ITHACA, N,Y. — An Ithaca-based food startup continues to impress the industry and its backers. Grainful, a firm whose market plan focuses on turning oats into healthy dinner entrees and side dishes, was named the recipient of a $25,000 grant from yogurt giant Chobani.

The grants, awarded to Grainful and six other companies out of 550 applicants nationwide, is intended to boost businesses looking to take the food industry in new directions – plant-based ice cream, low-sugar, low-calorie beer alternative, a healthier take on frozen fruit pops and premium frozen fish dishes.

Grainful President Jan Pajerski described the experience a whirlwind. “It’s very exciting and we feel very fortunate, it’s validation as to what we’re doing in the marketplace. We feel fortunate we can make use of Chobani’s resources to help grow our business and fulfill our mission.”

According to a 2015 profile in food industry trade publication “Food Navigator USA”, Grainful’s “Steel Cut Sides” dinner products are a novel take on frozen entrees and convenient sides, which typically rely on rice, potatoes or wheat (pasta). Grainful describes the flavor of the oats as “subtle {and} nutty” with a texture like a risotto dish. Some varieties have meat, but others are vegetarian, and at least two are vegan. The price point for the gluten-free, non-GMO product is upmarket, comparable to brands like Amy’s Organic, EVOL foods and LUVO.

Grainful tests their products in local Ithaca stores before rolling them out to the wider market. Appearing in both local and national chains such as Wegmans and Shoprite, their products are available in hundreds of stores – not too shabby for a four year-old company.

Investors seem to agree with that sentiment and see Grainful as a business with potential. A funding round, where a business raises money from individual and institutional investors to fund its growth, reeled in $3.3 million by the time it wrapped up earlier this year.

“The potential of what we’re doing in the marketplace, our mission is to bring good food to all – healthy, great-tasting food to as many people as possible. That’s where the market is going, {and} that’s where the potential is for our growth. We’re the first to take oats beyond breakfast and baking, and given the benefits of this grain, the potential is to be across multiple grocery store categories,” said Pajerski.

Image courtesy of the Grainful website

Founded by Pajerski and chef Jeannine Sacco, five of Grainful’s seven staff are based in Ithaca at the South Hill Business Campus. Pajerski was enthusiastic when asked if Grainful would grow and continue to remain in Ithaca in the years ahead.

“We’re born and bred in Ithaca, and we continue to see ourselves in Ithaca. As for the market, we see ourselves a multi-national brand. Our goal is to go deep in the regions where we currently are, while expanding our presence on a national scale. We have very high aims for ourselves, and a company like Chobani is an example that anything is possible. People want great food at accessible prices, and we have potential.”

Tompkins County has been examining the potential of a local manufacturing focus in food and beverage processing, nurturing young companies like Grainful, Ithaca Beer and others. With growth potential and a higher average wage than food service, the county is considering launching a food processing business incubator over the next few years.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.