I’ve been walking the seemingly neverending show floor of the Winter Fancy Food Show this week in San Francisco, scouting out new products and eating my body weight in cheese samples.
I was especially excited to talk to Render, a brand from the culinary innovation company Pilot R&D. Unlike Pilot R&D, which helps develop products for CPG companies, Render collaborates with chefs to make their own edible (and drinkable) goods for consumers. As Render CEO and co-founder Dana Peck told me: “We’re bringing the restaurant experience to people at home.”
Most interestingly: Render is making said ingredients out of food products that would normally go to waste. The first product, which launched in 2017, is State Bird Crunch, for which Render teamed up with the culinary crew at San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions to develop a product inspired by a quinoa dish on the latter’s menu. State Bird Provisions often had quinoa leftover at the end of the night, and to avoid throwing it out, would crisp it up with nuts and seeds and use it as a topping. Render took that concept and turned it into snackable bits of puffed quinoa/sunflower/sesame nuggets.
State Bird Crunch comes in three flavors (my personal favorite was almond rosemary). Peck told that ME that, as with all their products, the Crunch can be used in multiple ways: it can be crumbled into a topping for yogurt or salads, or you can just shovel it into your mouth by the handful (it’s really addictive stuff). State Bird Crunch is currently available in natural food stores across the country, as well as Whole Foods in Northern California, Fairway in NYC, and online. A 3.5 ounce bag retails for $4.99, which is roughly on par with other artisanal granola products.
Earlier this year, Render launched two upcycled beverages: Weyla and Bryner. Weyla is made from repurposed whey from California’s Pt. Reyes Creamery. The whey is combined with fruit, herbs, and botanicals, then carbonated for a lightly-sweet drink. Bryner is made of leftover pickle juice from a Sonoma pickle factory; its flavor skews savory, with ingredients like beets, horseradish, and carrots. As with the State Bird Crunch, the drinks are versatile: they can be sipped as-is or used as a mixer for a cocktail or mocktail. Weyla retails for $3.99 and Bryner for $3.79, and both are available in Fairway, through the Bay Area’s Rainbow Grocery, and online.
Based in Berkeley, CA, Render currently a team of seven people. The company does a good job capitalizing off of a few big food trends. First, they partner with well-known chefs (like those of State Bird Provisions) to help them develop their products. Secondly, they’re making products that can serve double, and sometimes even triple, duty in the kitchen. Third, and most importantly, they’re upcycling food waste products, a trend that companies like Pulp Pantry and Toast Ales are also taking advantage of. (In addition to being great PR, repurposing traditional waste ingredients is also just a budget-friendly way to source ingredients.)
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Render because of their parent company, Pilot R&D. A few months ago Pilot R&D CEO Ali Bouzari blew our minds when he spoke to Mike Wolf and suggested that robots can make food taste better by closely emulating top chefs. Render may not have any robots involved (yet), but they’re also working to democratize the dishes and flavors that come out of high-end restaurants. And that’s more exciting than all the cheese samples put together.