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Ingredients for Success

by Deb Keller

What if you could chow down on Cheetos but get the nutritional impact of munching on broccoli?
And do something good for the environment to boot?

Those are the benefits of a new food line developed by Old Mountain View resident, Dr. Deepa Shenoy. Deepa’s company, Pul Foods, launched a breakfast cereal line called Crunchfuls, and have a snack food is in the works.

The products are made from pulse, which is a category of grain that includes lentils, split peas, dal, and chickpeas. Pulse has more protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber (both dietary and soluble) than whole grains, is packed with vitamins and minerals, and is allergen free. (And they are delicious. I am munching on the chocolate flavoured ones now.)

Besides being good for you, the product is also good for the environment since pulse are legumes, which are nitrogen-fixing, taking nitrogen from the air and putting it back into the soil, a natural way to fortify the soil instead of using chemical additives.

Eugene Cordero, an OMV resident and professor of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State pointed out an additional environmental benefit: “From a global warming perspective,
eating legumes as a protein source is orders of magnitude better than eating animal products. For example, the emissions associated with growing 100 calories of beef produce about 3 lbs of CO2, an emission level that is similar to driving a car nearly 3 miles. By contrast, growing 100 calories of legumes produces less then 0.02 lbs of CO2, an emission level that is similar to driving a car 30 yards.”

Typically when a company like General Mills brings a new product to market, it is a $50-100 million investment backed by an organization with market research, product development, brand managers, advertising, and distribution behind them.

Even with that investment, it’s tough, because you’re fighting to displace another product on the shelf. Only 1 out of 10 product introductions are successful, and only 1 out of 1000 recoup the investment within the first year.

In contrast, Deepa started the venture with a $5000 investment from her husband and set up shop in their Old Mountain View apartment.

Being a David in a Goliath setting is not easy. “When I approached vendors for grain, for example, they didn’t even want to talk to me unless I was buying a truckload. I just wanted a 50-pound bag.”

Deepa and her husband, Sandeep, a strong supporter of her venture, worked on an extensive business plan, and armed with this and a year of work behind them to show progress, they were able to raise $250,000 from family and friends.

Deepa, who has a PhD in molecular biology at the University of Maryland, worked for years on the development of the cereal and snack food, testing some 150 base formulations and 50 flavor combinations (12-15 tons of cereal and snacks in all!), before hitting on the cereal products they launched last month.

The cereal line is now carried by Draeger’s, the Milk Pail, and DeMartini’s, to name a few, as well as in stores in Oregon and Washington. The day I met to talk with Deepa, she had signed up Sigona’s.

A good start, but the challenge now is to scale distribution. “I went to four or five venture capitalists that focused on food, and the answer that I consistently got was that we had to prove the potential of our product with a minimum of $2 million in sales before they would consider investing in our company,” said Deepa. That’s a lot of boxes of cereal.

One of the most important ingredients to any business is enthusiasm, and Deepa is brimming with that. Just talking to her over a cup of coffee at Dana Street Roasting made me want to run out into the streets of Old Mountain View and sing the praises of lentils. Learn more at www.pulfoods.com.

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