Founded last year by Dominik Grabinski (Kitchentown, Yeap, DSM, Cargill) and Max Elder (Institute for the Future), Nowadays seeks to punch above its weight in the category with frozen plant-based chicken nuggets with an ultra-short ingredients list (filtered water, yellow pea protein, whole wheat flour, sunflower oil, yeast extract, maple fiber, mushroom extract), with no added salt, sugar, starch or methylcellulose.
Debuting direct to consumer this month ahead of a retail launch next year, Nowadays nuggets are also significantly lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and higher in fiber than the competitive set, be it animal- or plant-based, delivering an “unparalleled nutritional profile,” claims the San Francisco-based startup.
Consumers expect plant-based products to be healthier
Compared with plant-based rivals, Nowadays nuggets have 140mg sodium (vs a more typical 300-500mg); 5g fiber (vs 1-3g); 3.5g fat (vs 7-10g); zero grams of saturated fat (vs 0.5-1.5g); and 120 calories (vs 170-220) per 85g serving.
Tyson chicken nuggets, meanwhile, contain 444mg sodium, no fiber, 4g saturated fat and 16g total fat, and 255 calories.
Right now, Elder told FoodNavigator-USA, “alternative protein companies are creating more sustainable and more humane products, but when you talk to consumers, the primary motivation [for buying plant-based] is health; the perception at least, is that these products are healthier. So there’s a disconnect.
"We don’t just need to remove animals, we need to create better products.”
‘We are hyper focused on creating a company that can scale and be defensible’
The nuggets are made using a proprietary extrusion process that enables Nowadays to use fewer ingredients and scale up more easily with co-packers, explained Elder.
“We've just filed a provisional patent on our novel form of [low-moisture] extrusion; it’s a unique approach to extruding pea protein that creates whole cuts of chicken with a two-year shelf-life that can be shipped anywhere in the world very cheaply [without requiring refrigeration], rehydrated at co-packing plants and then treated just like any other piece of meat.
“This protects our IP [because co-packers aren’t dealing with anything proprietary], and also significantly lowers the barrier to entry for co-manufacturers."
He added: "We are hyper-focused on creating a company that can scale and be defensible. We’re going to fail if we don't cut costs [in the plant-based meat industry], because while animals are relatively inefficient [at converting feed to protein], the animal agriculture industry has massive economies of scale and efficiencies that have been gained over time.”
‘We can leverage existing manufacturing facilities in a way that no one else can’
The extrudate that most plant-based meat brands are providing co-manufacturers “is really an ingredient rather than a product, which needs to be formed into a nugget with a bunch of binders and other ingredients,” claimed Elder. “Whereas we’re basically sending co-manufacturers a full cut of a nugget, a fibrous juicy stick shape that can be treated just like a cut of chicken.
“We're only asking co-packers to manage very few ingredients, then it’s just a case of a [having a] battering, breading, frying and freezing line, which are everywhere, and super cheap. We do not have to augment lines or develop new kinds of machinery or equipment, so we can leverage existing value added and manufacturing facilities in a way that no one else can.”
Right now, said Elder, who has just raised $2m* in a pre-seed round, "We're working with Buhler to extrude our protein and soon will have extrusion capability in-house.
"What we're trying to do is embed simplicity across our business and for co-manufacturers that enables us to scale cheaply and quickly.”
“Core to Nowadays’ go-to-market strategy is a low-cost, scalable manufacturing model that enables them to launch, iterate, and scale quickly.
"The team has already established strong relationships with strategic partners that bring together the best in ingredients with best-in-class extrusion processes, while retaining IP on their approach to extrusion and a trade secret for their unique formulation.
Their strategy is designed to solve for rapid scalability and flexibility so they can grow and iterate based on market feedback, starting with a direct-to-consumer launch.”
‘A short list of ingredients that consumers recognize and understand’
Elder, who has been tracking the alt protein space for several years, says he’s excited about many of the technologies that are beginning to emerge, although some, he argues, present greater consumer communication challenges than others (How do you explain the concept of microbes as microscopic little food factories? How do you communicate animal-free animal ingredients?)
“Over the next 10 to 15 years we’re going to see massive innovation across the protein world, and that is going to use all kinds of really interesting and urgent novel technologies to create more healthy, humane, and sustainable foods,” said Elder.
“But we could run into a challenge of consumer understanding and perception, so our strategy is simplicity. A short list of ingredients that consumers recognize and understand.”
*Initial investors in Nowadays include VegInvest, Tenacious Ventures, Cornucopian Capital and Stray Dog Capital.
Nowadays nuggets: Filtered water, yellow pea protein, whole wheat flour, sunflower oil, yeast extract, maple fiber, mushroom extract
120 cals, 3.5g fat, 0g sat fat, 13g protein, 5g fiber, 140mg sodium
Tyson Foods chicken nuggets: Chicken, water, wheat flour, contains 2% or less of the following: brown sugar, corn starch, dried garlic, dried onion, dried yeast, extractives of paprika, natural flavor, oat fiber, salt, spices, wheat starch, white whole wheat flour, yellow corn flour
255 cals, 16g fat, 4g sat fat, 13g protein, 0g fiber, 444mg sodium
Rebellyous nuggets: Filtered water, enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), soy protein concentrate, expeller pressed canola oil, textured wheat protein, isolated soy protein, modified corn starch, methylcellulose, salt, yeast extract, yellow corn flour, garlic, onion, spices and spice extracts, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda), rice starch, dextrose, cane sugar, sunflower oil, vinegar, natural flavor, torula yeast, yeast, citric acid, turmeric extract (color), paprika extract (color).
220 cals, 10g fat, 1g sat fat, 12g protein, 1g fiber, 540mg sodium
NUGGS nuggets: Water, soybean oil, textured wheat protein, soy protein concentrate, breadcrumbs, wheat flour, corn flour, wheat protein isolate, yeast extract, 2% or less of: modified food starch, corn starch, tapioca dextrin, sunflower oil, potato starch, onion powder, garlic powder, methylcellulose, sea salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, calcium chloride, black pepper, red pepper, paprika, dextrose, natural flavors
210 cals, 10g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 13g protein, 2g fiber, 400mg sodium
Gardein nuggets: Water, enriched flour (wheat flour with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), pea protein concentrate, canola oil, vital wheat gluten, contains less than 2% of methylcellulose, yeast extract, organic ancient grain flour, Khorasan wheat, soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat, salt), sea salt, potato starch, sugar, organic distilled vinegar, natural flavors, color added, yeast, organic cane sugar, color extractives (turmeric, paprika, annatto), ascorbic acid, salt, maltodextrin, leavening (cream of tartar, sodium bicarbonate), onion powder
186 cals, 8g fat, 0.5g sat fat, 13.5g protein, <1g fiber, 332mg sodium
Quorn nuggets: Mycoprotein, wheat flour, canola oil, egg white, yeast extract, contains 2% or less of wheat starch, potato dextrin, salt, wheat gluten, dextrose, whole egg, pea fiber, milk proteins, calcium chloride, calcium acetate, turbinado sugar, black pepper, yeast, onion powder, sage, sugar
173 cals, 7g fat, 0.5g sat fat, 8.5g protein, 5g fiber, 382mg sodium
Alpha Foods nuggets: Chik’n (water, soy protein concentrate, textured wheat protein [wheat gluten, wheat starch, vitamin E (tocopherols)], canola oil, vegan chik’n seasoning [maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, gum arabic, natural flavors, citric acid], methylcellulose, yeast extract, natural vegan flavor), breading (wheat flour, wheat gluten, corn starch, canola oil, sugar, yeast, dextrose, leavening [sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate], garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sunflower oil
180 cals, 8g fat, 1g sat fat, 10g protein, 3g fiber, 280mg sodium