Klemos founded Unbun Foods in Toronto where the dining culture abounds, but the options for low-carb bread and baked items were scarce.
"I really wanted to make a healthy product that hits every kind of diet restriction that I had, which is grain-free, low-carb, and plant-based," Klemos told FoodNavigator-USA.
"The reality is that when you eat things like bread, traditional wraps, rice, and pasta, it’s harder to control your weight. I find that when I limit those, it’s easier to control my weight."
Klemos hit his kitchen and created the first iteration of the 'Unbun' made of water, almond flour, flax, coconut flour, and pysillium and whole egg as binding ingredients. The Unbun keto bun contains 5g net carbs, 10g of protein, 12g of fiber, and 240 calories.
"We’re not the first ones to use these ingredients," said Klemos, noting the massive size of the almond flour bakery market which is expected to grow at nearly a 10% CAGR between 2021, according to Technavio.
"Where the innovation lies in gluten-free bread products, lies around creating the perfect structure and mouthfeel."
'BYOB(un)' and the Impossible Foods approach
Klemos who said he frequently eats out at restaurants, would bring his own bun to restaurants to eat with his hamburgers. It was during this exercise that he learned that consumer interest in gluten-free buns and sandwich bread (Unbun makes a grain-free, keto-friendly baguette version product as well) at QSR was waning.
"People aren’t ordering as many gluten-free buns anymore just because they’re not healthy," claimed Klemos. "There was a perception of the gluten-free bun (wrap or bread) being the healthy option, and it’s possible to have gluten free options that are the healthiest option, but the majority of traditional gluten-free bread contain xanthan gum and starch."
Klemos noted how Unbun Foods is focused on foodservice and retail to grow brand awareness and distribution. In Canada, Unbun Foods is sold in Whole Foods, Loblaws, and Metro, as well as several restaurant chains including Mr. Sub and The Burger's Priest.
"If you look at Impossible Foods, they just put out their first retail product. The reason they’re able to grow so quickly is because they’re not just focused on CPG. A lot of CPG brands are just focused on 'how do we get turns, what is our trade spend at this grocery, etc…'," said Klemos.
In the US, Unbun Foods is rolling out in 83 BurgerIM restaurant locations in California, and soon after, all 200 locations nationwide. At retail, the company has partnered with KeHe and UNFI and is available in over 400 small, independent health food stores. It will also launch in Earth Fare stores next month, said Klemos.
Making the freezer aisle a destination for healthy bread
As Unbun Foods expands its retail distribution, the challenge will be drawing customers to the freezer aisle where the brand needs to store its preservative-free products.
"On its own, we can’t sell it ambient like other bread and bakery products," said Klemos. "One of our big challenges is letting people know to go to the freezer."
Klemos added, "There’s [very expensive] technology that would allow us to sell it at ambient temperatures and that’s something we, eventually, would want to do."
Outside of the grain-free, keto buns, Unbun Foods has other products in its portfolio including tortillas and pizza crusts, which Klemos believes will pick up steam in retail and foodservice channels.
"I think the tortilla is the most exciting SKU we have," said Klemos, who added that that unlike other gluten-free tortillas and wraps which fall apart with stretching and handling, the company's keto tortilla keeps its shape and can larger food portions such as large burritos.
Klemos wants Unbun Foods as well as other companies to create a larger market for better-for-you bakery options and to make finding such products easy for consumers.
"I want to effect how the bakery industry works. I want people to copy us," he said.