There’s a new name in high quality vegan cuisine and it’s on the fast track towards gaining national recognition for innovation and excellence. From Santa Cruz-based The Amazing Protein Company, Inc. comes Lika®, the next generation of meat alternatives for the burgeoning vegan market. Swami Nathan is the founder and CEO of Amazing Protein Company CEO , bringing both a passion for cooking with an equal passion for building businesses within emerging categories to his new company.
Tell us about the history of The Amazing protein Company and your own involvement in the growing vegan food space.
We’ve been in research and development for close to 20 years, testing and refining different iterations of what would ultimately become our Lika® line of vegan cuisines. Once I came up with the right recipe it became priority to develop it for large scale marketing and set up pilot facilities in Santa Cruz. Oftentimes a recipe may not work on a large scale. Our Santa Cruz pilot facility played an instrumental role in helping realize our product line for mass distribution. My own background is eclectic, especially as it regards founding a food company. I have been a chef, working at a top New York City restaurant, founded two leading edge technology companies and helped build several successful startup companies particularly within the technology sector, including a consulting role with a new company called Netflix which at the time had a staff of nine executives based in Scotts Valley.
The Amazing Protein Company is a Food Technology company that has made a scientific breakthrough in plant protein with enormous practical applications. Specifically, while other plant proteins-based products require pre-seasoning during manufacturing in order to introduce flavor – which limits versatility and leaves their products with the same after taste – Lika®’s proprietary food technology allows preparers to cook it as they would meat. In addition, plant proteins come with one texture out of the box and that’s what you have to work with. Lika® , on the other hand, can be textured the same way meat can, from soft stew and steaks to jerky textures. We believe that plant protein should provide the same ability to vary texture that has been used with animal protein forever.
How is Lika® positioned within the competitive vegan food category?
It is fundamentally important to recognize when consumer product categories are poised for dramatic growth, and to be prepared for the tipping point of consumer acceptance – the time when a category is set to achieve critical mass. We began our R&D with enough advance timing to effectively prepare for the impressive consumer acceptance currently occurring within the vegan food category. Our brand has always had a ‘buzz,’ even when we began testing at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market, several years ago with customers lining up to buy our dishes. Through our association with Whole Foods Market, we were also able to further the buzz around our Lika® brand that is helping further propel our line within Whole Foods Market as a destination product – a product that attracts people to shop in a store. Vegans are not totally satisfied with the current selection, and certainly non-vegans looking to go meatless once or twice a week are not happy with the limited choices available. The bar for people who eat meat to enjoy plant protein is even higher. If it doesn’t taste great, they are not interested. Satisfying meat consumers is high bar we set for Lika®, and its acceptance among vegans and non-vegans alike, combined with its versatility, has made Lika® a true game changer. Our product absorbs flavors and can be textured along the whole spectrum – from super-soft such as stews to extremely shelf stable such as beef jerky.
In addition, if plant protein meals must always need to be pre-seasoned, it won’t work for the global market. Because we can adapt Lika® to any cuisine, our brand is positioned to meet global plant protein needs. From Farmers Markets in Santa Cruz to small rural villages in India , Asia and Africa, where protein demands are growing beyond the ability to supply with animal protein. We are able to incorporate Lika into global cuisines seamlessly and substantially increase the protein content of those dishes where protein deficiency is a serious health concern. From our meatballs, BBQ slices, breakfast patties and strips to our meatloaf, Buffalo wing nuggets and Chicken Fried Steak, Lika® Heat & Serve foods offer enhanced protein flexibility that allows for any shapes or formats – just like their meat counterparts. At the same time, the texture of Lika® prepared cuisine is meaty yet tender, delicious with no harsh after-taste and completely satisfying without harming one’s health – or the health of the planet. For the weight-conscious, Lika® foods offer drastically reduced calories, saturated fats and cholesterol over their meat counterparts. And for the planet, each pound of Lika® product saves 1,800 gallons of water.
Describe for us the difference between Lika® products and other vegan prepared foods.
The Lika® differences can be found in the way its dishes can be custom-seasoned – in contrast to all other vegan prepared food products that must be pre-seasoned due to their inability to absorb flavoring during the cooking process. As a result, the revolutionary Lika™ food preparation technology represents a game-changer within the hotly-competitive vegan prepared food arena, empowering customers to enjoy a wide array of delicious vegan alternatives their way. In developing its flagship Lika® line of products, the Amazing Protein Company, Inc. has achieved a milestone scientific breakthrough in the food technology of plant protein. This was validated in a seven month study at Michigan State University of Lika’s versatility in 2014. While other plant proteins-based product requires pre-seasoning during manufacturing in order to introduce flavor – which limits versatility and leaves their products with the same after taste – Lika®’s proprietary food technology allows preparers to cook it as they would meat. Lika® possesses the identical versatility people have come to expect from meat, including the ability to texture it from jerky to stew utilizing the same diverse cooking methods chefs use for animal protein. As a result, Lika® foods can be prepared as barbecued, fried, roasted, based, smoked or sautéed as LIka® products absorb flavor even better than animal protein, including sauces marinades and spices – all without any after taste.
What is the status of Lika® in Whole Foods Market and future roll-out plans?
We began our successful and growing association with Whole Foods Market in the San Francisco, Oakland, Napa, Blossom Hill and Cupertino locations, as well as other institutions like University of California Santa Cruz and Berkeley, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital where we tested different lines of Lika® cuisine, including our nuggets. At Whole Foods, sales were unprecedented, as we went through 70 pounds on a Friday night. From there, Whole Foods sold 10 times their best expectations in their Prepared Foods department, of our Lika® Beef and Broccoli for the Northern California region, where 15 cases is considered excellent. This success led us to Southern California we launched in locations that include downtown Los Angeles, El Segundo, Venice, Glendale, Long Beach, 3rd and Fairfax, 23rd and Wilshire, Hillcrest in San Diego and most recently the regional flagship store in Playa Vista. Following its extraordinary success in Los Angeles where more than 20,000 customers have purchased Lika product, the flagship Playa Vista store has launched a dedicated Lika bar that features only Lika products.
Later this spring, Whole Foods Market will be adding four more Lika® favorites, Lika® Stroganoff, Lika® Meatballs and Tomato Sauce, Lika® with Coconut Curry and Lika® with Tomato Masala Sauce. Whole Foods will also be expanding Lika to all locations across the southern pacific including California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.
The buzz factor – which is indicative of a product’s appeal – has proven to be enormous. As a result, we look forward to expanding our association with Whole Foods Markets nationwide, as well as introduce the Lika® brand to restaurants and, ultimately, as a frozen foods product and as direct-to-consumer meal kits. Lika® takes plant-based meat alternatives to an entirely new level. The incredible taste, the natural texture and the unique ability to flavor every food item according to each chef’s vision and taste is what made Whole Foods Market instantly take notice – and take in the Lika® line of prepared vegan foods. We are excited to partner with Whole Foods Market in introducing our extraordinary line of Heat & Serve foods within the ever-growing category of meat alternatives.
For more information on The Amazing Protein Company and Lika® foods, visit the company online at www.AmazingProtein.com.