CHICAGO – The beginnings of food technology are attracting the attention of venture capitalists, but long-time investor Tyler Mathiras offers banking services on beans.
Last year, he launched Cool Beans, a so-called “vegan junk food” market, as a whole-grain alternative. Many years ago, he adopted a vegetarian diet and reaped great health benefits, but simply eliminating meat, dairy products, and eggs was not enough.
“I wanted to try to eat more vegetarian food,” he said, referring to low-fat products. “I walked through the cold aisle looking for prepared food, and there was nothing.”
He and three co-founders hired a food scientist and began making the first products. Today, Cool Beans offers frozen gluten-free packages featuring world-class recipes for vegetables, whole grains and beans, peas or chickpeas and “no fake meat or fake cheese”. “When you open it, you see vegetables and beans and rice spilling out,” he said.
“We decided to focus on the cold because we didn’t need any protection and we wanted to live longer than hot,” Mr Maras said. It was convenient and easy, so we decided to focus on our hands first, but for a long time we wanted to build a family of whole foods and plant-based products.
The variety includes Tika Masala, Spicy Chipotel, Moroccan Gold, Tuscan Basil and Sesame Ginger, affecting the global appetite of young consumers, Mr Maras said.
“Gen Z and millennials are more taste-forward, more interested in more internationally inspired flavors, and that’s our long-term customer,” he said. “They are our main customers now, and they will be in the future as they grow to be the biggest consumers in there.”
The products are sold at more than 1,300 retail outlets, including Spruce Farmers Market, Wegmans and Safeway stores. Shopping in the store was disrupted by the outbreak, but Arif Bins, in collaboration with digital sample companies, offered free product coupons to targeted consumers. The climate-neutral company does not sell directly to consumers to avoid packaging waste associated with frozen products. But it may include shelf-stable options to enable online sales in the future.
Other line extensions may include bowls and breakfast items, Mr Maras said. Not all products contain beans but they all contain different types of plants, the company said, adding that it has acquired two dozen different plant inputs for the five products currently on the market.
“We like beans because it absorbs nitrogen into the soil and is as beneficial to our environment as our intestines,” he said.