West Seattle's Rebellyous Foods is on a mission to save the world one nugget at a time
By Patrick Robinson
How do you plan to save the world?
One way might be to follow and support a company that actually has a shot at it.
Rebellyous Foods, a West Seattle plant based food startup that began in 2017 is working toward that goal. They are doing it in a smart, focused and dedicated way by first, making a good product and second by leading a well chosen team of professionals in a no frills environment.
They produce a soy based, breaded food product in the form of nuggets, patties and tenders.
The company, now only four years old, is led by CEO Christie Lagally. Her background as an engineering lead in the Boeing 777x program taught her a lot about manufacturing processes, and innovation. She holds five patents in manufacturing technology. Lagally also served as a Senior Scientist for the Good Food Institute, a food innovation non-profit.
Plant based foods have been seeing a surge of interest with products like Impossible Burger getting a lot of attention as a beef alternative.
Are we moving to a more plant based future? "Well, you know, as much as we believe that is the right direction to go, unfortunately meat consumption is rising," Lagally said, "Last year we produced about 106 billion pounds of animal based meat in the United States alone. It is expected to go up. People need a really strong alternative."
Commercial meat production is famously hard on the environment with beef production being the worst offender. The United Nations estimates that cattle for both meat and milk are responsible for 65% of all "anthropogenic" (animal based) emissions such as methane. Unfortunately chicken is not that much better in terms of its environmental impact. Chicken consumption has increased exponentially since 1960 when it was 28 pounds per person to today when it is more than 94 pounds per person.
"This is one of the reasons we do what we do here at Rebellyous is we're really trying to make these products more available...the production of meat is now known to be a bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions than even transportation, so it's it's better to reduce your meat consumption than it is even to drive your car less."
According to Lagally it has been shown that a 90% reduction in essential resources can be achieved in making a plant based food product vs. meat.
"That's mostly for beef because as you might imagine, cattle are allowed to grow for two years and they have to eat all that time."
Lagally explained that chicken is the largest portion of the meat industry in the United States making up nearly 50% of the meat output It's about 25% beef, and this is by volume, 25% pork.
But Rebellyous is about more than just seeking to make a better "nugget."
First they employ 26 people, a majority of whom are women, many of whom have advanced degrees in everything from physics, to robotics, to manufacturing, engineering and more. The walls of the Engineering Research and Development department are white boards nearly full with mathematical formulas, schematics of possible tooling developments, and layout of manufacturing processes. So while they make a food product their other mission is to bring innovation to plant based food manufacturing. Around the lab are prototype designs for various parts of that process that might make it more efficient, create different textures, lead to new products or provide more durability.
The West Seattle plant located on 37th SW is a "pilot" plant at the moment and they began by making the products only for institutional customers. Sales were doing well, but then 2020 arrived and with the pandemic schools and other large buyers shut down.
That meant it was time to bring their innovative focus to bear on making a consumer product, including developing packaging.
The launch of a new formulation for their nuggets and the introduction of patties and tenders happened in early February with the products now available in select grocers in Washington and Oregon. They are also available in some area restaurants too.
Rebellyous products are health conscious beyond being plant based. The product is par-fried in Non-GMO canola oil, and one of their future engineering research projects is to address that part of the process in hopes they can find an alternative to par-frying. To make it, the frozen product can be prepared by deep frying, air frying, baking in a conventional or convection oven, or even microwaving.
While it's made to be similar in taste and texture to chicken "the only other meat that we're used to making that way in the United States is fish sticks, which they are on a path to developing, "It was actually an accident," said Lagally smiling, "We were making this product and it came out all fish like and we're like wow!"
How does the product compare to other plant based chicken style nuggets? It's got a definite edge in terms of crispiness, flaky meat like texture and the breading has a light zesty spice making it stand out. It's honestly better than others.
They have no cholesterol, antibiotics, or hormones, and less saturated fat than chicken nuggets. They sell for $5.99 for a 9 oz bag (about three servings) at retail.
Rebellyous noted in a recent press release that "current plant-based meat products at two to five times the cost per pound of animal-based meat, plant-based meat will only truly become widely available when it can be produced and sold at a low cost. Rebellyous Foods is utilizing leading-edge manufacturing methods at scale through R&D with universities, and a planned pilot-scale facility in the Puget Sound.
The company is doing well enough now that they are even hiring part time technicians. The website is https://rebellyous.com/join-the-rebellyion/work-with-us/. Send resume and cover letter to apply. https://youtu.be/pLAlVLZ53nA.
Who knew that saving the world could be so tasty?
Stores that are carrying Rebellyous Food products in the greater Seattle area:
- Ken's Market
- West Seattle Thriftway
- Dominic's Red Apple
- Hilltop Red Apple
- Wildwood Market
- Sunset Hill Green Market
Restaurants serving Rebellyous Food products:
- Ma'Ono University Village
- Cafe Red
- Galaxy Rune
- Eastside Beer Works
- Cycle Dogs
- Wayward Cafe