AUSTIN, TEXAS — Aquafaba, the starchy brine of cooked or canned chickpeas, is the key ingredient in a line of plant-based, allergen-free marshmallow cremes created by a husband-and-wife team in Austin. Delisa and Zach Harper, the co-founders of Funky Mello, are carving out a new category in refrigerated desserts with a versatile fluff that spreads, swirls, melts and more.
Funky Mello products are available at specialty grocers scattered across the country and recently debuted on local Whole Foods Market shelves. Flavors include vanilla, strawberry and chocolate cookie.
“Zach and I are vegan, and we had some issues finding sweets we loved and that we could eat with our dietary restrictions,” Ms. Harper said. “We started with rice crispy treats that we could eat, with artisanal, fun flavors, and then we sold them at farmers markets. We grew from there to creating vegan marshmallows, and now we’re at the cremes. It was a bit of an evolution, but we’ve learned a lot along the way.”
Traditional marshmallows contain gelatin, a protein derived from animals. In addition to aquafaba, ingredients in Funky Mello formulations are sugar, tapioca syrup, vanilla flavoring and sea salt.
“Some of our current customers being vegan also couldn’t have soy,” Ms. Harper said. “A lot of vegan products have soy in them, so to be able to make this creme in a way that doesn’t have any soy, is allergen-free and gluten-free, everyone can enjoy it together whether you have restrictions or not.”
Prior to founding Funky Mello, Ms. Harper held marketing roles at technology firms, and Mr. Harper worked in pharmaceutical sales. Last year, the pair participated in SKU Elevate, an accelerator program providing mentorship, education and resources to diverse entrepreneurs. The experience expanded the founders’ network and knowledge of the consumer products industry, Mr. Harper said.
“It helped us define our branding, packaging, what people see on shelves today,” Ms. Harper added. “That’s going to continue to transform because we want to keep that fun spark alive with marshmallows. It’s a nostalgic treat, and we’re just creating a fresh twist so people can have fun eating the product.”
The founders, who produce the cremes at a shared commercial kitchen in Austin, recently raised $10,000 through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to purchase a large mixer. The lineup will expand with new flavors, “some of them traditional, some non-traditional,” Mr. Harper said.“We like to think of ourselves as the Willy Wonkas of marshmallows,” he said.
“We like to do a lot of things that are colorful bright, fun and engaging.”