In Northern California’s Silicon Valley, a region globally recognized for its technological innovations, food is undergoing a revolution. Home to innovators making everything from bleeding plant-based burgers (Impossible Foods) to AI-crafted dairy-identical blue cheese (Climax Foods), this region attracts people who want to change the world. 

This is true for Alexander Volkov, who left his career as a software engineer to develop Green Wolf Foods. Co-founded with wife Aleksandra Volkov, the company is reimagining traditional Eastern European staples such as salami, using nothing but plants, creativity, and a strong desire to create a better food system. 

“My career in software development was about creating innovative solutions, but cooking, particularly BBQ, was my true passion,” Volkov tells VegNews. Volkov went vegan approximately a decade ago and grew frustrated with the lack of plant-based cured meats. 

This is how Vegami was born in 2022. 

From software to seitan salami

Salami, with its roots deep in European culinary traditions, is a cured sausage of fermented and air-dried meat, typically pork. Its long shelf life at room temperature made it a staple among peasants in Southern, Eastern, and Central Europe. 

With each region developing its unique variety, the traditional recipe likely originated in Italy in the 18th century. The complexity of salami’s flavors and textures reflects the rich cultural significance of this food item across Europe.

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Creating a vegan alternative to traditional salami posed unique challenges, particularly in replicating its flavors and textures. “The first major challenge was achieving consistency,” Volkov says. 

His kitchen transformed into a “culinary lab” during the pandemic, where he experimented with plant-based recipes, drawing inspiration from his Eastern European heritage. “I wasn’t aiming to start a business initially. My goal was simple—create something both delicious and nutritious for me and my vegan family,” he recalls. 

This led to the birth of Vegami, a vegan take on salami which he describes as “naturally smoked, right in our backyard.”

He focused on developing smoking and aging techniques for an all-plant-based product, made primarily with a base of vital wheat gluten (also known as “seitan”) to deliver authentic flavors. 

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“Our mission is to bring plants back into plant-based, that’s why the third of our recipe is fresh greens, mushrooms, and vegetables,” he says, emphasizing the importance of wholesome ingredients and health consciousness.

To test Vegami, the Volkovs have been building a presence at farmers’ markets around the Bay Area where all feedback has been used to improve the product.

“It was special connecting directly, watching people try Vegami, and listening to their reactions. This past year, we’ve dedicated over 400 hours to engaging face-to-face and have received amazing feedback from our community,” Volkov says. 

“The message from those who’ve tried our products has been loud and clear—they prefer less imitation and more wholesome, simple ingredients with better flavor,” he says. 

And while the initial product was developed with vegans in mind, Volkov says interest from non-vegans is growing.

“This is exciting because it suggests that our products have the potential to help shift the food culture paradigm,” Volkov says. “We’re not just catering to a niche market; we’re contributing to a broader movement towards more sustainable and health-conscious eating habits.”

Vegan salami on the rise

While vegan burgers were all the rage in years past, every type of meat is getting a plant-based makeover.

Green Wolf Foods is part of a growing market of plant-based salami makers, including Renegade Foods and Plantcraft. The founders of Renegade, also based in Northern California, use traditional cured meat-making methods to add a flare of authenticity to their vegan salami, which is available in Toscana, Sopressata, and Spicy Chorizo flavors.

Volkov’s Green Wolf Foods, currently available direct-to-consumer through the company’s website, also aims to expand its reach and continue innovating in the plant-based market. While its Vegami has only been available to consumers since 2022, the vegan salami has already gained traction—tripling sales volumes in less than a year. 

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The product has also caught the attention of TIME magazine, which gave it an honorable mention in its Best Inventions of 2023 list. Last September, the World Plant-Based Innovation Awards also named Green Wolf Foods the Best New Business/Startup. 

Currently, the company is working to make its Vegami more accessible to the general public through new distribution channels. It is also developing a superfood-based caviar spread, another modern vegan take on an Eastern European staple made from chia seeds, flaxseed oil, seaweed, soy sauce, and water.

“We’re focused on bringing a new approach to the plant-based market,” Volkov says. “It’s not just about imitating animal-based products; it’s about innovating and crafting something unique and nutritious.” 

In developing these products, the founders of Green Wolf Foods hope to create a new legacy for their family name, one that mirrors their decision to ditch meat and embrace a vegan lifestyle.

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“Our family name, Volkov, translates to ‘of the wolf,’ creating a natural connection for us,” Volkov says. “Embracing veganism was, for us, akin to becoming ‘green wolves.’”

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