Alternative protein startup SIMULATE, known for its NUGGS and TENDERS, is introducing two new versions of its plant-based, simulated chicken product aimed at restaurants.
The strips resemble grilled chicken, while the cutlets mimic the product you’d find in fried chicken sandwiches, which are very popular on restaurant menus.
The new products are made using a technology called high-moisture extrusion, which “uses heat and pressure to denature plant proteins and rearrange them into the linear fibrous structure that is the key distinguishing feature of animal protein,” Simulate founder and CEO Ben Pasternak told Technology Flow via email. .
“This is important for fibrous products like strips and enables a really precise, muscle-like simulation,” he added. “High moisture extraction is the first of several technologies we’re building and we’re excited to share more later this year.”
We last profiled Simulate in 2021 when it raised $50 million in Series B funding, valuing the company at $260 million. At that time, the company’s products were in more than 5,000 stores. Today that number is more than 12,000, an increase of more than 140% year over year, Pasternak said. The company now has 40 employees, a 2x year-over-year growth, and is currently hiring for its research team.
Interest in plant-based diets has been increasing over the past five years. In fact, according to the Good Food Institute’s 2021 Plant-Based State of the Industry Report, “Total US retail plant-based food sales will grow three times faster than total food sales to $7.4 billion in 2021”. Of that number, $1.4 billion was sales of plant-based meat.
Although plant-based versions of chicken are the most popular, alternative protein sales still represent the low single digits of all meat sales; SIMULATE is among a group of companies trying to capitalize on changes in consumer behavior with their appeal, while also working to deliver a product that tastes good and scales accordingly.
In fact, the past few months have been quite busy in this category. For example, Daring Foods recently launched its first fresh — vs. frozen — offering, called Plant Chicken Tenders, and partnered with Cuisine Solutions to offer its unbreaded pieces in a “sous vide” format for foodservice partners. These days pea-based nuggets have debuted in Whole Foods stores in California, and Chile-based NotCo Burger King has launched its plant-based chicken sandwiches and nuggets in Chile.
Meanwhile, Pasternak said the new strip and cutlet products represent a departure from SIMULATE’s previous direct-to-consumer and retail business models.
“When we first launched NUGGS, they were only available in DTC through our website,” he added. “After we had so much success with DTC, we shifted to retail where most of our revenue comes from today. Now, we are entering the next evolution of SIMULATE, where we are mainly focusing on building a massive presence in restaurants.
With that came some growing pains. Pasternak explains that entering the foodservice industry is challenging, as it requires different distribution networks, sales processes and product development processes. “Fast-food chains operate on a very large scale, so it took us some time to build up the manufacturing capacity to support that,” he says.