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Startup combats proliferation of misconceptions about nutrition: 'Food is an emotional decision for people'

"You don't want to make folks feel like something they know and love is being attacked."

"You don't want to make folks feel like something they know and love is being attacked."

Photo Credit: Choppy!

When we think of engineers, we likely think of buildings, bridges, bionic body parts, and the fact that engineers are making them safer. Two Stanford engineers, however, have attached their names to a safer existence in a new way: food. 

Saba Fazeli and Brice Klein, founders of Choppy!, have created a hybrid meat concept that is better for both people and the planet. 

Choppy! is a Jetstream-backed startup that makes convenient protein products that are 90% plant-based. The remaining 10% is beef tallow, bone broth, and collagen, with the idea being that most people like eating meat but would prefer a healthy and tasty sustainable option if it were available. 

Both Fazeli and Klein worked in research and development before founding Choppy! — Fazeli at Beyond Meat and Klein at Plenty, a vertical farming company. From his experience developing and scaling textured protein, Fazeli realized that most plant-based meat companies don't have a clear path to improving product quality and decreasing cost and that 96% of people who regularly eat meat care more about cost, health, and flavor than whether their food is vegan.

This led the pair to develop a mostly plant-based product that's nearly indistinguishable from meat while being less expensive and better for the planet. The pair explained that focusing on convenience and taking the hybrid strategy has allowed them to create a product that is a Trojan horse of sustainability. 

"Food is an emotional decision for people," Fazeli told The Cool Down. "You don't want to make folks feel like something they know and love is being attacked. We deeply care about the climate, but the failing of the alt-meat category is their main benefit is that they are better for the climate or better for animals, but these are at the bottom of the list of what a lot of people care about." 

When developing the product, Fazeli and Klein took a two-pronged approach. The first was solving the problem of dealing with the expectations of the health benefits of meat. One of the main expectations is that the food be GMO-free, and they are working on getting that certification for their products. 

The second was learning how to get a processed food product to compete with a single-ingredient product like a beef patty and the logic that, as Fazeli explained, "one thing is better than many things." 

The duo said that a vital aspect of trying to offset meat consumption is meeting the needs of meat eaters and thinking from their perspective what needs to exist to make choosing a mostly plant-based product an easier choice, even if it's only one day a week

The pair said many of the 100% meat options in the ready-to-eat space are much more heavily processed than the ones from Choppy! that have a relatively clean ingredient list. When you present the product plainly or let someone read the back of the pack, the thing they focus on is that they can understand everything that is in it. 

By using small amounts of the highest-quality animal parts, they "get to skip a lot of the more synthetic ingredients that have to be used in the plant-based world," Fazeli explained. 

The two further explained that their product is less about who wants it and more about when people want it. Fazeli stated: "If people want quick and tasty things that are good for them too, this is a really good way to achieve that." 

"We would rather have 10 times as many people eating a product that is 90% there than one out of 10 eating one that is 100% there."

While marketing a hybrid product like this has been a challenge as far as both vendors and consumers are concerned, the duo stated that getting people to simply taste the product is their greatest weapon. 

The company recently closed a deal with a large grocery chain in the Midwest, where meat consumption is the highest. Fazeli and Klein are up for the challenge. "Let's do the hard work first and drive success there," they said. 

"It is often with arrogance we assume only people on the coasts care about what they put in their bodies and care about the climate," Klein stated. 

"Coastal areas have a lot of people too extreme either way," Fazeli added. "We hope and we want this product to be for middle America. If it doesn't work in middle America, then it's not gonna work." 

They went on to say that a lot of vegans don't like meat replacements that taste like meat because they don't even like the idea of meat. These people do not need help switching to an even partially plant-based diet. 

"The work lies in the rest of us," Fazeli said. "We do not believe that meat is going to go away … we are hoping to build a future where meat is a special occasion for folks." 

"The answer to climate change is not ever going to be one simple thing," Fazeli said. The duo emphasized that in pursuing a more sustainable future, we needed to "start yesterday on building those in-between solutions that fit within capitalism and do not ignore consumer needs."

If you're trying to eat less meat or interested in learning more and trying to understand the state of the climate, they highly recommend reading "The Ministry for the Future." 

"We do have the power to make change," Fazeli said. "This is the time to do it."

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