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McCain Partners with ‘Don’t be Chicken’ Nuggets Startup

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Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada-headquartered McCain Foods has announced a new strategic partnership and lead investment in NUGGS, a New York City-based startup enterprise that has developed a plant-based chicken nugget alternative made of texturized pea protein. Formally doing business as NUGGS Labs, Inc., the company says it seeks “to end factory farming by using the Internet to expedite the adoption and normalization of clean meat.”


According to a statement on its website ( “NUGGS brings outsiders into its mission by unobtrusively enabling people to do good by not forcing them to change their habits of eating meat.”

Founded by 19-year-old Australian-born entrepreneur Ben Pasternak, the company makes no bones about being “out to disrupt the animal-based meat industry with its new nugget technology” as its R&D team has developed a nugget that utilizes “advanced texturized pea protein technology” to create nuggets with meat-like texture, crunch and taste while also being free from major allergens, including eggs, wheat, dairy and soy.

Additionally, the “Don’t be Chicken” nuggets have higher protein content (22 grams per serving) and are lower in calories (180 per serving) than typical chicken nuggets, and contain no cholesterol or antibiotics.

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“NUGGS is the intersection of food and the Internet,” said Pasternak. “We set out to make the best nugget period, a chicken nugget simulation is just the baseline.”

Pasternak’s previous experience in the tech sector includes being the youngest person to receive backing from Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists at the age of 15. After his successful Monkey video chat app and social media company (which currently boasts close to 20 million users) was acquired by Holla Inc. in December of 2017, Pasternak’s attention turned to the food industry. He assembled a youthful team of enthusiastic personnel including 20-year-olds Liam Mullen, a self-taught molecular gastronomist who worked at Michelin Star restaurant Daniel as a pastry chef at the age of 16, and social media maven Alex Michelle, who has 6 million Instagram followers.

NUGGS has since raised $7 million in funding led by McCain Foods, which manufactures the nuggets. The association with a major manufacturer of frozen potato specialties, appetizers, snacks, ready meals and other products combines NUGGS’ textured pea protein technology, research and development skills with McCain’s experienced production and commercial expertise needed to accelerate the brand’s growth and scale up market penetration.

Active in the frozen french fry sector since 1957 and engaged in the potato business long before then, McCain Foods today employs approximately 21,000 people and operates 53 production facilities on six continents. The company generated annual sales exceeding CDN $9.5 billion last year.

The NUGGS startup, meanwhile, has launched an R&D process based on what is described as “a unique iterative methodology, whereby the product is constantly improved based on continuous consumer feedback.” This is akin to operating like a tech company in finding areas for improvement and developing new versions of software accordingly.

“NUGGS is an incredible product in itself and a very tasty chicken nugget simulation. Furthermore, the NUGGS team’s approach to fast, iterative innovation, based on constant consumer feedback is a great way to create products people love,” said Mauro Pennella, chief growth officer at McCain Foods.

McCain’s partnership in NUGGS is aligned to long-term sustainability priorities and strengthens its role as a partner to food and farming technology entrepreneurs.

Other investors in NUGGS include Rainfall Ventures, Greylock Discovery Fund, Maven Ventures, NOMO Ventures, M Ventures, ACME Capital, founder of MTV and ceo of iHeartMedia Bob Pittman, Casper founder and coo Neil Parikh, and former president of Tumblr John Maloney.

While the NUGGS “Don’t be Chicken” product line is currently available only direct to consumer, there are plans afoot to expand into retail and foodservice channels in the near future.

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