Dr. Deepa Shenoy launched her cereal, "Crunchfuls," at a grand opening of the Mountain View store and headquarters of her new company, Pul Foods, on Saturday.
She calls Crunchfuls a "superfood" and the "perfectly balanced 24/7 cereal" in part because one cup of it has more protein than a large raw egg. Her cereal and Cheetos-like snacks are made from milled "pulse seeds," which are basically beans and lentils.
The new Pul Foods storefront is in the Grant Park Plaza shopping center, next to Erik's Deli at Phyllis Avenue and Grant Road, and the products will be available for sale there. Crunchfuls tastes like sweetened Cheerios, but nutritionally, Shenoy claims, it is like eating a bowl of rice, bean and lentil soup for breakfast.
Shenoy remembers the exact day that she and her husband Sandeep decided to take a shot at the health food business: July 17, 2007. She was 33, newly married and had just arrived in Mountain View. The resident of the Old Mountain View neighborhood says she has worked "24/7" since then to develop the cereal using her research background in "nutracueticals" and $250,000 raised from friends, family and former college classmates at the University of Maryland.
Her goal was to create a healthy food that people would eat regularly, and cereal seemed like a good avenue for pulses to be eaten in every household in America, she said.
It took a year just to find a place that had the right equipment to do the research (she ended up leasing space at universities in North Dakota and Kansas). Then Shenoy went to work testing dozens of different recipes. She ended up using only five main ingredients: pulse seeds (dry beans, split peas and lentils), rice, cane syrup, cane sugar and sea salt. Most cereals use dozens more ingredients, and Shenoy says some of them can cause digestive problems.
"The food industry is just trying to please your palate," she said.
Pulses are more commonly eaten in Eastern countries like India. Shenoy, who grew up in India, says legume-based foods present a major opportunity for U.S. farmers, because about 85 percent of the pulses farmed here are exported. She said some agricultural groups, such as the U.S. Dry Bean Council, have been looking into legume-based foods, including cereals, for years.
Shenoy hopes Crunchfuls will catch on across the country. She said 90 out of 100 people liked the cereal in "sensory trials," and that the cereal, which comes in chocolate and caramel flavors, qualifies to be sold at Whole Foods. So far, several smaller grocery stores have apparently expressed interest.
Shenoy and her husband — an experienced business developer who encouraged the venture from the start and is a partner in it — currently make up the company's entire workforce. The cereal is produced by contractors at a mill in California and a production facility in Nebraska.