Nowadays Sees Success in the Plant-Based Meat Market
November 9, 2022
“I saw another food world coming to life, much more innovative and aligned with how I was personally approaching food: food that doesn’t just feed people but nourishes them as well,” says Dominik Grabinski, co-founder and CTO of Nowadays, a plant-based meat start-up that is building a manufacturing platform for healthier, tastier alternative proteins that can be produced at the price of regular meat.
Working with the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) on product development, Grabinski and co-founder and CEO Max Elder launched Nowadays in 2020 with one goal in mind: produce high quality, wholesome plant-based meat at the price of regular meat, that would be healthier for both people and the planet.
How did the idea for Nowadays come into existence?
DG: Before Nowadays, I spent 29 years selling ingredients to medium and large consumer packaged goods companies. I found I was not eating the food that these companies were producing because they went against what I think food should be - nutritious and delicious.
I saw start-ups entering the food space that were innovative and delivering products that were better meeting consumer needs for simple, nutritious foods that are still delicious, and I was inspired by this. In 2019, I left my company and started working with a start-up incubator to connect the start-up world with the ingredients world. As I was helping people to develop better products with my ingredient knowledge, I realized that I wanted to be using my expertise to launch better products myself.
Why did you choose the Nowadays nugget as your first product?
DG: Chicken nuggets are an $8 billion industry in the US, and their popularity is holding strong – nuggets have proven themselves to be an American mainstay with kids and adults alike. I have nothing against a conventional chicken nugget as long as the chicken is raised in a good way, but most of the category is really junk food. When looking at plant-based nuggets on the market, many aren’t much better: some have up to 40 ingredients, several of which are questionable. There was a huge opportunity to make this comfort food staple into something that positively impacts the health of people and the planet.
Consumers are looking for quick, convenient food that is tasty, sustainable and good for your health. I wanted to create a nugget made of simple ingredients that could be both delicious and affordable and finished in the same way as regular meat. In addition, common criticisms of plant-based meat are that they are dry, don’t hold temperature, and don’t taste good enough to trade out for conventional meat. Our nuggets hold heat much longer than other nuggets but can also be eaten cold. They also have a crispy exterior and juicy interior texture, that many of our customers say reminds them more of fried chicken than other plant-based brands.
How are you doing in the market since you launched? Are you working on any new product lines?
DG: As we enter our second year in business, we’ve seen great success, with many more ups than downs. Our product was born during COVID, so it was nearly impossible to enter the retail world. Consumers were going to stores for short trips and only buying what they were used to buying. Foodservice was closed; schools were closed. The only way to enter the market was direct-to-consumer (DTC). It has been a great learning experience. We gained valuable feedback that helped us consider how the product should evolve. We also gained knowledge on how to better produce at scale.
Moving forward, we will move away from a DTC focus and expand into restaurants, foodservice and K-12 schools. Thanks to the quality of our product, we’re entering into Whole Foods in the Southwest region, along with other retailers on the west coast and see big potential for retail growth nationally.
Our nugget, made of pea protein, is the first product Nowadays launched. We are now building out our chicken platform and working on larger sizes like a cutlet and a tender. Our technology, with the help of NCFIL, has the ability to produce different size cuts and different categories of meat analogues. We look forward to scaling into a true meat manufacturing platform in the next couple of years.
Can you tell us about your partnership with NCFIL? How does it best serve you?
DG: We started working with Bill Aimutis who was helping us at Bühler. We now have a long-term contract with NCFIL for product development. Our product innovation director is going to spend one week per month developing with the NCFIL team and using some of their equipment to help us make new products the best they can be.
The beauty of working with NCFIL is the combination of different factors: their understanding of technology, the variety of equipment they have available, and the intelligence of the people who work there. When we collaborate with them, we’re surrounded by great people, minds and capabilities to create, innovate and develop products quickly.
What is one piece of advice you can offer other food entrepreneurs?
DG: Managing start-ups takes hours and hours of energy, most of the day and weekend for a number of years. See what resources already exist and best utilize those resources. Very talented people are out there to help you along your journey.
Having two in the journey, like Max and me, helps a lot as long as you have a common vision of where you want to go. When the aim is mutual, even if your ways of thinking or approaching the product are different, it’s mutually beneficial to do it together. Diverse perspectives help you learn and grow, both as a person and as a business.
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