CHICAGO — Food technology startups are capturing the attention of venture capitalists, but longtime investor Tyler Mayoras is banking on beans.
Last year, he launched the plant-based brand Cool Beans as a whole-food option in a marketplace packed with what he deemed “vegan junk food.” He had adopted a plant-based diet several years earlier for environmental reasons and reaped significant health benefits, but simply eliminating meat, dairy and eggs wasn’t enough.
“I really wanted to try to eat more whole-food, plant-based,” he said, referring to products with minimal processing. “I’d go through the frozen aisle looking for prepared foods, and there was nothing.”
He and three co-founders hired a food scientist and began developing initial products. Today, Cool Beans offers a line of frozen gluten-free wraps featuring globally inspired recipes highlighting vegetables, whole grains and beans, peas or chickpeas and “no fake meat or fake cheese,” Mr. Mayoras said. The components are cooked and flash frozen separately, then cold-rolled with spices so “when you cut it open, you see the veggies and beans and rice spill out” rather than a mush, he said.
“We decided to focus on frozen because we wanted to have no preservatives added at all and wanted a longer shelf life than fresh,” Mr. Mayoras said. “We decided to focus on handhelds first because it was convenient and easy, but longer term we want to build a whole family of whole-food, plant-based products.”
Varieties include tikka masala, spicy chipotle, Moroccan gold, Tuscan basil and sesame ginger, tapping into younger consumers’ appetite for global cuisines, Mr. Mayoras said.
“Gen Z and millennials are much more flavor-forward, much more interested in globally inspired flavors, and that’s long term our customer,” he said. “They are our main customers now, and they will be in the future as they grow to be the biggest consumers out there.”
The products are sold in more than 1,300 retail outlets, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Wegmans and select Safeway stores. While in-store demonstrations were suspended due to the pandemic, Cool Beans partnered with digital sampling firms to offer free product coupons to targeted shoppers. The company, which is certified climate neutral, does not sell directly to consumers to avoid excess packaging waste associated with shipping frozen product; however, it may add shelf-stable options to activate online sales in the future.
Other line extensions could include bowls and breakfast items, Mr. Mayoras said. Not all products may contain beans, but all will incorporate a diverse variety of plants, he said, adding the company sources two dozen different plant ingredients for its five products currently on the market.
“We love beans because they put nitrogen back in the soil, so they are as good for the environment as they are for our gut,” he said.