Investment Notes: Nowadays

It’s no secret that the plant-based protein market is heating up: in 2019 alone, venture capital investments in the space totaled nearly USD 457 million and plant-based burger company Beyond Meat went public with a valuation of USD 1.5 billion. The market for plant-based proteins emerged from the desire to create sustainable alternatives to products that consumers love, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Many plant-based meat companies have set out on the quest to precisely replicate the experience of animal-based products with every tool in the food science toolkit. The end result is that they use a complex combination of many ingredients to deliver a familiar sensory experience to consumers. But are consumers really interested in long, unpronounceable ingredients lists? And do these products deliver on health and nutrition demands which are also fueling a shift to flexitarian diets?

Our 6th investment, Nowadays, is making plant-based meats that are as good for you as they are for the planet. They are launching into the market with a crave-worthy, plant-based nugget that has a clean ingredient list and best-in-class nutritional profile. We’re co-investing with VegInvest, Cornucopian Capital, and Stray Dog Capital in a USD 2 million pre-seed round. Here are our investment notes.

clean-label plant-based protein

What they do: clean-label plant-based protein

Nowadays, based in Silicon Valley, makes delicious plant-based meat products with a few, guilt-free ingredients. For example, their first product is a nugget made with only 7 simple ingredients: filtered water, yellow pea protein, whole wheat flour, sunflower oil, yeast extract, maple fiber, and mushroom extract. 

Nowadays puts a modern twist on consumers’ favorite classics by taking the guilt out of giving in to crave-worthy delights. They are making it convenient, affordable, and healthy for consumers across the board--not just vegans and vegetarians--to indulge better. 

Why we love it: defensible, scalable, and efficient design for manufacture approach

Creating a delicious product with under 10 ingredients is incredibly difficult. Simplicity is hard to do well in food manufacturing, as it requires both an intimate understanding of, and optimization across, ingredients and engineering processes. This is why we often see big food companies struggle with simple product formulations, and why savvy entrepreneurs have been able to create clean-label disruption opportunities across categories (perhaps most famously, in protein bars). 

Nowadays co-founders Dominik Grabinski and Max Elder bring the exact kind of expertise required to solve this problem in plant-based meat. Dominik’s background in food product formulation and ingredients across Cargill and DSM means he has the know-how to develop delicious products that are designed for scalable manufacturing. And Max has a background in food futuring, strategy, and innovation, ensuring that Nowadays’ product development is driven by what will work in the market, as well as on the production line. 

Core to Nowadays’ go-to-market strategy is a low-cost, scalable manufacturing model that enables them to launch, iterate, and scale quickly. The team has already established strong relationships with strategic partners that bring together the best in ingredients with best-in-class extrusion processes, while retaining IP on their approach to extrusion and a trade secret for their unique formulation. Their strategy is designed to solve for rapid scalability and flexibility so they can grow and iterate based on market feedback, starting with a direct-to-consumer launch. 

Their modular manufacturing approach also gives Nowadays the flexibility to quickly and efficiently make clean-label products for growing niche markets (e.g., keto, gluten-free, etc.). While extrusion technology for other applications--cereals, for example--is very well established, there is still a lot of experimentation and learning to be done in the context of extruding meat analogs. This is especially true for pea protein, the core ingredient for Nowadays nuggets. Nowadays is set up to rapidly discover and iterate on the pairing of ingredient recipes and extrusion protocols required to deliver the best experience for consumers without requiring a plethora of ingredients. The dividends of this approach are already manifesting, as the team has developed and produced a market-ready nugget that is crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and offers the best available nutrition profile on the market... all in less than a year. 

A technology-driven company, with consumers at the center

The disruptive potential that we see in Nowadays stems both from their technology-driven product development and manufacturing approach, as well as their commitment to discovering and satisfying consumer demands. The debate over plant-based proteins is often painted in broad strokes: plant-based products are “good” because they can be more sustainable than conventional meat, or they are “bad” because they are over-engineered and unhealthy. 

Nowadays is disrupting this dichotomy by giving consumers what they want: products that feel-good, taste-good, and are sustainable. They’ve shown humility in understanding consumer preferences and determination in figuring out how to deliver to those expectations. For example, the team completely redesigned its initial soy-based product to a new pea-based formulation based on market feedback. From the outside, it might seem like a small switch to make, but in reality, the different compositions of the protein ingredients have huge implications on the manufacturing and extrusion processes. Undeterred, the Nowadays team got to work, testing and iterating until they had a nugget that would delight consumers. 

We are continually impressed by Max and Dominik’s dedication to continuous improvement and giving consumers what they want. We hope you too will be delighted by their products. California residents can order them today here and everyone can follow their journey at @eatNowadays

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