The food at hospital cafeterias (and cafeterias in general) can get a bad rap. But today in Seattle, limp salads and neon jello were replaced by crispy chicken nuggets that just happened to be made out of plants.
The Swedish Medical Center in Seattle’s Capitol Hill became the first hospital to serve Seattle Food Tech‘s (SFT) signature plant-based nuggets during a one-day pop-up event. The nuggets are made of wheat protein, soy, oil, and (vegan) chicken flavoring, and covered in a crispy breading. Each five-nugget serving contains 19 grams of protein, which is about 50 percent more than a regular chicken nugget. The hospital served a special of eight nuggets plus fries for $4.95; a comparable-sized serving of traditional chicken strips with fries is $7.50.
We got to taste SFT’s nuggets at the Smart Kitchen Summit last October, and they were pretty good. The company has since tweaked the recipe, and the newest version is crispier on the outside and juicier on the inside. There’s a tiny bit of a soy aftertaste, but a swipe of barbecue sauce or ketchup easily masks that. Passers-by at the hospital who stopped for a sample seemed to be fans of the plant-based nuggets, with a few even saying that they wouldn’t have known that they weren’t eating chicken.
While SFT’s pop-up at the hospital is just a one-day experiment, it’s been the company’s plan all along to sell their nuggets wholesale to large institutional dining establishments like corporate and hospital cafeterias and school lunchrooms. Led by CEO Christie Lagally, who cut her teeth at Boeing and the Good Food Institute, SFT doesn’t want to just make really good-tasting vegan nuggets; they want to revolutionize the plant-based manufacturing process so they can make good-tasting nuggets accessible to big groups of people at low price points.
SFT has raised $2 million in VC funding and last year completed a stint at the prestigious Y Combinator. Lagally told me the company has four institutional customers in place, though she wouldn’t disclose which ones. It also recently doubled its staff and commissary kitchen space to ramp up production to supply the new partners. Next up, Lagally and her team are developing “chicken” patties, “chicken” strips and “fish” sticks.
Judging from the reaction at the Swedish Medical Center, SFT won’t have a problem tempting customers to try its nuggets, or getting instiutional partners to serve them. Now it just remains to be seen if the startup can scale sustainably and keep costs down. A tall order to be sure, but with SFT’s team (specifically Lagally’s engineering background) and its smart go-to-market strategy, I’m betting we’ll soon see a lot more of their plant-based nuggets popping up in cafeterias.