Dare to “unclog” the food system

LOS ANGELES — Quarterback Cam Newton, Aquaman actor Jason Momoa and socialite Kourtney Kardashian are among fans of Daring Foods, a newly launched plant-based poultry product brand.

The artificial bird startup has garnered a celebrity following, significant funding and rapid retail distribution since its market debut just over two years ago. To date, Daring Foods has sold more than 2 million pounds of its plant-based protein, the equivalent of 575,000 birds, driven by founder and CEO Ross Mackay’s ambition to “replace and reimagine chicken in the global food system.”

“There is very little daylight between me and the mission,” said Mr Mackay, a former tennis player. “I’ve been plant-based for over 12 years, and as cliché as it sounds, I feel like it’s a huge part of my job to make sure we scale this company to bring Daring to more and more people.”

The brand’s products are formulated with soy protein, vegetable oil and spices such as paprika, cardamom and oregano, and are produced using high-moisture extrusion technology to replicate the juicy, fibrous texture of whole-muscle chicken. The unbreaded pieces are available in Original, Lemon & Herb, and Cajun flavors. The company also offers crispy breaded pieces, soon to be with a new, gluten-free recipe. Two additional flavored offerings will join the lineup early next year.

Daring products are available in nearly 10,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, Walmart, Target and Kroger. The main selection is currently found in the freezer aisle, but future launches will expand the brand’s presence into the fresh section, where most conventional chicken is sold. The plant-based protein also features on the menus of health hotspots including Juice Press and Monty’s Good Burger.

The startup has raised more than $120 million in capital to date to fuel its aggressive growth while expanding its team and formulating new products. Its research and development efforts are led by senior vice president of innovation Paul Neumann, whose career spans nearly two decades at Kellogg Co. and a five-year stint at Califia Farms.

Sales of frozen chicken products and plant-based snacks in the United States are set to grow 29% to $112 million in 2021, according to market researcher NielsenIQ, as shoppers flock to more market options that mimic the taste and texture of favorites from America protein. (The average consumer eats about 100 lbs of chicken each year, amounting to $120 billion in annual sales, according to the National Chicken Council).

Daring Foods has become the top-selling plant-based non-breaded chicken alternative brand at retail, with sales 13 times higher than the second-largest brand in the category, according to the company.

“Daring has demonstrated impressive product market fit in a short period of time,” said Michael Tully, investor at D1 Capital Partners, lead backer in Daring Foods. “The brand has significant growth ahead as the chicken market remains under-penetrated by plant-based products.”

Health and nutrition were priorities in the development of Daring, which advertises only simple ingredients and no saturated fat in its non-breaded products. Ms Kardashian, who is indeed ‘not completely vegan’, said of the brand: ‘I honestly can’t believe how much it tastes like chicken. There are a lot of plant-based proteins, but we’re always looking for options that are super clean with all-natural ingredients.”

The environmental benefits can also be compelling to converted carnivores; producing plant-based pieces uses 6.8 billion kilograms less carbon dioxide emissions and approximately 98% less water than conventional chicken, according to the company.

“We want vegans, flexitarians and chicken lovers to feel connected to the brand,” Mr Mackay said. “This is not a celebrity-focused brand. We’ve built a brand that feels familiar and accessible to people who are looking for something a little better.”

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