FLOWER MOUND, TEXAS — Chickpeas, buckwheat, almonds and mung bean are among the key ingredients in better-for-you bakery mixes by TruEats Modern Baking Co., a new venture from father-and-son duo Surinder and Daven Kumar.
The startup’s initial lineup features a pancake and waffle mix, a brownie mix and a chocolate muffin and cake mix, along with a zero-calorie sweetener made from monk fruit and corn-based erythritol. The plant-based, diabetic-friendly products are gluten free and contain no added sugars.
Launched in January, TruEats is the culmination of a multi-generational journey to discover better health through simple foods.
“My dad grew up in a small village in India where there were no doctors,” said Surinder Kumar, co-founder and chief innovation officer at TruEats. “When he was 13, he went to visit a doctor and was diagnosed with diabetes. They told him he’d be lucky to make it to 30.”
Mr. Kumar’s father looked to the nutritional teachings of Ayurveda, an ancient medical system, to manage his condition. He followed a diet that included fresh vegetables and legumes like chickpeas, mung beans and black lentils. The ancient wisdom worked, and he went on to live a healthy life to the age of 75.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Kumar devoted his life to learning about nutrition. He studied at the National Dairy Research Institute in India and earned a PhD in food science from The Ohio State University.
“There are a lot of ancient writings about different pulses and grains, what they do and what kind of benefits they have,” he said. “When I got into science, I started asking, ‘What is the science behind this?’”
That curiosity sparked a decades-long career developing products for major CPG companies. Mr. Kumar spent more than 40 years in senior level R&D positions at companies including PepsiCo, Unilever and Wrigley, where he helped launch hundreds of products with sales of several billion dollars.
“I had lot of fun working for all these companies, but there was always the question of who was really making the final decision,” he said. “It was years developing products but not knowing whether I’d be able to convert that into something that’s useful for consumers.”
After retiring as chief innovation officer for Wrigley in 2008, Mr. Kumar set out to build his own company. His goal was to combine the ancient wisdom that inspired his father with modern science to create gluten-free, diabetic-friendly products without compromising on taste.
He enlisted the help of his son, Daven, who brought experience as a food marketer for PepsiCo, Kellogg Co. and Mondelez.
The two initially focused on plant-based meat alternatives but changed direction in early 2020, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States.
“We started figuring out how the pandemic would impact consumer behavior,” said Daven Kumar, co-founder and chief marketing officer at TruEats. “I knew people would be staying home and baking more.”
Expanding beyond meat alternatives was always part of the plan, and his father had already laid the groundwork for bakery mixes.
“We thought we’d get the plant-based proteins going and come around to other categories when the time is right,’” Daven Kumar said. “Then the right time came speeding up to us, and the pieces fell together pretty quickly.”
The ability to make and execute quick decisions is one of the biggest benefits that comes with founding a startup, he said. The biggest challenge is adjusting to a smaller set of resources.
“There's only so much both of us can do,” Daven Kumar said. “Surinder has been at the c-suite level for the last 40 years of his career. Now he’s in the kitchen with his lab coat. He’s back to what he was doing 50 years ago and doing all the hard grunt work.”
That work is starting to pay off. TruEats’ bakery mixes and zero-calorie sweetener are available direct-to-consumer online. Potential expansion into Amazon is on the horizon, followed by brick-and-mortar retail down the line. The Kumars also are eyeing opportunities in hospitals and health care facilities that run programs for diabetics and people with other dietary restrictions.
“If we can build credibility that TruEats delivers on its promise, that gives us a lot of runway going forward to expand the business in new channels, other food forms and different flavors,” Daven Kumar said.