SAN RAMON, CALIF. — Formulating staple products like bread and other grain-based foods with complete, plant-based protein is at the heart of Equii’s strategy. The startup is seeking to differentiate by offering consumers healthy, balanced nutrition in a sustainable way, according to its founders.
“We haven’t seen true innovation in staple foods,” said Monica Bhatia, one of the company’s founders and co-chief executive officer. “The core idea came when we realized the foods we eat constantly generally are not really nutritious or sustainable. The question we tried to answer is how do we do both without taking the joy away from eating them?”
The company has developed a proprietary approach to discovering microbial proteins that may be used to ferment grains and produce high-protein grain flours.
“There is a lot of science behind protein, but there also is a lot of fake marketing around protein quality,” Bhatia said. “You need protein to build and maintain muscles, but you also need a protein that can do that — You need a complete protein. Equii’s technology finds, develops and creates complete proteins.”
Equii currently markets four sliced bread products — wheat, wheat with fiber, a multi-grain variety and a multi-grain variety with added fiber. The wheat and multigrain varieties feature 10 grams of protein per serving while the stock-keeping units with added fiber offer 8 grams of protein per serving.
The company has limited its product portfolio to four retail SKUs, because they are in the process of scaling the business and that is what the small team can currently manage, said Bhatia.
But Baljit Ghotra, founder and co-CEO, said Equii can produce a variety of other bread types.
“We have done that with our partners,” he said. “We are making sourdough, artisanal sourdough and many others.”
Other products in the pipeline include pasta, gluten-free products, rolls, muffins and more, Ghorta said.
“We are a food technology enabling platform,” he said. “We’ve developed a repertoire of strains and protein yields that will allow us to build Equii’s portfolio.”
Founded in 2021, Equii raised $6 million in a seed round in 2022. The money has been invested in adding scale and further refining the company’s fermentation technology.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can produce a complete protein product,” Bhatia said. “Now we are preparing for our retail launch and working on adding commercial scale.”
Ghotra added that refining the fermentation process will reduce the cost of the protein and, in turn, the cost of the bread.
Recognizing that the price of bread at retail varies widely, Bhatia said Equii’s retail products are in a similar price range with such brands as Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 and Dave’s Killer Bread.
“There’s a little price premium compared to Dave’s,” she said. “But as we scale up the point is to drive costs down to improve the price point.”
The company has adopted an asset light manufacturing model and is partnering with co-manufacturers in the United States.
“We’d rather build partnerships than plants,” Bhatia said.
Ghorta added that an advantage for the company is no adjustments are needed in the baking of the bread and the company can work with established co-packers who already are serving the market.
“We can go into a fully automated bakery and we are a drop in,” he said. “There is no change needed in blending, mixing, proofing, baking, etc. No additional assistance is needed and that is instrumental for us.”
While Equii’s initial four products are for retail, the founders see significant growth opportunities in foodservice and health care.
“Retail is only a fraction of food consumption in society,” Ghotra said. “We see opportunities in foodservice, institutions and premium bakery outlets. We see numerous avenues to grow.”