Plant-based chicken nugget company Nuggs received $4.1 million from investors including VC fund Lerer Hippeau, AgFunder, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb and model Jasmine Tookes. This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $11.1 million.
Nuggs did a rebrand of sorts, creating a new parent company called Simulate. Under the new umbrella corporation, the company is planning to launch a spicy version of its plant-based nuggets, a plant-based chicken patty and plant-based hot dogs called Doggs.
Simulate also brought on Thierry Saint-Denis, the former senior director of research and innovation at Danone, as the new chief technology officer for the company.
Since Nuggs first launched last July, the company has sold more than 1 million pounds of nuggets and added two industry veterans to its payroll. In addition to Saint-Denis, Simulate brought on Matt Merson as vice president of sales in March. Merson has a 30-year career in food and beverage with leadership experience at Coca-Cola, Boxed Water and Zico Coconut Water.
Now with Saint-Denis, a R&D veteran who holds 14 patents and has developed food products that have generated more than $900 million in sales, Simulate is transforming into a company that is run by more than just consumer opinions. Previously, the company iteratively improved its product based on crowd sourced feedback.
With veteran executives leading sales and technology, Simulate is priming itself to expand, which likely accounts for its new parent company. As it branches out into patties and franks, the name “Nuggs” seems a bit too limited. The rebrand allows the company to be more upfront about its positioning as a meat alternative without limiting itself to a single category.
Though Simulate did not announce what it was planning to do with this additional investment, TechCrunch did report that the company will release its frozen nuggets into retail at California’s regional supermarket chain Gelson’s Markets in the next week. The company previously planned to launch in retail stores this spring through brokers Acosta and Green Spoon, but that plan was derailed due to complications from the pandemic.
Although the company delayed its retail launch, it has continued direct-to-consumer sales. Nuggs announced this week that sales have grown 10 fold during the last six months. Adding brick and mortar to the mix will expand the company’s reach, but e-commerce has become an increasingly popular platform during the pandemic. Other plant-based meat companies have reversed their approach to conventional retail sales and have rolled out direct-to-consumer avenues for their products during the pandemic. Impossible Foods launched an online shop in early June and Beyond Meat quickly followed suit and announced its intention to have a DTC site later this summer. JBS’s plant-based Ozo also debuted with an e-commerce component.
Simulate is in an ideal position to capitalize on the growing trend toward online shopping and is well-positioned to take advantage of the growing consumer interest in plant-based products. In the four months ending April 19, plant-based food sales grew 27% more than last year and 35% faster than food in general, according to SPINS statistics. By adding a larger array of products to its portfolio, Simulate is expanding its appeal to consumers who may be interested in options other than plant-based chicken nuggets, but are curious to participate with a brand that takes customer feedback into account for its continued reformulation efforts.
In addition to the money that has just landed in Simulate’s coffers, it has also gained the endorsement of celebrities, which has the ability to bring legitimacy and attention to a brand that may otherwise get lost in the sea of CPG companies. In particular, having the backing of the co-founder of Reddit and the former CEO of natural foods giant Whole Foods is likely to lend credence to this nascent brand that is just beginning to carve out a space in the hyper-competitive plant-based market.