Compassionate CEO Profile: Danny Swan of Primal Spirit Foods

We recently sat down with Danny Swan, CEO of Primal Spirit Foods, who has had a long career in food and environmental justice. He most recently helped open a food co-op in Primal’s hometown in West Virginia, where he has championed urban farming and healthy food for all. He’s also the father of two little boys, who can be found exploring Florida swamps, remote bike trails, or unmapped caves, usually with a Primal jerky strip in hand.

Do you recall your first introduction to Primal Strips?

Believe it or not, it was PETA’s SOS campus program! As a college student, I led my university’s environmental justice club. I invited a roving band of PETA SOS advocates to speak to our group and tout the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. They handed out Primal Strips, and I was hooked.

Fast-forward 15 years—I had just finished opening a food co-op in my hometown in West Virginia. I was determined to carry Primal in our store (after loving it for 15 years). This brought me into contact with Primal’s wonderful founders. After a few years of building that friendship, they brought me in to take the reins of the company.

In three words, how would you describe what it’s like working at Primal Spirit Foods?

  • Mission-driven
  • Animal-loving
  • High-energy

What is one thing that surprised you the most in your role as CEO of Primal Spirit Foods?

The love and loyalty that our fans show the product.

Everywhere I go, when I mention Primal (or wear my Primal T-shirt), people approach me and tell me their stories—how they first found Primal, how they first became vegan, how Primal helped them tackle the Appalachian Trail, you name it.

What do you think is the next biggest trend in vegan food?

Vegan doesn’t have to be “austere.”

In the past, we all associated “vegan” with “roughing it”—living on rice and beans (and maybe some undressed lettuce). That isn’t the case anymore.

You see it all over the place. We have companies like Primal offering delicious packaged goods. Social media is now full of adventurous chefs creating amazing vegan cuisine.

In short, the vegan lifestyle can be whatever you want. It can be elegant, comfortable, and, most importantly, delicious.

Which of your products are you most excited to share with others?

Well, we really only have one product: vegan jerky. And it kicks ass. My personal favorite is the Thai Peanut—complex flavor, huge protein content, and minimal calories.

What is your favorite thing about running an all-vegan company?

Interacting every day with wildly interesting vegans, who show us that the vegan lifestyle can be badass—the core tenet of Primal’s ethos.

We’ve collaborated with record-breaking mountain climbers, world-class bodybuilders, competitive kayakers, cyclists, runners, triathletes, dancers, fighters. These people are forcing the world to rethink vegans as “fringe” or “weaklings.” Vegans are adventurous, athletic, competitive, elite, and thriving—all without sacrificing compassion for the animal world.

How do you share your compassion for animals with those who aren’t as animal-friendly? 

Look, there are so many inroads to this conversation:

What do you care about?

Animal welfare?

Climate change?

Your health?

Environmental pollution?

Spiritual advancement? 

Everyone cares about at least one of these issues. It requires delicate dialog and a sense of humor. But we can always find some common ground.

For our company specifically, by supplying the perfect alternative to ubiquitous jerky, Primal has the power to become a gateway into getting the masses to make more compassionate food choices.

What advice would you give someone wanting to run a completely vegan company?

Look to your community for support (the animal rights folks, the health nuts, the environmental activists, the religious vegetarians, etc.). But don’t stop there!

Set a high standard by creating products that will be preferred even by your “meat and potatoes” neighbors, and invite them into a new lifestyle, even if only incrementally.