NUGGS “operates like a software company” and is run by a 19-year-old tech entrepreneur

Their “chicken nugget simulation” landed $7 million in a fundraising round led by frozen food giant McCain Foods.
Nuggs plant-based nuggets

Nuggets are now meme-worthy.

Let’s rewind five years…

In Sydney, Ben Pasternak created two iPhone games that became best sellers. He was 14. He then dropped out of high school, moved from Australia to New York City, and started launching new apps. He was 15.

“I was surrounded by VCs who told me the best way to have an impact on the world was to connect people” through social media, Ben explained in Forbes. But he eventually realized this wasn’t for him. “Nowadays, you can tell that that’s a really toxic thing. It’s like brain hacking.”

It was then he realized a goal more worthy of his talents: hacking meat production. And to do that, he was going to reinvent chicken (the most widely consumed meat in the United States). 


Ben launched NUGGS, a plant-based meat startup producing “a chicken nugget simulation.” He realized that simply perfecting a new plant-based nugget recipe wouldn’t be enough. He had to reach nugget-lovers nationwide—the millennial and Gen Z masses. No green fields and clean labels here. The NUGGS brand is irreverent, witty, and unapologetically tech-forward:

“NUGGS operates like a software company. NUGGS are continuously updated by our team of food scientists and engineers in NYC. We take user feedback, find areas for improvement and as we develop new versions of the product we let our users know,” reads the NUGGS website. 

For instance, NUGGS 1.3 used a new recipe designed to scale. The current NUGGS 1.3.1 came with new baking instructions for an improved texture. 

Nuggs plant-based chicken product box and nuggets outside box
Source: NUGGS

By the people, for the people 

Ben (now 19) and the NUGGS team are breaking animal-free foods out of the clean-eating corner and marketing to young people, specifically young meat-eaters. And though many next-gen plant-based meat startups are marketing to the mainstream, according to Head of PR Dini von Meuffling, NUGGS’ point of differentiation is that “this is the first time nuggets have been created by a target audience for that target audience.”

It’s worth pointing out that the rapidly expanding plant-based meat market is not a zero-sum game: Newly released SPINS data show that plant-based food retail sales are growing at five times the rate of total food sales. Consumer demand for plant-based foods is far outpacing supply. In short, there is a lot of room for startups like NUGGS to bring a great product and a great brand to the table, and investors realize this.

NUGGS recently raised $7 million in a venture capital round led by frozen food giant McCain Foods. In McCain Foods’ press statement, Chief Growth Officer Mauro Pennella said, “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.”

Ben is not waiting for consumers to wander over to the frozen food aisle. NUGGS is looking for meat-eaters who have never really tried plant-based meat and catching their attention right in their social media feed. Right now, NUGGS ships direct-to-consumer, and they have plans to expand into retail and foodservice shortly. 

Welcome to the simulation.  

Nuggs product packaged in a box
Source: NUGGS

About the data

Spins logo 240w

The data summarized here represents U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as meals that contain animal ingredient replacements. This data covers the grocery marketplace and was obtained over the 52-week and 104-week periods ending December 29, 2019, from the SPINSscan Natural, Specialty Gourmet, and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) channels. The data is based on custom-GFI plant-based categories that were created by refining standard SPINS categories. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the presented data does not align with standard SPINS categories.

1,2 The Food Industry Association & IRI. (2020). Understanding the plant-based food consumer [Webinar].

*Note: SPINS does not report non-UPC meat counter sales. To account for this, the plant-based meat total retail share calculation uses the $95 billion total meat market size reported by Nielsen, as this number includes both retail packaged meat sales and non-UPC meat counter sales.


Mary allen

Mary Allen GFI ALUM

Mary Allen is a science writer, creative strategist, and GFI alum focused on the intersection of sustainability and emerging technology. Find more of her work at