Chicago Vegan Foods, maker of Dandies vegan, gelatin-free marshmallows, is turning 20 years old this year.
Family owned and self-funded, the vegan food company continues to innovate in the plant-based category with its takes on classic comfort foods. With its beginnings traced back to the animal rights movement in the 1990s, founders Ryan Howard and Dan Ziegler founded Chicago Vegan Foods in 2001 to channel their activism into a business that could bring awareness to animal rights and create alternatives to products that were harmful to animals and the environment.
"We started in my tiny basement and now manufacture out of our own 40,000 sq.ft., fully vegan facility,” Howard said. “We can manufacture over 18 tons of marshmallows a day, which is over 100 miles worth of marshmallows placed end to end."
The company started by making Temptation Vegan Frozen Dessert (which evolved to include Temptation Vegan Soft Serve) and Teese Vegan Cheese. In 2010, its flagship product, Dandies marshmallows, launched in stores.
With a taste and texture indistinguishable from conventional marshmallows, Dandies have become a go-to ingredient for baked goods, campfire s’mores, and hot cocoa. Made with no artificial flavors or colors, no corn syrup, no gelatin, and free from gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts and tree nuts, these marshmallows are also an allergy-friendly version of the classic confection.
Propelled by the success of Dandies and the explosion of the plant-based market, Chicago Vegan Foods has grown by 40 times over the past 10 years. An expansion into a 40,000-sq.-ft. SQF-certified facility in 2018 allowed the company to meet growing demand with increased capacity, automated production, and customized, state-of-the-art equipment.
The company plans to introduce a new line of plant-based products in new categories under the Dandies brand in 2022.
“We started this company to make plant-based foods that everyone could enjoy while using it as a springboard to educate. We never thought our mission would take us this far,” Ziegler said. “It's humbling to hear from customers about how we've changed their lives with something as simple as a marshmallow or ice cream, giving them an opportunity to re-experience family memories and to make new ones, with a friendlier upgrade.”