Ben Pasternak first gained media attention when he became one of the youngest people ever to get venture capital at the age of 15 for his gaming app. Four years later, he’s started a company focusing on a totally new (but no less viral) type of technology: alternative proteins.
His company NUGGS makes vegan “chicken” nuggets out of texturized pea protein. The nuggets have 22g of protein per serving (twice as much as animal nuggets) and are free from eggs, wheat, soy, and cholesterol. Today, NUGGS is launching the nuggets with a direct-to-consumer model.
The nuggets are currently only available to consumers in the U.S. through NUGG’s website. One box of 40 nuggets will put you back $24, but two boxes (80 nuggets) costs you $29. That seems crazy expensive for one box but pretty reasonable for two, so we’ll see if NUGG’s pricing strategy ends up pushing consumers to buy double. The company eventually plans to expand into retail and foodservice.
So far NUGG has raised $7 million in funding led by Canadian potato processor McCain Foods, who also manufactures the nuggets. Other investors include Greylock Discovery Fund, Rainfall Ventures, and the former president of Tumblr John Maloney.
In an email to The Spoon NUGG claimed to be the world’s first “chicken” nugget startup, but that’s not exactly accurate. Seattle-based startup Rebellyous has been selling its plant-based chicken nuggets wholesale to cafeterias, schools, hospitals, etc. for quite a while. Larger companies have also been embracing plant-based chicken options. Tyson recently released a vegetarian nugget, and Burger King in Sweden has rolled out its plant-based Rebel Chicken King throughout the Scandinavian nation.
But the plant-based protein space isn’t a zero-sum game — especially when it comes to chicken. True, there are a few veteran plant-based companies like Quorn and Gardein who have had frozen vegetarian nuggets to market for a while. But when it comes to the recent wave of companies developing more realistic meat alternatives, most of the innovation has been around burgers, not chicken, leaving ample opportunity for new players.
That might be starting to change. KFC in the U.K. sold out of its vegan Imposter Burger in four days. Chick-fil-A is reportedly looking into alternative protein options. Plus there’s the fact that consumers are hungrier than ever for plant-based protein of all stripes — including chicken.
As of now, NUGGS is untested. I have some skepticism over whether it will succeed. NUGGS’ team of eight are quite young (three of its leaders are 20 and under, including the CEO) and have relatively little experience in plant-based food manufacturing and scaling — issues that are tripping up even veteran, well-funded players like Impossible Foods.
That said, NUGGS is coming to market at an opportune time, before there’s too much competition. If they can deliver on taste (admittedly a big ‘if’), Pasternak and his team might find themselves winning a very different sort of game.