Max Elder had a pretty good day job. As a former futurist for the appropriately named Institute for the Future, he got paid to look into a crystal ball.
Then he decided to throw that all away to make a difference in the world.
To that end, he left his job last year and went into stealth mode to start a company, the details of which he just unveiled this week.
Elder and his cofounder Dominik Grabinski, a long-time food industry executive, have founded Nowadays, a company which makes plant-based meat, specifically chicken. The company, which
raised $1.5 million raised $2 million (editor note: while Tenacious Ventures indicated they’d raised $1.5M, Elder emailed to clarify Nowadays has raised $2 million in total) in pre-seed funding from a group that included Tenacious Ventures and other early stage venture firms, plans to roll out its first product, a plant-based chicken nugget with pea-protein as the primary ingredient, this year in California via direct-to-consumer channels.
To find out more about the decision to start a new career as a plant-based meat entrepreneur, I interviewed Elder yesterday on Clubhouse (where else?).
I asked him how Nowadays is different than other startups in this space. Elder pointed out that most consumers aren’t thinking about saving the world, but just about getting something on the table and, if they can do it in a healthy way, all the better.
“Nowadays was really born out of this assumption that most consumers don’t really want just plant based meat, that removing animals from these products isn’t enough,” said Elder. “The majority of people who are flexitarian, who are looking for an occasional plant based meat alternative, are doing it for health. And nowadays was really started to make plant based meat that is as good for you as it is for the planet.”
In the announcement, Nowadays made clear they would be focused on making healthier, plant-based versions of what is typically categorized as “junk food”. Nuggets clearly fit, but still I wondered why Elder decided to start off in a category where there are already a couple players offering plant-based products.
“Nuggets have a very emotional pull on a lot of American consumers, but they’re also full of junk,” said Elder. “And everyone knows that people who feed their kids nuggets know that they’re junk food. People eat nuggets despite what they are not because of what they are, and to me that’s the best type of category to enter.”
When I asked him directly about rivals like Rebellyous and Nuggs, Elder pointed to Nowadays’ emphasis on a simple and clean ingredient list, while also making clear he doesn’t see these companies as his primary competition.
“I think what we have is a nugget that has the best nutritional profile, and the cleanest ingredient list of any nugget,” said Elder. “I don’t think of our competitor set as Rebellyous and Nuggs. If you’re fighting for 1 percent of the market, you’re in the wrong ring. We’re going after chicken nuggets.”
One of the things I was wondering about is whether Nowadays plans to create other types of meat analogs, and what that might be. Elder made clear that they’ll be sticking with chicken.
“We’re focused on chicken,” said Elder. “I’m deeply concerned about chicken. I’m deeply concerned about the suffering of broiler chickens around the world. We kill about 66 billion of them globally. I also just think that there is a huge environmental crisis.”
Elder said they plan on creating a gluten free version of their nuggets, but then will also explore other types of plant-based chicken products beyond the nugget.
“We are focused on other formats of chicken products using our proprietary blend of of pea protein and ingredients to extrude whole cuts of meat. So the next product is going to be a tender. “
Beyond that, Elder said Nowadays is exploring plant-based chicken breasts and products like schnitzels.
The company raised $1.5 million and Elder said they plan on raising a bigger seed round at the end of this year as they scale beyond their initial direct-to-consumer phase in the California market.