So if you’re making plant-based nuggets, says Max Elder, speaking to us after raising $7m in a seed round backed by Stray Dog Capital and Texas-based meat processor Standard Meat Co, they should actually be better for you (as well as the planet), hence Nowadays' commitment to offering products with an “unparalleled nutritional profile” (see box below).
“It’s certainly more humane and more sustainable to make meat from plants,” Elder told FoodNavigator-USA, “I'm just not convinced that most consumers are climate activists at breakfast or animal rights activists at lunch. But I do think that a lot of people are trying to eat better.”
‘I'm just not convinced that most consumers are climate activists at breakfast or animal rights activists at lunch’
Similarly, if prices don’t approach parity with conventional meat, the addressable market will remain frustratingly small, said Elder, who said the new funding would help scale Nowadays’ proprietary whole-cut tech platform and support a launch at Whole Foods’ Southern Pacific region in July.
“These products are expensive, and it's primarily because of the complexity of manufacturing. So, we've been hyper-focused on figuring out a way to produce meat in a way that is as cheap as basically a commodity on the market.”
Investors, meanwhile, are getting more discerning, given the recent slowdown in growth in some parts of the plant-based meat category and the flurry of me-too products hitting the market, added Elder, who said that to reach flexitarians, products must be delicious, nutritious, and above all affordable: “They are now hyper-aware of what production technologies look like in terms of cost structures at scale.”
Proprietary low-moisture extrusion process
So what is Nowadays - which launched its frozen plant-based nuggets direct-to-consumer last year - doing differently from an operational perspective?
Some high-profile players such as Beyond Meat deploy high moisture extrusion, but it’s an expensive process delivering an extrudate that must be temperature controlled, said Elder (formerly at the Institute for the Future), who founded Nowadays in 2020 with Dominik Grabinski (Kitchentown, Yeap, DSM, Cargill).
Nowadays, by contrast, uses a patent-pending proprietary low moisture extrusion process, which enables it to use fewer ingredients (there are only seven ingredients in its nuggets) and scale up more easily with co-packers, he explained.
“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 and then treated just like any other piece of meat, so it can be finished by leveraging existing value add facilities.
“This protects our IP [because co-packers aren’t dealing with anything proprietary], and also significantly lowers the barrier to entry for co-manufacturers. 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… then it’s just a case of a [having a] battering, breading, frying and freezing line, for example.”
The speed of Nowadays’ extrusion process is also critical, he added: “Our throughput is incredibly high and the footprint is incredibly small, so we're able to produce a lot of meat very quickly in a small space.”
‘Our throughput is incredibly high and the footprint is incredibly small’
With the new funding, Nowadays – which currently extrudes with a partner in the Midwest and finishes the products in the Bay area - is planning to bring production in-house, said Elder: “We'll be having our own extruder installed and operational by the end of this year.”
Nowadays will also be working closely with new investor Standard Meat Company, he said: “They perfectly complemented us on the value chain. Becoming a really big plant-based meat company in our minds, involves becoming a very big meat company, so they bring a lot of operational expertise in manufacturing. They also have massive culinary credibility, and they established the meat science program at Texas A&M.
“We are finalizing some partnerships with them that are beyond their investment that will leverage their operational expertise and their culinary credibility that we'll be announcing later this year."
Ultra-short ingredients list, 'unparalleled nutritional profile'
Nowadays nuggets are 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 firm, which emerges from its latest funding round with “one of the highest valuations for a company in its category and stage.”
The nuggets - available direct to consumer, and hitting selected Whole Foods stores in July - contain seven ingredients: Filtered water, yellow pea protein, whole wheat flour, sunflower oil, yeast extract, maple fiber, and mushroom extract. The yeast extract and mushroom provide a salty taste and savory flavor, while the maple fiber helps to bind the product and add nutritional value.
Compared with plant-based rivals, Nowadays nuggets have 250mg 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.