While the company has only been in operation for less than a year, production of its plant-based crispy nuggets is already up and running in south Seattle, and Seattle Food Tech will start delivering to select customers, including schools and restaurants, this month, said founder and CEO Christie Lagally, who has raised $1m coming out of the Y Combinator accelerator program in Silicon Valley.
Investors include Liquid 2 Ventures, Sinai Ventures Fund, Uphonest Capital, and a second investment from VegInvest, which participated in the firm’s pre-seed round in January 2018, said Lagally, who has just hired former Humane Society MD of farm animal protection Kristie Middleton as VP of business development, handling branding, outreach, distribution, and sales.
"As of today, we've raised $2.17m in pre-seed investment. We will be raising the rest of our seed round early next year."
Plant-based meat can be 2-5x more expensive
While next-gen plant-based meat companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have spent a lot on branding, Seattle Food Tech is targeting the high-volume end of the foodservice sector with a white label approach, and asking customers to answer a simple question:
If there’s a plant-based alternative that looks the same, cooks the same, and costs the same as chicken nuggets, and it’s better for your health and the environment, why wouldn’t you buy it?
“We’ve been commercially manufacturing plant-based meat replacements for more than a hundred years but the industry as a whole still lacks scale and efficiency,” added Lagally, who spoke at FoodNavigator-USA’s FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago last month.
“We’re designing the machinery and associated facilities to produce these products at scale," she told delegates. "Plant-based meat chicken products for whatever reason have not achieved the price points people are looking for.
"While plant-based meat is growing [in double digits at retail click HERE] it only accounts for 0.1% of animal based meat by volume in the US, and most schools and hospitals don't have access to affordable alternatives as they can cost two to five times more [see chart below]."
She added: "We're about 30% more expensive [than regular chicken nuggets] now, and we're only 10 months old, but as we scale, we absolutely will be able to offer them at less than the price of animal-based chicken nuggets. We have small scale production now but we'll have larger scale production in the spring."
Seattle Food Tech is a food manufacturing technology and production company on a mission to “catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.”
This, claims CEO Christie Lagally, can be achieved with novel food manufacturing equipment and processes designed to produce low-cost plant-based meat at high volumes, utilizing high-throughput manufacturing automation and ‘smart’ production centers, and new low-energy manufacturing tools.
By redesigning the manufacturing process, we are getting much closer to chicken than what’s on the market today
For its first product – chicken nuggets with four times the fiber and 20-30% more protein than regular chicken nuggets - Seattle Food Tech is using textured wheat protein, some soy protein, canola oil, vegan chicken flavor, spices, corn, and wheat breading. They also cook more quickly than regular chicken nuggets.
“The key is the production process [rather than the ingredients],” said Lagally. “It’s how we process the protein ... and how we keep the air out of it to create a really dense product that releases juice, not air, when you cook it.
“By redesigning the manufacturing process, we are getting much closer to chicken than what’s on the market today. We’re also thinking about usability and trying to understand how our products would be used in foodservice. A lot of foodservice companies don’t used plant based products because they come in tiny boxes, they don’t cook the same in the usual oven, they don’t cook at the same rate, and those things are really important.”
From a texture perspective, she said: “Our products have a really dense texture very like a whole chicken breast, because we use a special chopping process that ensures we don’t get a foamy product, which you often get in plant-based products which can get a lot of air in there or not enough water, which can make them dry. Our nuggets actually plump when you cook them and release a lot of juices and flavor.”
In 2017, the American Medical Association urged all hospitals to remove processed meats including chicken nuggets from all of their menus as well as sugary drinks.
“Processed meat products are known carcinogens, so we are offering a ready-made solution for hospitals to just switch over to another ready-to-eat alternative right off the bat,” says Seattle Food Tech founder Christie Lagally.
Schools and colleges are also interested in more plant-based proteins, in part because more students are vegans and vegetarians, and if you can offer a product that tastes and performs as well as meat and costs the same, and doesn't involve antibiotics, it’s not a huge leap of faith to make the switch, she said.
“A lot of universities have targets for reducing carbon emissions and some foodservice agencies are telling them that reducing meat consumption is one way to do it.”