Could a healthy snack that tastes like junk food disrupt the processed foods space? The people behind Antithesis, a Cornell startup, are hoping so.
Antithesis was recently awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research Phase I award from the National Science Foundation to explore additional ways to make its nutrient-dense chickpea dough part of the processed foods industry.
The company’s debut product, Grabanzos, was developed by Jason Goodman ’20, Ashton Yoon ’19, Julie Camacho Flinois ’19 and Philip Kim ‘18, who met as students in the Department of Food Science. When assigned to invent a healthy snack in a product development course, they came up with its crunchy, chocolate-covered treat.
The team developed approximately 150 iterations of the snack. Once the recipe was perfected, Antithesis applied for and was accepted into eLab, Cornell’s student business accelerator, to explore its customer market fit and create a business plan.
“A lot of food companies will create a product that fits a market trend – for example, you can find CBD in everything right now – rather than figuring out the customer problem that needs to be addressed,” said Goodman, co-founder and CEO. “By participating in eLab, and actually going out to talk to potential customers, we learned that consumers who are looking to satisfy their cravings still feel guilty when they binge on junk food.”
Antithesis expects that large-scale production of high-protein, high-fiber and low-calorie ingredients such as its chickpea dough could greatly benefit consumers, including individuals with health issues and dietary restrictions. There is scientific evidence that chickpeas play a beneficial role in glucose and insulin regulation, and weight management, and may have a positive impact on certain markers for cardiovascular disease.
Most processed foods use commodity ingredients – such as wheat, potatoes or rice – to get that crunchy texture found in popular snacks. Antithesis sees its idea as a healthier alternative, without sacrificing crunch.
“Our core technology – this chickpea dough – achieves the same crunchy texture, but it contains more protein and fiber and fewer calories,” Goodman said. “This NSF grant will enable us to figure out how to make this novel ingredient at scale, while lowering the cost and allowing us to experiment with different shapes and applications.”
The startup believes its research could also lead to the development and expansion of equipment, to optimize production and processing.
“The dough we use right now is very wet in order to get that nice crunch, but it takes a long time to dry,” said Yoon, co-founder and COO. “This grant will allow us to fund an innovative drying technology, currently used in the cannabis industry, to reduce the drying time and the cost of our product.”
In addition to using NSF funding to scale up business, Antithesis plans to share lab space at Cornell AgriTech with Renegade, a Rochester-based food startup making pre-workout coffee bars. The two companies were connected by the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
“The Center of Excellence has been a part of what we’ve been doing for almost a year now and has introduced us to so many opportunities and events in the region,” Goodman said. “I think the reason we’re in Wegmans right now is because the Center of Excellence brought us to last year’s Future of Food Summit [in New York City], where we were able to connect with the right people from Wegmans.”
Antithesis also credits its growth to membership in Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, a community-based business incubator created in partnership between Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Sara Baier is a marketing and communications specialist for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.