Seizing this missed opportunity and hoping to take plant-based protein to the next level, startup Sundial Foods has developed a new technology that balances and layers starch, fiber and fat to recreate the complex structure of chicken from simple, clean, plant-based ingredients.
“What we’re trying to do is create this structured or complex texture that has all of the different properties that a consumer is looking for when they eat meat. So, for instances, this more complex muscular structure with more fibers as well as bundles, intramuscular fat and even a plant-based skin,” CEO Jessica Schwabach told FoodNavigator-USA at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York last month.
She explained that the idea came from a class project in which she and her co-founder used edible films as physical barriers to prevent moisture loss in plant-based meat to improve the inner mouthfeel.
“What we started to realize at that point is there’s real value to just creating layered or complex texture in a product because when a consumer bites through it, they’re having a full and interesting experience, which makes them want to eat more of the product and even move it to the center of the plate instead of a side or accessory,” she said.
She explains that the duo use a novel heat-based process and focus on the starch, fiber and fat more than the protein isolate.
Clean, simple ingredients
While the process for creating Sundial’s plant-based wings and their texture may be complex, the ingredient deck is not.
“In the chicken wing product, we’ve actually got only eight ingredients, the main ingredient is chickpeas. But because of our processing method, we don’t actually need any of those binders or additives or emulsifiers that most products have – we’re able to keep it very clean and match the macros of chicken,” she said.
After launching a month and a half ago, Sundial has already secured distribution in several New York City and San Francisco restaurants and it plans to expand through food service this year before moving to retail in the second quarter of next year.
Chicken is only the first step
It also sees potential beyond chicken.
“We’re starting with chicken because chicken wings are a product that a lot of Americans love and feel very strongly about. So, I think it’s a really fun place to start with a consumer and get some solid feedback about our products and what we’re doing,” she said.
But, she added, the company will explore different avenues, including cuts, textures and layers.
While Sundial’s ambitions are large, so too are some of its backers, such as Nestle, which contributed to a recent $4m seed round that closed last November.
“The goal of that round is really to get us from our initial idea stage with a little bit of consumer testing up through our initial production, which we’re actually carrying out at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and through our initial launch,” Schwabach said.
From there, they plan to scale up manufacturing in a larger facility and bring the product to retail.