Grainful, a fresh produce company that calls Ithaca home, is making its mark in the natural foods market after being selected into the competitive Chobani Food Incubator Program.
The four-month program — which runs from September to December — will take Grainful on a culinary journey replete with guest speeches and workshops, with themes ranging from “Building a Sustainable Business” to “Food Quality and Safety.” In addition to attending this unique program, Grainful and its six other successful counterparts will receive a $25,000 grant to help grow their businesses.
Launched in Ithaca in 2013, Grainful adopted the mission of bringing healthy and sustainable foods to consumers’ plates, with grains as the foundation of their original recipes.
The creators of Grainful, Chef Jeannine Sacco and President Jan Pajerski, claim to utilize oats in a way that has never been done before. The farms at Grainful use steel disks to cut the oats into two or three pieces, creating what are commonly known as “steel cut oats.”
“Steel cut oats is one of the most underutilized grains that we have out there right now,” Sacco said in a video on Grainful’s webpage. “For me, as a chef, to have an ingredient that basically is this blank canvas, and we can cook with any kind of flavor and pull out a great product — it’s pretty exciting.”
Sacco and Pajerski both agreed that Ithaca was a great location to launch their business due to the abundance of ethnically diverse restaurants that bring a sense of culture to the region. They appreciate that many community members are open to expanding their palates and trying new brands.
“Ithaca is quite a diverse place for restaurants,” Sacco said. “There’s a lot of different influences. There is so much culture in this town. It is a pretty amazing place to be if you are a food lover.”
When the winners were officially announced on Sept. 26, Grainful learned it was selected among 550 applications as one of seven start-ups to join the second class of the Chobani Incubator Program, described as a group of companies who are inspiring and innovating new food categories within the United States. The program initially launched last year when leaders at Chobani decided that they wanted to help entrepreneurs break into the food industry, according to a press release.
Jackie Miller, director of the Chobani Food Incubator Program, expressed her enthusiasm in welcoming the next group of health-based startups. She explained that each of the seven companies has something unique and valuable to add to the industry.
“This group absolutely represents the next generation of food entrepreneurs,” Miller said in a video on Chobani’s website. “Grainful is revitalizing the frozen meal aisle in the grocery store by making a delicious, oat-based frozen entrée.”
She noted that these are mission-based companies that care about more than just their brand, but also bringing a valuable product into the lives of millions of individuals.
“Chobani Food Incubator was born out of [founder and CEO of Chobani Hamdi Ulukaya’s] vision for paying it forward,” Miller said. “How do you help the little guys, like Chobani once was, grow in scale to take on the big guys and bring better food to more people.”
Chobani based their selection criteria on four major principles: doing the right thing, inclusive, like-minded and ready to grow. The admissions committee looked for companies that create delicious and natural food that is also financially accessible to a majority of the public.
Chobani also sought companies that deliver a sense of passion, rooted in their desire to serve people good food in a more sustainable way.
Pajerski explained in a video on Grainful’s website that Grainful embodies this desire to give back by preparing health-based foods specifically with the goal of distributing them into the hands of individuals around the globe.
“What we’re doing at Grainful is extremely rewarding because we are getting a chance to give people great food,” Pajerski said. “And hopefully they love eating it as much as we love making it.”