the Nutter machine now you have to check out the nutr machine and I'm making my own and having fun mixing up different flavors and stuff. But yeah, it's very exciting. I can't wait to try some of your cheeses and especially the ravioli when I can get my hands on it.


Joshua Velasquez (22:05.338)

Yes.


Adam Hamilton (22:13.026)

How you like?


Adam Hamilton (22:26.518)

We're going to send you some Brian.


Bryan (22:28.869)

And my question is, as we wrap this up here, is how can we help Shire's Naturals grow? So what can the community that's listening and watching to this do to help you, and what are the best ways to get in touch?


Adam Hamilton (22:42.358)

Great question.


Joshua Velasquez (22:42.385)

Yeah, so, um, Adam, I'll let you go actually looks like you're ready to


Adam Hamilton (22:46.302)

Yeah, so what has always helped us grow is to contact your local retailer and say, hey, listen, we want this product.


And if you're looking, well, what do I give them? You know, email us info at each shires.com. We'll send you a sales sheet that you take in and say, Hey, you know, will you please bring this on? That has been the biggest help for us growing. When a store hears from the consumer that I want this product, and when they hear it enough times, they're like, well, let me give it a shot. So that's a huge help. Of course, Brian, we're always raising money. So we are currently fundraising. So if there's some angels out there or family offices listening, you know,


Bryan (23:24.301)

That's awesome.


Adam Hamilton (23:28.084)

Same thing at info at each ours.com. We're just getting ready to close out this round, but we're always looking for that next round


Bryan (23:35.081)

Awesome. Well, that's great. And so again, it's eat shires, E A T S H I R E S dot com. That's how you can check out the website, reach out to the team, say hi, and are you selling it on your website as well? Awesome. So we have to just place our orders and get it shipped to us until you can get in our local stores. So that is awesome. Thank you guys so much for jumping on here and hanging out with us.


Adam Hamilton (23:48.758)

We are.


Joshua Velasquez (23:48.765)

We are. Yeah, you can't buy.


Adam Hamilton (24:01.974)

Thank you, Bryan.


Joshua Velasquez (24:02.325)

Thank you for having us, Bryan.


Bryan (24:04.269)

That's all the time we have for this episode of Plant Based on Fire. Thank you so much, Adam and Josh. We really appreciate you joining and sharing your insights and experiences with our community. Until next time, everybody, keep that fire burning.


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