Quickly grabbing a granola bar on the way out the door, or right before a Zoom meeting, might sometimes be the only feasible option for breakfast on hectic days. Even if you’re lucky to have five minutes to make a simple smoothie, the chances of crashing before 11 a.m. are still high. Sure, you can add protein powder to your smoothie to keep you fuller for longer, but that means you’re most likely piling on more added sugar to your diet, plus the other who-knows-what additives, preservatives and other ingredients that are hiding on the nutrition label.
Unless, of course, you’re using protein mixes from Apex-based Plantnrgy. Plantnrgy’s ingredients include only pure, basic nutritious essentials like pea protein, pumpkin seeds and hemp, and a monk fruit sweetener instead of added sugar. And that, says Founder Sumita Kumar, is exactly the point.
“I just wanted something simple to increase my protein intake, but once I started reading the nutrition labels on other protein mixes and researched what they were putting into them, I felt worse,” Kumar said. “So I just removed all the things that I did not want from what was available and created something that was not available.”
As a vegetarian with a family history of diabetes needing a simple way to add nourishment to her family’s diet, Kumar initially started making the protein mixes for her and her vegetarian husband to each add to their morning smoothies on the way to work in 2019. Kumar’s two young sons are also vegetarian, and especially in a world of virtual learning, she said the mix is also an easy way for her to give their snacks an energy and nutritional boost.
Kumar quickly realized, however, after talking to her coworkers, that more people than just her family shared similar nutritional woes.
“I met so many people at work and in general who echoed our feeling that they always crash mid-morning and need to eat something or have an extra coffee,” Kumar said. “And that they knew many brands that claim to be all-natural and healthy actually have tons of sugar like stevia or coconut sugar, or emulsifiers like Xanthan gum.”
After testing the mixes at the NC State Food Innovation Lab, and getting it approved by various nutritionists and health coaches, Kumar officially started selling the mixes in September 2020 at the Holly Springs Farmers Market. The mixes are now sold in 12 stores across the Triangle, including all four Weaver Street Markets, Kumar said. Also, now her entire family alternates on the weekends between going to the Holly Springs Farmers Market and the Apex Farmers Market.
The mixes are also sold on the Plantnrgy website, where customers have the option to sign up for a monthly subscription service. The company also partners with the online wholesale selling platform Faire for easy wholesale ordering.
Plantnrgy has been designed for the Kumar family and supported by the family from the get-go. When Sumita decided to officially make it into a business, her 13-year old son jumped at the chance to design the website and bags. Her 6-year old son is in charge of handling Q&A’s at the farmers markets.
The startup was recently awarded a $10K MICRO grant from NC IDEA. While being family-operated thus far has been adequate, Kumar said the resources from NC IDEA and from the local entrepreneurship community in general have been essential for growing the business, especially with expanding its e-commerce efforts.
The brand has a heavy social media presence on Instagram, where Kumar posts the recipes she makes with the mix daily, including brownies, oatmeal, banana bread and “nice cream.” Thus far, social media has greatly helped increase awareness of the brand, so Kumar is currently strategizing more marketing opportunities on that avenue, like tapping into social media influencers to promote the brand.
This year, Plantnrgy will be at the Flavors of Carolina food show in the Charlotte area in August, where Kumar said they will be able to meet retailers across the state and expand their presence across the region.
“We never thought that this is going to become a company; it was more just to fulfill our family’s needs,” Kumar said. “But on this journey of investigating and finding a solution for ourselves, we realized there’s a broader audience and niche market where this could really be a solution for many people.”