A St. Louis-based startup is expanding its menu of protein-packed breakfast foods as its looks to get its products on more store shelves and training tables.
Start Right Foods, which got its start selling high-protein frozen waffles, moved into a new production facility in St. Louis County earlier this fall and plans to begin selling breakfast sandwiches in stores in January.
Start Right was founded in 2015 by two former University of Missouri athletes, Kyle Rood and Clint Matthews. Rood, a track and cross country runner at MU, and Matthews, a football player at MU, were working for a medical device startup when Matthews came across a high-protein waffle recipe formulated by MU researchers.
At the time, Matthews was in the Coulter Translational Partnership Program, a partnership between MU and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation designed to bridge the gap between academic research and the commercialization of biomedical products. The program provides funding to engineer-clinician teams to work on biomedical technology that improves patient care.
Matthews was impressed by the researchers’ work on high-protein foods and liked the waffles’ taste. He invited Rood to try them.
“Clint told me, ‘You have to try these waffles. They are delicious, and this is quite a good area to pursue since healthy foods are taking off,'” Rood recalled. “So I said, ‘OK, I’ll try them.’ We met in their office and gave them a try, and they were delicious.”
The waffles immediately appealed to Rood and Matthews who, after years of early-morning workouts, appreciated the value of protein-packed breakfast foods.
The key ingredient
Start Right sells its products in about 150 stores and will be entering Minnesota’s Lunds & Byerlys grocery chain in January. The company’s products currently include frozen waffles, waffle mix and sprayable maple syrup. The key ingredient to making hearty waffles is whey protein.
“We want everyone to start their morning right,” Rood said. “We see ourselves growing into a national brand on grocery shelves in higher-end stores that people can know that our brand means, ‘If I grab this, I will be full through lunch.'”
Start Right’s breakfast sandwich will feature 20 grams of protein. The sandwich will have a beef patty and egg on a waffle-style bun.
“We always thought that it would be great to make one because every breakfast sandwich out there is not very healthy. They’re high in fat, sodium and not appetizing for someone trying to eat healthy,” Rood said. “We thought we could do better.”
Competing for shelf space
Big breakfast names like Jimmy Dean and Kellogg’s Eggo are also marketing products towards health-conscious customers. Jimmy Dean promotes a line of breakfast bowls that pack up to 24 grams of protein.
“Protein is one of the nutrients you can feel good about eating,” said Sara Olson, a senior analyst with Lux Research, a market research firm. “It has reputation for being an alternative for fat and sugar in terms of something that makes you feel satisfied.”
Olson said the frozen breakfast market is extremely competitive but that high-protein foods are a growing consumer trend. Start Right uses whey protein, a dairy byproduct, but Olson said demand is shifting towards plant-based protein sources.
“The separation of protein from fat consumption with the introduction of plant-based proteins has made it possible to amp up protein intake without amping up fat intake, and that’s a big part in the consumer trend,” Olson said.
Start Right can produce up to 6,000 waffles a day in its new 2,000-square-foot production facility in St. Louis County.
“We started in two grocery stores selling a couple boxes a week.” Rood said. “Now, we are in 150 stores and selling in palett quantities instead of box quantities.”
To date, the company has been self-funded through family and friends. Now, Rood said Start Right is looking for additional funding from angel investors.
Start Right will require more commercial-size kitchen appliances as it grows.
“From starting in a 300-square-foot room, where we barely had any supplies to put in there,” Rood said. “We now fill up a 2,000-square-foot office. We’ve definitely grown.”