ChickP, an Israeli food tech company specializing in chickpea protein, has this year introduced protein isolates customized for dairy-free ice cream as well as a line of cream and firm cheddar cheeses using traditional cheese fermentation methods.
Chickpeas are an incredibly sustainable ingredient, requiring little water, enriching soil, and offering a low carbon footprint. What’s not to love?
We were pleased to speak with CEO Liat Lachish Levy, who began ChickP after leading international brands like Kellogg’s, Heinz, Pringles, and Kikkoman.
First please tell us about your career to date and your first steps in the company.
I possess over two decades of expertise in overseeing worldwide consumer packaged goods (CPG) operations to drive company expansion and establish strong strategic alliances with renowned Fortune 500 enterprises like Kraft-Heinz, Kellogg, and Pringles.
At the outset of my professional journey, I encountered my first significant business challenge while serving as the brand manager for Kodak Films. The rapid transition from traditional consumer photography to the digital era occurred at an astonishing pace.
“I have experienced several market disruptions, but none as exciting as the current rise of alternative proteins”
Throughout my career in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry, I have experienced several market disruptions, but none as exciting as the current rise of alternative proteins. I firmly believe that this transformation is one of the most important shifts in our industry.
Motivated by my passion for business transformation and creating a positive global impact, I joined ChickP with a clear mission: to introduce a healthy, clean, plant-based, non-allergenic pure protein to the market. Our goal is to drive plant-based innovation into the mainstream, offering consumers better products while positively impacting the planet through sustainable protein sourced from chickpeas.
What drives you? What values are particularly important to you?
What drives me are values such as authenticity, honesty, doing good and making a positive impact, professionalism, and well-being. My motivation to enter the foodtech industry stems from my children, particularly my oldest girl, Yhali, who is 18, Z gen and an activist that deeply cares about the environment. Their influence set a new standard at home that I couldn’t ignore.
“Our goal is to drive plant-based innovation into the mainstream”
After leading international brands like Kellogg’s, Heinz, Pringles, and Kikkoman for over 20 years, what excites me today is the opportunity to take ChickP, a company built on a genuine vision, and address the global issue of hunger. It’s not just buzzwords anymore; it’s about real-world challenges like world hunger and the climate crisis. Every day, I am dedicated to introducing the highest quality, tastiest, and healthiest protein into the plates of my own children and yours. ChickP is not just a company that sells slogans of healthier food; we genuinely deliver on our promise with our chickpea protein powder.
What/Who has helped you most to be successful in your work?
I have built a strong support network: surround myself with a supportive network of mentors, advisors, and peers who can provide guidance, encouragement, and valuable insights. At the beginning of my journey, I actively sought out communities in the foodtech and startup sectors.
I am fortunate to be part of the vibrant startup ecosystem in Israel, where the mindset of taking risks and moving fast is deeply ingrained. The supportive community of foodtech CEOs, venture capitalists, and accelerators in Israel has played a crucial role in my journey, providing valuable guidance, resources, and a sense of unity. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same passion for entrepreneurship has been instrumental in my growth and success.
What is the biggest factor that has helped you achieve your goals?
One of the most significant factors that have helped me achieve my goals is the unwavering support and encouragement from my family. Their belief in me and their encouragement to pursue the path of entrepreneurship and startup ventures has been instrumental in my journey. Their constant support has given me the confidence to take risks, embrace challenges, and strive for success.
“We have built a culture of passion and commitment that fuels our innovation”
I am truly grateful for their unwavering belief in me and their role in my achievements. And ChickP is undoubtedly the incredible team at ChickP. Their dedication, expertise, and passion have been instrumental in driving our success. Together, we have been able to overcome challenges, innovate, and make a positive impact in the food industry. The collaborative and supportive environment within our team has fostered a culture of excellence, enabling us to achieve our goals and push the boundaries of what is possible in the plant-based protein industry.
The passion and commitment of our team at ChickP have been pivotal in achieving our goals. Each member of the team brings their unique expertise and dedication to our mission, creating a collective force that drives us forward. Together, we have built a culture of passion and commitment that fuels our innovation, propels our growth, and allows us to make a meaningful impact in the food industry.
Why chickpea as an ingredient? What do you believe are the final product types where chickpea works best and why?
It all started when, Professor Ram Reifen, a pediatric specialist in gastroenterology and nutrition and a world-renown expert in food security and maternal and child nutrition started to research the chickpea legume. Motivated by the goal of developing a protein source that can effectively address the needs of both consumers and food manufacturers while contributing to global food security Professor Reifen recognized the potential of chickpeas, a widely available legume in developing countries. Chickpeas offer a range of benefits for consumers and the industry, as they are a sustainable crop, non-GMO, non-allergenic, and rich in protein.
The demand for plant-based foods and specifically, plant-based protein, is on the rise due to the supply of alternative proteins being unable to keep up with the demand. The driving force behind the surge in plant-based foods is not limited to vegans or vegetarians, but rather flexitarians, who seek to incorporate more plant-based options into their diets.
This group currently represents 42% of the market, whereas vegans and vegetarians only account for 4% and 6% of global consumers, respectively. However, despite the increasing demand for plant-based products, consumers are unwilling to compromise on the quality of the organoleptic experience. Although some solutions in the market have achieved partial success, there are still several unresolved needs such as high-quality and nutritious products that provide a satisfactory organoleptic experience – taste, smell, and texture.
Our team of experts developed a breakthrough IP-protected technology, that sets a new standard for protein isolate and I’m proud to say that we are the first & only company to break the ’perfect protein’ barrier.
Our unique process enables us to provide a 90% pure new-generation chickpea protein isolate, which stands out with its exceptional functional capacity, nutritional value, and sensory qualities. This innovative protein offers considerable benefits for both the food industry and its customers.
ChickP proteins offer all the advantages of a perfect plant protein without the downsides. The advantages of ChickP proteins are exactly the parameters the market is looking for:
- Functionality – Our products boast a high protein content and without oil and other components, resulting in excellent functionality. This allows for the creation of high-quality food products across all categories using alternative proteins.
- Sensory – For end consumers, the most crucial aspect of food products is their taste and aroma, along with their appearance and texture. Our proteins stand out in their almost neutral taste and smell, meeting the demand for a desirable sensory experience.
- Nutrition – Many of the commonly used proteins in the market today have nutritional drawbacks. Our proteins are complete, meaning they have the required levels of amino acids, non-GMO, non-allergenic, additive-free, and gluten-free, making them label-friendly.
We have developed two types of isolate proteins, each with unique functional characteristics to meet the diverse needs of various food categories. Our isolates are highly versatile and suitable for a wide range of applications, including non-dairy products, sports nutrition, egg-replacers, and meat and fish analogs.
You carried out ice cream tastings based on your ChickP protein at FoodTechIL. What was the feedback?
The plant-based protein market is dominated by the dairy-alternative category, which is expected to remain the largest. Our company has set its goals on becoming a major player in this market and has decided to concentrate its efforts on this category, among other significant categories.
Consumers who prefer plant-based ice cream due to lactose intolerance or due to trending away from animal-derived products, often must compromise on sensory and nutritional value. We have developed an ice cream that provides a similar sensory experience to dairy ice cream with a delicious taste and creamy texture. Our ChickP protein is a crucial ingredient that gives the ice cream a rich and creamy texture without any off-notes that are typical of plant-based products. Additionally, it is non-allergenic, non-GMO, and eco-friendly.
Creating dairy-free ice cream was a significant challenge, as many plant-based ice creams on the market contain additives such as guar gum, cellulose, derivatives, and modified starches. However, during our development process, we removed various stabilizers and found that it not only allowed for a shorter, cleaner ingredient list without affecting the product’s shelf life but also improved the texture.
The feedback we received after introducing our ice cream at FoodTechIL exceeded our expectations. Participants who tasted it commented that the sensory experience was similar to dairy ice cream and asked when and where it would be available for purchase. Even an ice cream expert like Assaf Blank, the CEO of VANIGLIA, a premium international ice cream chain headquartered in Israel, was surprised by our ice cream’s creamy and rich texture, which resembled that of dairy ice cream.
Can you explain your company’s sustainability approach?
Recognizing that what we eat has a significant impact on the environment, we at ChickP, are committed to sustainable development. Our company strives to implement sustainable practices throughout our entire supply chain, from sourcing and processing chickpea seeds to producing clean chickpea-based ingredients for better consumer products that enhance quality of life.
Chickpeas are a green rainfed crop that requires minimal irrigation and fertilization, making them an environmentally friendly choice. We source our chickpeas from local farms and process them in-house to reduce our carbon footprint and support the local economy. Furthermore, our protein production requires less land, water, and energy, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to our sustainable sourcing and production practices, we are actively pursuing a zero-waste goal by utilizing every part of the chickpea seed, including protein, starch, and fibers. By implementing these sustainable practices, we aim to bring ChickP products from field to fork while minimizing our environmental impact and promoting a healthier planet for future generations.
What is your advice for anyone aiming to be a founder or to play a leading role in a company?
As a CEO, I would offer the following advice for anyone aspiring to be a founder or play a leading role in a company:
Embrace your unique perspective and use it as a strength to drive innovation and bring fresh ideas to the table. As a leader, strive to create a workplace culture that promotes inclusivity and equal opportunities. And Lead with authenticity and integrity: Stay true to your values. Remember, your journey as a founder or leader will be unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Trust yourself, believe in your capabilities, and remain determined in pursuing your goals.