- Ben Pasternak is the 21-year-old founder of Simulate, maker of Nuggs plant-based chicken nuggets.
- Nuggs is launching this month at Walmart and Target, expanding sales beyond DTC channels.
- Pasternak told Insider that the launch will take Nuggs beyond its current millennial audience.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Many people only start to figure out their career path at 21. But Ben Pasternak has already created a plant-based chicken nugget brand that shoppers can now find on shelves at the world’s largest retailer.
Pasternak is the founder and CEO of Simulate, which launched in 2019 as Nuggs — the company’s flagship product. Nuggs, the brand, will enter about 800 Walmart stores this month as well as all of the retailer’s 596 Sam’s Club locations. The nuggets will also be available for purchase at 400 Target stores by the end of April. Meanwhile, the company has plans to make other types of alternative meats, such as hot dogs, which led to its rebrand from Nuggs to Simulate last year.
Pasternak told Insider that his company has catered mostly to young people in big cities so far, but that it treats new versions of its nuggets like software updates — Pasternak said Nuggs v2.1 will be for sale soon — and has used its direct-to-consumer sales channel to target millennials willing to try many of the new plant-based protein brands that have hit the market.
In addition to a standard four-pound package at $44.99, the company’s website also includes an option to order 420 pounds of Nuggs for $10,000, albeit with the warning “You don’t need this.”
To get in the door at Target and Walmart, though, Nuggs went with smaller-pack sizes than the four-pound packages it sells direct-to-consumer, keeping prices lower and making it more appealing for new customers to try the brand.
“Now, with the product much more accessible to people from a pricing perspective, it totally does open up new markets,” Pasternak said.
Nuggs isn’t Pasternak’s first venture. He cofounded video-chat app Monkey before selling it in 2017 to competing video-chat app Holla. The app allowed users, mostly teenagers, to make friends by chatting with others on the platform. It worked better the more people signed up.
Making plant-based chicken nuggets is extremely similar, Pasternak told Insider. “You have a product team, and you want to create the best product, and you want as many people to consume the product. That’s the framework we operate under.”
Simulate has raised $11 million so far from investors, including frozen-food maker McCain Foods and former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb, according to Pitchbook. Nuggs are the star of its lineup so far, with the company referring to them as “the Tesla of Chicken.” It plans to reach $40 million in revenue in 2021, up from $8 million last year.
Simulate’s Nuggs brand is arriving at physical stores alongside numerous other companies offering alternatives to animal-based meat. Besides obvious players like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, brands like Nestlé’s Sweet Earth have also been expanding their distribution in the category.
Pasternak said he thinks Nuggs stands out among its competitors thanks to its branding, which relies on bold photos and print instead of packaging that highlights the environmental benefits of eating alternative meat. “We’ve done the opposite of what everyone else has done,” he said.
Many members of Simulate’s corporate team are around Pasternak’s age, though he said he has brought on more seasoned professionals in some areas of the business. In sales, for instance, Pasternak hired people with experience at companies like Coca-Cola. He also hired a Danone executive to head up its new product research last year.
Pasternak said that creating Nuggs involves processing ingredients like soy and corn, just like many other plant-based meats. He admits that health isn’t the company’s top priority at the moment: “Our number-one focus is ensuring that our products are indistinguishable from chicken,” he said.
“That being said, long-term, I hope that our products will be the healthiest products on the planet,” he added.
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