Sigona’s Partners with a Small, Local Vendor to Offer a Premium Superfood Cereal
Crunchfuls is a tasty, gluten- and allergen-free cereal created from pulse seed that everyone will love!
By Carmelo Sigona
We recently welcomed Crunchfuls, a new premium cereal made by Mountain View, Calif.-based Pul Foods, to our stores and we can’t wait to tell you about it. This cereal is an absolutely healthy AND tasty breakfast or snack food everyone will love.
Crunchfuls is a complete meal made from pulse seeds, the seeds of pod-bearing plants also known as legumes, making it gluten free and also free of soy, corn, dairy and nuts. We guarantee you’ll be surprised by how fantastically healthy and delicious it is, and to give you a taste, we’re offering it for free next week (Sept. 15-21, 2010) with your coupon when you spend $30 or more.
Pul Foods, Inc. is a two-person team founded by Dr. Deepa Shenoy, PhD., who started her company not unlike most Silicon Valley start-ups: with a lot of research and development. The marketing would come later.
Deepa, whose background is in pharmaceuticals, molecular biology and genetic engineering, had spent the last 15 years before she founded Pul Foods, in the health industry, focusing on various aspects of plant and food products, specifically in how they related to anti-aging, diabetes and weight management. She noted that choices for people with allergies or dietary needs were limited, and the remaining options were very expensive, driving those with special food needs to turn to supplements and pills to get what they needed.
With an understanding of the situation, Deepa set out to bridge the gap between needs and options. She found the answer in pulse seeds, the seeds of pulse crops, more commonly known as lentils, dry beans, dry peas, dal and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans). Pulse seeds are naturally high in protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins and gentle, soluble dietary fiber. They also have high counts of minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, folic acid and magnesium.
Gluten- and allergen-free diets are gaining popularity in the U.S., and for good reason. I recently read a study which reported at least 15-25 percent of the U.S. population is interested in a gluten-free diet for one reason or another. This diet isn’t just for people with Celiac disease or other digestive disorder, but I personally have been on a gluten-free diet for more than 12 years because of joint pain. I thought I was suffering from past sports injuries and I would have to live with the pain, however, I am quiet please with the results of eating gluten free for relief of joint pain and swelling.
“I thought if I could develop a food that would meet the needs of someone who is gluten or soy intolerant with just one meal, why not do breakfast and start their day right” said Deepa. “Whether you eat Crunchfuls for breakfast or for a snack, you’ll note a change. You’ll experience better digestive health in addition to long term benefits as you heal from the inside out.”
Deepa recalls July 17, 2007 as the exact date she and her husband, Sandeep, decided to move forward with her project out of their home in Mountain View. With research & development underway, Deepa soon found a chef and began contacting various U.S.-based suppliers who were willing to work with a start-up company ordering very minimal amounts of pulse seeds to make a cereal.
“I put a lot of effort into my supply chain the first year to secure different ingredients, including allergen-free flavors, which really narrowed down my choices” said Deepa. “I had to find suppliers who were willing to give me a shot. They didn’t know me, didn’t know where the project was going, all they knew was I needed a 100 pound bag of pulse seed when they normally deliver by the truckload. They partnered with me nonetheless and I’m so very appreciative of them.”
Deepa continued her research and built her company for a year and a half before she started with formula trials in January 2009. By the end of September 2009, Pul Foods had evaluated different technologies to bring the project together, and after 150 formula trials and countless focus groups, Deepa knew she had nailed the right formula.
“While Crunchfuls is gluten, soy, corn and dairy free, and was originally created with the growing percentage of our population with this need in mind, we wanted to create it to be something the average consumer would find tasty and satisfying, all while making them feel better,” said Deepa. “We expected a few perplexed looks from consumers when we explained that we wanted them to start their day with a bowl of beans and milk, but not once after we had the opportunity to present the cereal did I hear, ‘Deepa, I don’t understand your product.’
Pul Foods rolled out its first box of cereal in April 2010. Though we’ve only carried Crunchfuls for a few months, we already have quite a demand from customers.
“When Deepa stopped by with a Crunchfuls sample I thought to myself, ‘we don’t need another cereal to sell,’ and I let the sample boxes sit on my desk for a week,” said John Nava, specialty foods buyer for Sigona’s. “I realized later that some of our staff ate an entire box during a meeting, so I decided to take home the other box to give it a try. I ate half of it straight from the box during my drive and finished it off with milk and sliced banana once I got home!”
Crunchfuls comes in a chocolate flavor and a caramel flavor. The formula Deepa created is oil free and includes complete protein and nine essential amino acids. Seven out of the nine ingredients are legumes, and they chose white rice as the grain because it’s gentler, just as the chickpeas are a gentle digestive fiber. In about two months from now they’ll begin working with brown rice.
“Now that the product has been accepted by customers who say it’s something they can eat every day, the challenge is to take it a step further to change and enhance the nutrition profile,” said Deepa.
In addition to retailer, consumer and supplier support, Pul Foods has been recognized by the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council. Pulse crops also benefit the environment, and among their long list of benefits, pulse crops convert nitrogen from the air into nutrients for the soil and crops, so they’re often used as rotation crops by farmers to enrich and sustain soil nutrients. As more than 80 percent of the U.S. pulse crops are exported annually, the Council was more than supportive of Deepa’s idea to create a legume-based food for the U.S. population using U.S.-grown pulse seeds.
“One of the first things I did when I started was to call the Council to tell them who I was and what I wanted to do because I wanted to know why nothing like this had been done before,” said Deepa. “The executive director told me, ‘Deepa, if you can do it, we’re all for it. We’ve tried to convince the big cereal producers to take on the challenge, we’ve even funded research to create a product in that direction, but it hasn’t happened.’
While the Council can’t assist Pul Foods financially, they’ve helped secure collaborative grants for scientific research. Deepa says they’ve been a fabulous support to her cause and they’ve invited her to speak at functions and meetings with growers. Additionally, Deepa has addressed the annual convention in San Diego and the growers’ council has invited Pul Foods to the national conference in Dallas, Texas. You yourself can visit the Pul Foods booth this weekend, Sept. 11-12, at the 24th annual Tracy Dry Bean Festival in Tracy, Calif.
“Deepa’s Crunchfuls meet all the criteria for a winning product,” said Nava. “We’re happy to add this cereal to our growing line of gluten and allergen-free products, not only as something to meet the demand, but because it tastes great. Like Cheerios, but better.”
Remember to bring in your coupon next week to get a box to try for free when you spend $30 or more!