Sundial Foods, Inc.

Transforming Science into Protein: Two UC Berkeley Students’ Mission to Revolutionize the Alternative Meat Industry

Although at different points of their academic careers, Jessica Schwabach and Siwen Deng, co-founders of Sundial Foods, share a common goal: they want to use their scientific backgrounds to create nutritious, sustainably produced alternatives to meat.

Schwabach is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology, and is a vegan. She hopes to explore how “science can be used to innovatively tackle the question of providing sustainable nutrition, especially protein.” 

Deng recently completed her PhD in Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley. Originally from a rural agricultural town, Deng has experienced the impacts of drought and crop disease on small communities, which motivates her to find a career path that “aids world agriculture and food safety.”

First meeting in a UC Berkeley Industrial Engineering Challenge Lab on alternative meats during the 2019 Spring semester, Schwabach and Deng’s common interests led them to co-found Sundial Foods. 

The majority of plant-based, meat alternatives rely on protein isolation — a chemically dependent process that strips ingredients of valuable micronutrients, causes unnecessary waste, and is followed by a heat- and energy-intensive process called extrusion, explained Schwabach. Sundial Foods wants to “approach plant-based meat creation from a different angle.”

In contrast to existing alternative meat products, Sundial Foods relies specifically on non-isolate proteins and is committed to reducing its environmental impact, while also providing a nutritious and tasty meat alternative with a texture-analogous, plant-based product. 

Throughout the Big Ideas Contest process, the Sundial Foods team has had to “confront a lot of major questions from a practical or implementation-oriented perspective,” said Schwabach. 

Within the next few months, Schwabach and Deng plan to build relationships with restaurants and target small, chicken-focused franchises. By the summer of 2021, they aim to launch their first product in a health-focused grocery store chain. Schwabach emphasizes the scalability of Sundial Foods, as their process can be used to create meat alternatives at a lower energetic cost, and hence, a lower financial cost. 

“We hope to drive the quality, accessibility, and scalability of meat alternatives to new heights,” she said, “and to deliver healthy and environmentally sustainable products to consumers.”

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