Food & Beverage Entrepreneurs To Watch: Kaitlin Mogentale

Aug. 31, 2021
Kaitlin Mogentale’s Pulp Pantry reclaims vegetable waste as the base ingredient for healthy snacks.

Kaitlin Mogentale knows food waste is a huge problem. She also sees it as a huge opportunity.

Mogentale is the founder of Pulp Pantry, an up-and-comer in the “upcycled” food niche. Pulp Pantry uses leftover material, mostly pulp from vegetable processing, as the main ingredient for a snack line called Pulp Chips. The company processed 50,000 lbs. of produce last year; this year, Mogentale expects that to double. It has distribution in all 50 states (although concentrated on the West Coast), including Whole Foods, Target, Thrive Market and specialty retailers.

Her background is in nonprofit and social enterprises, which gave her some peripheral exposure to the food industry. She helped work on an urban garden for an elementary school in south L.A., teaching the kids to grow and cook fresh vegetables.

“That’s where I really got passionate about the intersection [among] environment and food and community health,” she says. It was the first stirring of motivation for Pulp Chips.

The company’s true inspiration came when Mogentale was at a friend’s house, watching her juice a carrot: “I couldn’t believe the amount of waste that was left behind.” She started visiting fresh juice shops in the L.A., asking them what they did with their fruit or vegetable waste. They all told her that they threw it away.

“I wanted to give juiceries a way to upcycle their vegetable byproducts, and also the mission and the inspiration was to create healthy kids’ snacks,” she says. “People were so excited about this idea of upcycling juice pulp. It was just a really cool thing to see that the idea was resonating with people, and I knew that I wanted to eventually create a national brand.”

She started looking for contract manufacturers and figuring out how to scale up with what she calls “a really interesting supply chain.”

She found, through a mutual acquaintance, a pastry chef who was willing to develop formulations. Mogentale then hired some food science students from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) Pomona campus, whom she had met when she helped judge a competition on using food waste as an ingredient. “So they were really passionate about food waste.” The students and the pastry chef developed formulations, and the next step was finding a co-packer.

“Most all of them told me they wouldn’t work with fresh ingredients, and they didn’t want to work with us,” she says. “But I found a couple that were very entrepreneurial and were open to working with fresh ingredients.”

Pulp Chips was test-launched in November 2019, and the main launch with retailers started early in 2020 – just in time for the pandemic. Even with that, Pulp Chips landed in Target in September 2020, and in Whole Foods in October.

Now, in addition to a co-packer, they use what Mogentale calls “a secondary vegetable rendering facility” to pre-treat the vegetable waste that is Pulp Chips’ primary ingredient. They’ve also started sourcing waste from a salad processing plant, which provides a larger volume with a little more consistency than juicery waste. Even with that, variability of incoming ingredients – which are, after all, discarded – is a major challenge.

“Because we source different produce items, there is variability, and that does definitely change things quite a bit,” she says. “We are constantly just figuring out, how do we get closer and closer to a standard.”

Chips are the only product line now, but that may change soon. The first product developed in the original test kitchen was a grain-free granola made from carrots, beets and apples. It wasn’t commercialized, but she is interested in bringing it back. She chose the name “Pulp Pantry” to emphasize that vegetable waste can be the basis for a variety of products.

“It starts with transforming the idea that this is garbage to this is fresh produce, it’s organic, it’s high quality, it’s coming from the best food processors in the country.”

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