Vegan Chicken Nugget Startup Nowadays Ceases Operations Amid US Plant-Based Meat Decline

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In yet another sign of an increasingly tough market for plant-based meat companies, US vegan chicken nugget brand Nowadays has announced it is ceasing operations. The Californian startup, which launched its pea-protein-based frozen nuggets two years ago, is in “active conversations” about selling its IP and other assets, reports AgFunderNews.

A year after closing an oversubscribed $7M seed round – taking its total funding to nearly $10M – Nowadays says the decision comes “due to an inability to raise venture funds in this market”. Co-founder Max Elder told AgFunderNews that while the nuggets were performing well in direct-to-consumer and retail channels with strong repeat purchase rates, the unit economics of distributing frozen foods were challenging for a startup of its scale.

“The economics only work if you have the capital to really push a multi-year brand building and marketing strategy and it’s really hard to access capital now,” he was quoted as saying.

Nowadays uses low-moisture extraction technology, which enabled it to produce vegan nuggets with fewer ingredients and scale up more easily. “We’ve been awarded patents for low-moisture extrusion of whole cuts of clean-label plant-based chicken using pea protein, and a patent on pea protein characteristics for the texturized outcomes of our platform,” Elder told AgFunderNews. “So there’s some differentiated enabling technology here that I’m excited to find a home for; we’re actively looking for opportunities to preserve the value of what we’ve built over the past three years.”

The US plant-based meat decline

vegan chicken nuggets
Courtesy: Nowadays

This news comes on the heels of a continued decline in purchases of plant-based meat in the US. According to analysis by insights firm Circana, retail sales of vegan meat alternatives fell by 12.6% to $106.8M in the five weeks to July 2, 2023, with units down by 19.8% year-on-year. And for the year to July 2, 2023, sales declined by 7.3% year-on-year, while units saw a 15.6% drop.

Although down in all temperature states, sales in the refrigerated plant-based meat case and produce department – where retailers are cutting assortments, according to AgFunderNews – witnessed the biggest drops. Sales reached $34.4M in the five weeks ending July 2, falling by 21.9% from June 2022 levels, and 33.4% from the year before.

And while this coincides with a decline in conventional meat purchases in the US too, the numbers there are more modest. That sector saw a 2.7% year-on-year decrease in sales in the five weeks to July 2, dollar sales were up by 1.6% in the year ending July 2.

Nowadays isn’t the only plant-based meat company in this situation. In July, Californian brand Tattooed Chef, whose meals included vegan meat alternatives, filed for bankruptcy – a month after Boston-based Plant & Bean fell into administration. And in January, Canadian vegan butcher and cheesemonger The Very Good Food Company went into receivership. Across the Atlantic, Meatless Farm faced a similar fate in June after making its entire team redundant and preparing for bankruptcy, before its UK business was rescued by fellow British vegan plant-based meat manufacturer VFC.

While this makes for grim reading, Elder is still positive about the alt-meat market. “I still feel like long-term, the headwinds for conventional proteins will only get stronger, and while companies are struggling to access capital, I don’t think that fundamentally, anything has changed about the potential or the need for alternative protein products,” he told AgFunderNews, echoing the findings from a recent report by the Plant Based Foods Association

He added: “I think we just need to batten down the hatches and weather the storm, and sometimes that means some companies can’t survive because there’s limited access to capital. [In the] long term, hopefully, the value that’s created by those companies can survive.”

Too many vegan chicken nuggets?

plant based meat sales decline
Courtesy: Nowadays

Even if one overlooks the wider sales issues for plant-based meat, Nowadays was already in an overpopulated, congested and highly competitive US vegan chicken nugget market.

Look at the sheer number of brands selling plant-based nuggets in the US. Jack & Annie’s, Simulate, The Alpha Nugget, Daring, MorningStar Farms, Yves, Rebellyous, LikeMeat and Boca all have their own versions, to name a few – and that is before we get into private-label supermarket offerings.

And then there are Gardein, Quorn, Beyond Meat and Impossible, who all make meatless nuggets too. But they benefit from much larger distribution networks and greater brand presence. Unlike these giants, single-product startups like Nowadays don’t have another product to fall upon – it’s boom or bust, and nothing in between. The question remains: in an oversaturated retail market, how many nuggets brands do consumers really want?


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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